The regular season has come to an end, and the playoffs are kicking into gear, which means one thing: baseball's award season is just around the corner.
Few things are as contentious—or divisive—among fans of America's pastime as the debate over who is worthy of taking home the biggest individual honors that the game bestows each year.
We need only to think back to last year's American League MVP race between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, one that found the "old school" traditionalists firmly in the corner of Detroit's slugger pitted against "new school" sabermetricians, who fervently sung the praises of Los Angeles' up-and-coming superstar.
The voters ultimately sided with tradition, awarding Cabrera the award for his Triple Crown-winning season.
Will they be able to avoid being influenced by the new school again this year, or will there be a changing of the guard among the guardians of baseball's most prestigious hardware?
Let's take a look at how it's all going to play out—and if those who are going to win the awards are the folks who truly deserve them.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Predicted Winner: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Who Should Win: Rivera
After 19 years of failing to award the greatest relief pitcher of all time any of the major regular season honors, the voters will get it right and select Mariano Rivera as this year's recipient of the most minor of all the major regular-season awards, the American League Comeback Player of the Year.
That's not to say that Rivera isn't deserving of the honor, for he is, having returned from what should have been a career-ending torn ACL last season to record the ninth 40-save season of his career, doing so as the oldest player in baseball at 43 years old.
But this will be as much a testament to his remarkable return from injury as it will be something of a lifetime achievement award, one that merely serves as a prelude of what's to come in five years, when Rivera is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his very first ballot.
Honorable Mention: Brett Gardner (NYY), Scott Kazmir (CLE), John Lackey (BOS), James Loney (TB), Victor Martinez (DET)
Predicted Winner: Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
Who Should Win: Liriano
Nobody gave Pittsburgh's decision to sign Francisco Liriano this past winter much attention, and rightfully so, considering the combined 5.34 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 87 walks in 156.2 innings of work that he put up for the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox last season.
This season, he fixed what ailed his command, walking only 63 batters over 161 innings en route to going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.22 WHIP and becoming Pittsburgh's ace.
Honorable Mention: Marlon Byrd (PIT), Logan Morrison (MIA), Manny Parra (CIN), Chase Utley (PHI), Jayson Werth (WAS)
Predicted Winner: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
Who Should Win: Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
Terry Francona has done a remarkable job in Cleveland, changing the culture in the clubhouse overnight and guiding the Indians to their first playoff berth since 2007.
Nobody disputes that.
But Joe Girardi kept a Yankees squad that was decimated by injury in contention up until the final week of the season. Forget the team's payroll, which is irrelevant when you consider that Girardi never had Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez in the lineup at the same time due to injury.
Can you point to another manager who led his team to a winning season while missing nearly half of his expected starting lineup for extended stretches this season?
The team got a combined 116 relatively unproductive at-bats from Jeter and Teixeira, watched CC Sabathia implode more often than not and was forced to lean heavily on unproven youngsters like Preston Claiborne and Adam Warren on the mound.
New York used a team-record 56 different players this season.
As previously mentioned, what Francona has accomplished with the Indians is remarkable, and "Tito" is certainly deserving of the honor.
But in 2013, Girardi accomplished more with less—and the award should be his.
Honorable Mention: Girardi (NYY), John Farrell (BOS), Bob Melvin (OAK)
Predicted Winner: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
Who Should Win: Hurdle
Clint Hurdle isn't the best manager in the National League—that title belongs to San Diego's Bud Black.
But Hurdle has done the unthinkable, leading Pittsburgh to its first winning season—and playoff berth—in 20 years, avoiding a third consecutive late-season collapse and finally removing the culture of losing and low expectations from the clubhouse once and for all.
Really, the award should go to Hurdle and his entire coaching staff, which has rejuvenated Francisco Liriano's career, turned Mark Melancon into one of the game's premier middle relievers and helped the team win more games than it lost despite an offense that consisted of Andrew McCutchen and little else.
Honorable Mention: Bud Black (SD), Fredi Gonzalez (ATL), Mike Matheny (STL), Don Mattingly (LAD)
Predicted Winner: Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
Not to take anything away from Tampa Bay's Wil Myers, but this year's crop of American League rookies is a rather weak one, lacking a player who has clearly separated himself from the rest of the field.
That said, Myers is the best of the bunch, leading the group in RBI (53), slugging percentage (.478) and OPS (.831) while finishing second to Minnesota's Oswaldo Arcia in home runs, 14 to 13.
He elevated his game down the stretch for the Rays and was a key piece of the puzzle as Tampa Bay made its playoff push, hitting .308/.362/.542 with 17 extra-base hits and 14 RBI in September.
