2011 MLB Awards: Predicting the American League Silver Sluggers

John BowenContributor IIINovember 2, 2011

2011 MLB Awards: Predicting the American League Silver Sluggers

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    Last night, the Rawlings Gold Glove awards were chosen, sparking something of a clash between traditionalists and stat-gurus (though most people agree that Andre Ethier's selection was, um, generous).

    Continuing the awards fun are the Silver Sluggers, given to the best hitters at each position in both leagues. With less guesswork, this award is generally a better indicator of performance than the Gold Glove award.

    The Silver Sluggers will be announced at 7 PM EST tonight (Nov. 2, 2011). Yesterday, I announced my picks for the National League—now onto the Junior Circuit.

Catcher: Alex Avila (Detroit Tigers)

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    Stat Line: .295/.389/.506 (143 OPS+), 33 2B, 19 HR, 82 RBI

    Alex Avila enjoyed a breakout season for the American League Central champion Detroit Tigers. The All-Star finished seventh in the league in OPS+ and fifth in on-base percentage, while catching 132 games behind home plate. This last tidbit is why Avila edged out Texas’s Mike Napoli, who mostly caught but appeared in less than half as many games behind the plate.

    Other Candidates: Mike Napoli (TEX), Carlos Santana (CLE)

First Base: Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)

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    Stat Line: .344/.448/.586 (181 OPS+), 48 2B, 30 HR, 105 RBI

    Just when it looked like legal problems were going to bring down Miggy’s career, he responded with arguably his most productive season, leading the majors in doubles, batting average and on-base percentage. He really kicked it into high gear in the second half, hitting .385 to lead his team in a sprint to the American League Central crown, which they won handily.

    Other Candidates: Adrian Gonzalez (BOS), Paul Konerko (CHW)

Second Base: Robinson Cano (New York Yankees)

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    Stat Line: .302/.349/.533 (129 OPS+), 46 2B, 28 HR, 118 RBI

    This one was basically a toss-up between Cano and rival second baseman Dustin Pedroia. In the end, I let the "slugger" in Silver Slugger do the talking; Cano edged Pedroia by nine doubles, seven home runs and about 60 points of slugging percentage. "Laser Show" definitely had the better overall year, but Cano gets credit for swatting a bigger stick.

    Other Candidates: Dustin Pedroia (BOS), Ben Zobrist (TBR)

Third Base: Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays)

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    Stat Line: .244/.355/.495 (139 OPS+), 26 2B, 31 HR, 99 RBI

    At first glance, this award should probably go to Adrian Beltre, who also won the Gold Glove. Beltre’s batting average and slugging percentages were far better, and he accumulated more in the way of counting statistics. Dig a little deeper though; compare Beltre’s home ballpark to Longoria’s (Beltre hit just .271/.297/.440 away from the hitter’s paradise in Arlington). Then compare their two lineups. Considering these two factors, Longoria’s accomplishments get a major leg up, which is why I selected him in an upset for this award.

    Other Candidates: Adrian Beltre (TEX), Kevin Youkilis (BOS)

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta (Detroit Tigers)

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    Stat Line: .299/.345/.478 (123 OPS+), 25 2B, 21 HR, 86 RBI

    After spending parts of eight seasons as a Cleveland Indian, Jhonny Peralta was traded to division rival Detroit, where he resumed his normal duties as shortstop. Interestingly, the man who displaced him at shortstop in Cleveland is his chief competition for the American League Silver Slugger at shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera. Peralta edged his former teammate in all rate statistics; the only question now is whether or not he’ll move to third base again to accommodate a possible Jose Reyes signing.

    Other Candidates: Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE), Yunel Escobar (TOR)

Outfield: Jose Bautista (Toronto Blue Jays)

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    Stat Line: .302/.447/.608 (181 OPS+), 24 2B, 43 HR, 103 RBI

    After shocking the world with 54 home runs (having hit 59 in his career to that point), Jose Bautista transformed himself from the league’s most prolific home run hitter to its most dominant hitter overall. Joey Bats led the big leagues in home runs for the second straight year, while also leading all of baseball in walks, slugging percentage, and OPS+.

Outfield: Curtis Granderson (New York Yankees)

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    Stat Line: .262/.364/.552 (138 OPS+), 26 HR, 10 3B, 41 HR, 119 RBI

    Before the 2010 season, the then-reigning World Champion New York Yankees landed Curtis Granderson in a three-way deal involving the Tigers and Diamondbacks. The main Yankee losses were stud defender Austin Jackson and pitching prospect Ian Kennedy. Considering the year Kennedy had, Brian Cashman could easily have looked like a dunce, but Granderson may have (at least, temporarily) salvaged his reputation. Granderson led the American League with 136 runs scored and 119 RBI while finishing second to Jose Bautista with 41 dingers.

Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston Red Sox)

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    Stat Line: .321/.376/.552 (146 OPS+), 46 2B, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39/54 SB

    After missing most of the 2010 season with a rib injury, hopes were not high for Jacoby Ellsbury coming into the 2011 season, but he put together an MVP-caliber campaign nonetheless, amassing a major league-best 364 total bases, joining the 30-30 club, while placing third in the league in doubles and fifth in home runs.

    Other Candidates: Alex Gordon (KCR), Josh Hamilton (TEX)

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox)

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    Stat Line: .309/.398/.554 (154 OPS+), 40 2B, 29 HR, 96 RBI

    It’ll be interesting to see how valuable the American League will feel Ortiz’s stock is in the 2011-2012 offseason. Ortiz suffered through down years in 2008 and 2009, but had a resurgent 2010 and was back on top of all DH's in 2011. Big Papi placed fourth in the American League in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage in what could be his final season as a Red Sox.

    Other Candidates: Michael Young (TEX), Victor Martinez (DET)