MLB Playoff Predictions: Picking Our Winners of Every Major Individual Award

Seth JohanssonCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2011

MLB Playoff Predictions: Picking Our Winners of Every Major Individual Award

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    Is Matt Kemp or Ryan Braun the NL MVP? What about the battle for NL Cy Young supremacy between Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee?

    While almost all of the divisional races have already been decided before the playoffs start in October, the year-end awards in Major League Baseball are anything but a done deal.

    The AL/NL MVP races are the closest they've been in recent memory, and the NL Cy Young and Rookie of the Year honors will probably go down to the last week in September before anything is decided.

    With so much uncertainty, how could someone ever predict the winners?

    Well I will try.

    Here are my end-of-year award predictions for the 2011 season.

AL Rookie of the Year: Mark Trumbo

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    Let's start with an easy one.

    While there have been a number of rookies who have made significant impacts on their respective teams in 2011, none has meant as much to their team as Mark Trumbo for the Los Angeles Angels.

    Trumbo's stats are not only far and away the best among other AL rookies (leading the pack with 26 HR, 80 RBI, 28 doubles and 61 runs), but he has filled a major void in the Angels' offensive attack with Kendrys Morales on the shelf since last season. Trumbo's immense importance to the Angels' lineup is also evidenced by the fact that he leads the team in home runs and RBI by a wide margin.

    Although Trumbo may not be as big of an impact player over his career compared to other RoY contenders (i.e. Dustin Ackley and Eric Hosmer), he gets the nod this year as the best in the AL.

    AL Rookie of the Year Runners-Up: Dustin Ackley, Eric Hosmer, Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Pineda

NL Rookie of the Year: Craig Kimbrel

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    No offense to the Philadelphia Phillies' Vance Worley and fellow Atlanta Braves teammate Freddie Freeman, both of whom have put together outstanding rookie seasons, but Craig Kimbrel has put together one of the best rookie campaigns ever—at any position.

    Exactly how unprecedented is Kimbrel's rookie campaign? Well, among rookie closers, there's never been another season like it.

    ESPN writer David Schoenfeld wrote an article Friday breaking down Kimbrel's single-season dominance and how it compares to some of the best closers' (rookie or not) seasons ever.

    Kimbrel is one of only 22 closers to have a season with at least 40 saves, a sub-2.00 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP, assuming he keeps those numbers through the end of the September. Also, his 43 saves are a rookie record, and although he has six blown saves on the season, he had a string of 25 straight converted saves between June 11 and September 9.

    NL Rookie of Year Runners-Up: Freddie Freeman, Vance Worley, Brandon Beachy

AL Manager of the Year: Manny Acta

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    Here's a winning formula for a probable Manager of the Year:

    [Bad expectations for team] + [Young, up-and-coming manager] + [Good start by team] +/- [Eventual Playoff Chances] = [Manager of the Year]

    Don't believe me? Just wait.

    Manny Acta, has helped a relatively nameless Cleveland Indians squad regain respectability in a wide open AL Central division. And although the Tigers have seemingly staved them off for this year's divisional crown, Cleveland has a reason to hope again going into next season.

    The way the Red Sox have scuffled in April and in September probably disqualifies Terry Francona. And for Mike Scioscia and Jim Leyland, their teams are probably too talent-laden for them to get more votes than Acta.

    AL Manager of Year Runners-Up: Terry Francona, Mike Scioscia and Jim Leyland

NL Manager of the Year: Kirk Gibson

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    Formula for the winning NL Manager of the Year in 2011?

    [Bad expectations for team] + [Young, up-and-coming manager] + [Good start by team] +/- [Eventual Playoff Chances] = [Manager of the Year]

    Now if you don't believe me, just look at the last two NL Manager of the Year award-winners. Bud Black won last year for the San Diego Padres and Jim Tracy won the award when he led the resurgent Colorado Rockies to an unexpected playoff berth in 2008. The formula holds true again this year for eventual winner Kirk Gibson.

    But seriously, Gibby and Acta are about the only two managers in the league (this side of Charlie Manuel, Mike Scioscia and Terry Francona) who are completely unfireable this offseason.

    Gibson has taken an Arizona Diamondbacks club that has—up until this season—underperformed, and has them playing like they actually believe in themselves. Gibson has taken NL MVP and NL Cy Young candidates Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy, respectively, from high-potential players to full-blown stars this season.

    However, a very honorable mention must go to the Pittsburgh Pirates' manager Clint Hurdle, who took a franchise with 18 consecutive losing seasons and had them competing for the divisional crown before they fell off the map in August and September.

    Still, Gibson's winning the NL West may be too much for Hurdle and the transformed Pirates to overcome.

    NL Manager of the Year Runners-Up: Clint Hurdle, Ron Roenicke, Fredi Gonzalez

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Jacoby Ellsbury

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    You gotta love this award, don't you?

    Jacoby Ellsbury started the year with question marks all around him. The rib injury that nagged him all last year and limited him to just 18 games in 2010 was supposed to have completely healed.

    But with the offseason emergence of Carl Crawford, there were those that wondered whether or not Ellsbury would be buried deep in the Red Sox lineup, essentially forfeiting his lead-off position to last year's AL MVP runner-up.

