The Weekly Tail ‘Gater: Season Standouts: Picking the Award Winners

Mike Nanna

As the 2007 Major League Baseball season winds down and the pennant races come to a close, most people’s attention will be on the upcoming playoffs. However, it is still important to reflect on the stars who shined brightest this season and determine which players deserve the highest individual accolade of all: MVP.

In the American League, the MVP conversation begins and ends with New York Yankees third basemen and backpage idol Alex Rodriguez. When he hasn’t been stalking around Toronto with strippers or buying his wife offensive tee-shirts, he’s managed to put together one of the greatest seasons of all-time. While leading the league in home runs, RBI’s, runs, total bases, OBP, OPS and distractions, A-Rod has managed to earn the affection of the Yankee faithful and re-establish himself as the consensus premier player in baseball. He’s the best player on a team that managed to make their way back from a double-digit deficit in the standings and he plays in baseball’s biggest market. Another horrendous postseason can easily erase A-Rod’s legendary season in the hearts of fans, but the MVP votes get submitted before the playoffs start so this race is already over. My apologies to the runners-up: Magglio Ordonez and Vladimir Guerrero.

The National League MVP race is nowhere near as clear cut as the American League race, with multiple candidates staking a legitimate claim to the award. Prince Fielder, first basemen for the Milwaukee Brewers, has slugged his way to the front of the pack with 50 homers and 119 RBI; yet his team is in danger of missing the playoffs. The same can be said for David Wright, whose chances have been hurt by the Mets struggles of late. Wright has been the steadiest Met this year, slugging 30 homers to go along with 33 stolen bases and a .320 batting average. If the Metropolitans can fend off the Phillies for the division, Wright might end up the favorite in this race. Three players who will probably get a ton of attention are the Phillies trio of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. Howard has had another phenomenal year but is hurt by his outrageous strikeout numbers and the fact that Fielder has put up superior numbers at the same position. Rollins has laid his stake to the award, but many baseball insiders say that he isn’t even the most valuable player on his own team. Utley might have run away with this award had he not been injured. However, the thirty games he missed have prevented him from accumulating the numbers he would need to win. Considering that these Phillies will steal votes from each other and that Philadelphia might not even make the playoffs, an MVP award in the city of Brotherly Love seems unlikely. That leaves one last candidate: Matt Holliday, outfielder for the Colorado Rockies. Holliday, on paper, appears to be the strongest candidate statistically. However, he slugs over 200 points lower on the road than at Coors field and his OPS dips from .1159 at home to .854 on the road. Though some have overcome the stigma in the past (Larry Walker circa 1997), this Coors Field creation should fall just short.

As for the American League Cy Young, it appears to be a two-man race at this point. Despite Fausto Carmona’s emergence, John Lackey’s phenomenal efforts, J.J. Putz’s Sandman-like season and Johan Santana arguably remaining the best pitcher on the planet, Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia and Boston’s Josh Beckett are the two leading candidates. C.C. has led the Indians to their first division title since 2001 with 18 wins, four complete games and 205 strikeouts while sporting a 3.19 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. These great numbers have come across a league high 234 innings so far this season. The big lefty has defined the meaning of workhorse this year and deserves a lot of credit for pitching lights-out in a very tough division. Boston’s Beckett has less strikeouts (188) with a similar ERA (3.14) and WHIP (1.12), but his 20 wins distinguish him from his competitors. Whether that is fair or not is debatable, but the voters will ultimately see that number more than any other. When one factors in that Beckett plays in a bigger market, I think there is a good chance Beckett gets the edge, but barely. The last week of the season may very well play a big role in this race.

In the National League, the Cy Young race is less of a question. While Brandon Webb’s lengthy scoreless inning streak was commendable and Aaron Harang, John Smoltz and Chris Young have all been brilliant, one man stands above the rest. That is San Diego ace Jake Peavy, who has challenged the aforementioned Santana for alpha-ace status this year. Peavy has won 18 games for the first-place Padres with a MLB leading 233 strikeouts, a 2.36 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 210 innings pitched. Peavy has fulfilled his much-heralded potential and rebounded from a so-so 2006 to be the clear cut Cy Young winner in the National League for 2007. He’s cut from the old mold with an admirable Alabama toughness that sets him apart from the delicate pitchers of the present. If this race isn’t unanimous, it would be a surprise.