MLB Silver Slugger Awards 2012: Grades, Snubs for Every Position
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MLB announced its Silver Slugger Awards on Thursday, which go to the best offensive player at each position.
They're sort of like little MVP awards for those who may have not put together a strong enough overall season to win the big prize for the top player in each league. But Silver Sluggers still allow players to be measured against their peers at the same position. Gold Gloves reward defense but offense deserves recognition as well.
At the very least, offensive stats are easier to judge than defensive metrics, which can vary wildly from season to season and haven't proven to be entirely reliable in single-season samples. Wins above replacement could factor into Silver Slugger selections, but it's usually about who hit for the highest average and slugged the most home runs.
Coaches and managers select the Silver Slugger winners and are restricted from voting for players on their own team. So did the voters reward the right guys or were there some egregious snubs? Let's take a look.
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American League Winner: A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox
At first glance, this seems like a glaring error. A.J. Pierzynski over Joe Mauer or Matt Wieters? But while Mauer hit .319 and Wieters slugged 23 home runs, Pierzynski had the better overall season.
The White Sox catcher isn't just a pretty face on TV during the postseason. He cranked out a career-high 27 homers with 77 RBI this year, compiling an .821 OPS in 135 games. Pierzynski's power was so surprising that whispers of PED-use began to surround him. There were even rumors he was going to be suspended for testing positive
But those allegations were shot down by MLB. And Pierzynski was the right choice here.
National League Winner: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
The likely winner of the NL MVP award should also earn an award for the best offensive player at his position, don't you think?
Buster Posey led the NL with a .336 batting average and a .408 on-base percentage. His .549 slugging mark ranked third in the league while his .957 OPS was the second-best. With 39 doubles, 24 homers and 103 RBI, he led all NL catchers as well.
Fans of Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz might argue for those players being the best catchers in MLB, but this year, Posey wasn't just tops at his position, but the best player period.
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American League Winner: Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers
In his first year with the Tigers, Prince Fielder had a quietly impressive season. Perhaps he was overshadowed by Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown numbers, but Fielder hit .313 with a .940 OPS along with 30 home runs and 108 RBI.
No other first baseman had better numbers across the board. Albert Pujols, for example, had 30 homers and 105 RBI, but batted .285 with an .859 OPS. The Orioles' Chris Davis slugged 33 home runs, but had 85 RBI and batted .270.
What might Fielder be capable of in his second year through the AL?
National League Winner: Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
Adam LaRoche was really the only choice here. Had he hit for a higher average, LaRoche would have been an MVP candidate for leading the Nationals with 33 homers, 100 RBI and an .853 OPS.
It was a tremendous bounce-back year for LaRoche, who played in only 43 games before a torn labrum in his left shoulder ended his season. During the offseason, Nats fans clamored for the team to sign Prince Fielder. But Washington ended up getting nearly the same production from LaRoche.
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American League Winner: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
No one was even close to Robinson Cano's numbers at second base this season. With a .313 average, 33 home runs, 94 RBI and a .929 OPS, he is arguably a candidate for AL MVP.
Second base is not typically a power position, which is what makes Cano's production so exceptional. No other AL second baseman even hit 20 homers or cracked 80 RBI this year.
This is Cano's third consecutive Silver Slugger. The award is going to belong to him for years to come.
National League Winner: Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
As with Cano, no other second baseman matched Aaron Hill's numbers in the NL.
Hill smacked 26 home runs with 85 RBI and an .882 OPS this year. And unlike past seasons in which he hit for power, but not for average, Hill batted .302 for the D-Backs.
After hitting only eight homers last year, Hill rediscovered his power stroke in his first full season with Arizona. He won the Silver Slugger in 2009 with the Blue Jays.
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American League Winner: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Not much to argue here. Miguel Cabrera will probably win the AL MVP award after achieving the first Triple Crown in 45 years.
Cabrera led the AL with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. He also topped the league with a .606 slugging percentage and .999 OPS. His .393 on-base mark ranked fourth among AL batters.
In any other year, Adrian Beltre might have won Silver Slugger honors with a .321 average, 36 homers and 102 RBI. But not this season.
National League Winner: Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
It was a pretty strong season for third basemen in the NL, but only one of them hit 31 home runs and led the league with 115 RBI.
Chase Headley has been perceived as an underrated player for a few years—one who would break out if only he could get away from Petco Park. But he emerged as a star anyway, achieving career-highs with 173 hits, 31 doubles and an .875 OPS, along with the aforementioned home run and RBI totals.
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American League Winner: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
All right, this looks like a mistake at first glance. J.J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles hit 22 home runs with 68 RBI. How can Derek Jeter get this award?
Well, the Yankees shortstop led all AL players at his position with a .316 batting average, .362 on-base percentage, .429 slugging and .791 OPS. He also smacked 15 homers with 58 RBI, so it's not like he was a slouch in run production either.
Jeter didn't just win this with his name or uniform.