Honorable Mention: Chris Archer (TB), Jose Iglesias (DET), Martin Perez (TEX), Dan Straily (OAK)
Predicted Winner: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Who Should Win: Fernandez
For as impressive as Yasiel Puig was, he doesn't stand a chance against Jose Fernandez in the National League Rookie of the Year race.
Fernandez, who spent the entire season in Miami's rotation, has put up Cy Young-caliber numbers despite pitching in front of the most unproductive lineup in baseball.
How good was the 20-year-old Fernandez? Among qualified starting pitchers, he ranked second in ERA (2.19) and fourth in WHIP (0.98) while striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings of work (9.75 K/9), a number that was the fifth-highest in the game.
When you take Fernandez's age and lack of professional experience (less than 140 minor league innings over the past two years) into account, what he accomplished with Miami this season is incredible—and it makes the race for the NL Rookie of the Year Award no race at all.
Honorable Mention: Shelby Miller (STL), Yasiel Puig (LAD), Hyun-jin Ryu (LAD), Julio Teheran (ATL)
Predicted Winner: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Who Should Win: Scherzer
It would be easy to say that Max Scherzer is going to win the American League Cy Young Award solely because he's baseball's only 20-game winner this season, but doing so would be selling the 29-year-old short, for his spectacular performance this year goes far beyond wins and losses.
Scherzer not only led the AL in wins but in WHIP (0.97) as well. He also finished second in strikeouts (240) and fifth in both innings pitched (214.1) and ERA (2.90).
Per ESPN, he became only the sixth pitcher in the modern era to win at least 20 games and lose no more than three, the first since Cliff Lee went 22-3 in his Cy Young Award-winning season for Cleveland in 2008.
Honorable Mention: Bartolo Colon (OAK), Yu Darvish (TEX), Felix Hernandez (SEA), Chris Sale (CWS)
Predicted Winner: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Who Should Win: Kershaw
After watching the season that Clayton Kershaw put together, anyone who still doubts that he is the best pitcher in baseball needs to have his or her eyes checked.
For those who lost count, Kershaw has taken home his third consecutive ERA title, pitching to a minuscule 1.83 mark and becoming only the sixth southpaw to post a sub-2.00 ERA since the divisional era began in 1969—and the first since John Tudor's 1.93 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985.
He also led the Senior Circuit in strikeouts (232) and WHIP (0.92), finished second in innings pitched (236.0) and finished third in wins (16).
There simply isn't another pitcher in baseball that you'd want on the mound with your team's season on the line—something that will be confirmed when he takes home his second Cy Young Award in three years.
Honorable Mention: Jose Fernandez (MIA), Matt Harvey (NYM), Craig Kimbrel (ATL), Adam Wainwright (STL)
Predicted Winner: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Who Should Win: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Miguel Cabrera is arguably the game's greatest hitter and is worthy of American League MVP honors for the second consecutive season. Yet we could say the same for Mike Trout, who once again will finish second to the 30-year-old veteran.
Cabrera, who will become the AL's first back-to-back winner since Frank Thomas in 1993 and 1994, had another phenomenal season at the plate, winning his third consecutive AL Batting Crown and leading the league in slugging percentage (.636) and OPS (1.078).
His 44 home runs and 137 RBI trail only Chris Davis, while his 103 runs scored trail only Trout, and his all-around game—as hotly debated a season ago—should find him winning his second consecutive MVP award.
Unlike Trout, Cabrera limped to the finish line this season, hitting only .278 with a .728 OPS, two extra-base hits (one home run) and seven RBI over what was an injury-filled final month of the regular season.
Even so, Cabrera is the biggest piece to the puzzle on what is a division-winning team, while both Davis and Trout will be watching the postseason from the comforts of home. That's ultimately the edge that Cabrera needs to keep the award in Detroit for the third consecutive season.
Honorable Mention: Robinson Cano (NYY), Davis (BAL), Josh Donaldson (OAK), Trout (LAA)
Predicted Winner: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Who Should Win: McCutchen
Without Andrew McCutchen serving as the catalyst for Pittsburgh's offense, the playoff-bound Pirates would be headed for a 21st consecutive season without meaningful October baseball.
His numbers might not jump off the page and scream "MVP over here," but McCutchen was once again one of the more productive players in baseball this season:
|Category||McCutchen||NL Rank||MLB Rank|
He put together his third consecutive 20-20 season, one of only nine players to accomplish the feat this season, with only Cincinnati's Shin-Soo Choo on a NL playoff team.
While Choo has the advantage in on-base percentage and runs scored and other players on NL playoff teams had gaudier power numbers than McCutchen's 21 home runs and 84 RBI, no player was as valuable to his respective club as McCutchen was to the Pirates.
Honorable Mention: Jay Bruce (CIN), Matt Carpenter (STL), Michael Cuddyer (COL), Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), Clayton Kershaw (LAD)