    But this year, Ellsbury has practically been the AL MVP himself, solidifying his star status in Boston once again. He is batting .317, has 26 HR, 91 RBI and 36 stolen bases—amazing numbers for a guy who had never hit more than nine home runs or collected 60 RBI in one season.

    Another honorable mention to Casey Kotchman who really was the biggest surprise this season. But Ellsbury's numbers just cannot be matched.

    AL Comeback Player of the Year Runners-Up: Josh Beckett, Casey Kotchman and Alex Gordon

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Lance Berkman

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    Ah, what a sweet, sweet year for Lance Berkman.

    After being forced out of Houston, followed up with an unimpressive stint with the New York Yankees in 2010 (.255 BA and 1 HR), Lance Berkman rebounded with style in 2011, mashing 30 HR, collecting 85 RBI and posting a fine .405 OBP with the St. Louis Cardinals this year.

    Todd Helton's similar comeback story for the Colorado Rockies deserves mentioning, but Berkman's numbers and his importance to the Cardinals' success this year cannot be underestimated or ignored.

    An interesting selection for this award may be Arizona Diamondbacks' Sean Burroughs just for returning to the major leagues at all after battling back from both drug addiction and homelessness. Although his play hasn't necessarily earned it, it would make a nice story.

    NL Comeback Player of the Year Runners-Up: Todd Helton, Jason Isringhausen and Ryan Vogelsong

AL Cy Young Award: Justin Verlander

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    I really wish there were some way to recognize both the most outstanding player as opposed to the most valuable player—much in the same way the NHL awards—Hart Memorial and Ted Lindsay—function.

    In this case, if I had a vote, I would've chosen Jered Weaver as the most valuable to his team and Justin Verlander as the most excellent. I wrote an article a month ago about why I thought Weaver was this year's AL MVP, and it was true—until August. Since then Weaver has had a number of shaky starts, but the Verlander train has continued to power through.

    Verlander is 22-5 with a 2.44 ERA and 232 K's. In short, he has had an amazing season and certainly deserves the award. Whether or not he'll double up with the AL MVP is another question altogether.

    AL Cy Young Award Runners-Up: Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia and James Shields

NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

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    The NL Cy Young Award is probably the most hotly contested award up for grabs at season's end. And in reality, it's still too early and too close to call. What happens over the last few starts for Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee may be what determines the NL Cy Young for 2011.

    Although Cliff Lee has been absolutely out of his mind since August, going a combined 6-0 with a minuscule 0.48 ERA in his last seven starts, Clayton Kershaw has been rock solid all year long.

    Kershaw ranks first in ERA (2.36), IP (213.2) and K (231), second in Wins (18) and WHIP (1.00), and has made great strides in controlling his walks issued this year.

    Although these four pitchers are absolutely littered all over the league leaders' board, Kershaw has meant the most to his team, anchoring an otherwise pedestrian rotation in a very tough pitching division.

    NL Cy Young Runners-Up: Ian Kennedy, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee

AL MVP: Justin Verlander

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    It will be a difficult row to hoe for Justin Verlander to become the 2011 AL MVP.  There are multiple writers who have stated they would never vote for a starting pitcher for MVP—that the Cy Young Award was made for just that purpose.

    But Justin Verlander really is the 2011 AL MVP.

    While Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury both make convincing cases themselves, it is Verlander who has meant the most to his team. I think Buster Olney said it best several weeks ago when he tweeted, "The Tigers are 21-8 in Verlander's 29 starts. In all other games, they are 52-51." Certainly those win/loss numbers are different now, but the point still stands.

    The only other legitimate threat to Verlander's run at the AL MVP is Curtis Granderson. As the Yankees have struggled with age and injury, Granderson has been their staple. His 39 HR, 111 RBI and 24 SB are all very impressive, but I think the fact that he plays in a very left-handed-hitter friendly park will work against him.

    Also, as hot as the Detroit Tigers have been coming down the home stretch, that has to count extra for a guy like Justin Verlander. The vote will be close, but Verlander should come out on top at season's end.

    AL MVP Runners-Up: Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson

NL MVP: Matt Kemp

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    As impressive as Matt Kemp's 2011 campaign has been, fans can't help but think: if only the Dodgers had a little bit more talent around Kemp and Kershaw; they could be competing for a World Series championship in October.

    And for that very reason, Matt Kemp is my 2011 NL MVP.

    Sure, he plays on just a .500 team, but the LA Dodgers have been hot of late, winning 15 of their last 20 games, and Kemp is the team leader in every single major offensive statistical category. In the NL, Kemp ranks second in HR (33), RBI (108) and SB (38) and ranks fourth in batting average (.317). In short, his season has been nothing less than phenomenal.

    Forget the fact that the Dodgers are a .500 ball club with him, because without him, they'd be buried deep in the cellar of the NL West.

    While Justin Upton certainly deserves some talk for NL MVP for leading the quiet D-Backs to a divisional title, he is also backed by a tremendous stable of young starting pitching. The same goes for Ryan Braun. Although he has had a fantastic season (.331/27/96), he is not even the most dangerous hitter in his own lineup. The protection Prince Fielder provides for Ryan Braun (and vice-versa) partially accounts for Braun's huge numbers.

    And Kemp has only done it all on his own.

    NL MVP Runners-Up: Ryan Braun, Justin Upton, Prince Fielder