National League Winner: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
This was a no-brainer pick, really. Ian Desmond led all NL shortstops with a .292 batting average, 25 home runs, a .511 slugging percentage and .845 OPS.
Jose Reyes had a better on-base percentage. Starlin Castro drove in more runs. Jimmy Rollins was close behind Desmond with 23 homers.
But no other NL shortstop strung together the quality season across the board that Desmond did. The Silver Slugger goes well with his first All-Star appearance this year.
Outfield (Left Field)
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The Silver Slugger Awards for outfielders aren't divided up by position, but rather handed out to three outfielders in each league.
For the purposes of this slideshow, however, we're going to divide these among the three outfield positions. Besides, with the players selected, it almost worked out that way.
American League Winner: Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
Josh Willingham did finish second among AL outfielders with 35 home runs and 110 RBI. So perhaps he deserves the Silver Slugger for those numbers alone.
But his .260 batting average ranked 16th (or 21st, if you don't count ties). His .366 on-base percentage was sixth. Willingham also placed third with a .524 slugging average and .890 OPS.
This isn't a bad pick, but I feel like a strong case could have been made for Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo or Josh Reddick as well.
National League Winner: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun arguably could be the NL MVP with 41 home runs and 112 RBI, tops among all outfielders in the league.
The defending NL MVP also led the league with a .595 slugging percentage and .987 OPS. Additionally, his .319 batting average and .391 on-base mark ranked among the NL's top five batters.
If not for the numbers Buster Posey put up (and perhaps Andrew McCutchen), along with the sting of his offseason PED scandal still lingering, Braun might be in the running for his second consecutive MVP award. The Silver Slugger is a nice consolation prize, though.
Outfield (Center Field)
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American League Winner: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels rookie center fielder has a case for the AL MVP award. He's a shoo-in for AL Rookie of the Year. He was absolutely one of the league's best offensive outfielders this season.
Mike Trout finished second in the AL with a .326 batting average and .963 OPS. His .399 on-base percentage and .564 slugging mark each ranked third.
With 30 home runs, Trout had the fourth-highest total among AL outfielders and his 83 RBI ranked in the top ten. The rookie also led his peers with 49 stolen bases.
Trout could be winning this award for a long time.
National League Winner: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Though the Pirates' second-half collapse and fourth-place finish in the NL Central probably takes him out of MVP consideration, Andrew McCutchen was certainly one of the best outfielders in the league this season.
McCutchen finished second in the NL in all three triple-slash categories with a .327 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .553 slugging mark. His .953 OPS ranked third in the league. And with 31 homers and and 96 RBI, McCutchen was among the top 10 NL outfielders.
Last year may have been McCutchen's breakout season, but he established himself as one of the best players in the league this season.
Outfield (Right Field)
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American League Winner: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Hitting 43 home runs with 128 RBI should be good enough to earn a Silver Slugger Award. Sure enough, Josh Hamilton earned the third one of his career with that performance.
Hamilton's home runs tied with Curtis Granderson for the most among AL outfielders, while his RBI total led all players at his position. His .930 OPS ranked second and his .285 batting average was the ninth-best.
Those numbers create quite a résumé for Hamilton as he goes into free agency as the top player available.
National League Winner: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
This might be the choice that can be contested the most. Jay Bruce finished third among NL outfielders with 34 home runs and his 99 RBI placed ninth. But his .252 average ranks No. 20 at his position and his .841 OPS is eighth.
Giancarlo Stanton has a major beef here. Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran would have been fine choices too. Alfonso Soriano is another. Jason Kubel or Jason Heyward could make a case as well.
Bruce is an OK choice here, but there were so many outfielders that had comparable—or better—seasons that he just doesn't look like the best selection.
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American League Winner: Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals
Billy Butler hit .313 with an .882 OPS, 29 home runs and 107 RBI. Those are all fine numbers and Butler isn't a bad choice for the Silver Slugger at DH.
But Edwin Encarnacion looks like a major snub here. He hit 42 home runs with 110 RBI for the Toronto Blue Jays this season. His .280 average is less than Butler's, but Encarnacion's .941 OPS was 59 percentage points better.
Some have pointed out that Encarnacion playing 68 games at first base may have hurt his case. As a result, he was a DH for 82 games. By comparison, Butler was a DH for 132 games and played 20 at first base. However, if that's the reason Butler won, it's a pretty weak rationalization.
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National League Winner: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg's hitting prowess was arguably another reason he shouldn't have been shut down by the Nationals in early September.
At the very least, he might have been a valuable pinch-hitter late in the season and through the playoffs. Certain writers made that very argument, though the counter-argument that Strasburg could have gotten hurt at the plate or on the basepaths was a convincing rebuttal.
Strasburg batted .277, slugged .426 and compiled a .759 OPS. He also notched four doubles, one home run, seven RBI and three walks.
Mike Leake of the Cincinnati Reds might have an argument, however. He hit .295, slugged .443 and posted a .749 OPS. Leake also compiled three doubles, two homers and three RBI.
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