Monday, October 30, 2006
The 2006 Cardinals might be the most improbable World Series champ in years: they had one of the worst pitching staffs in the regular season, they nearly blew a huge lead over the Astros for the division title, and they seemed utterly reliant on Albert Pujols to generate offense. As it turns out David Eckstein was the only weapon they needed on offense for the series. I am very, very surprised by the Cardinals victory and I am happy for St. Louis fans. I’ve met some at baseball games over the years and I have to say that they are nearly all exceedingly polite, good-natured and knowledgeable about the game.
I am very disappointed in the Tigers – a team that I like a lot and was rooting for – but I think the future is bright for Detroit. The 2006 Tigers were very, very young and had a lot of rookies and young players at key positions. They’ll be back in 2007.
With the book on the 2006 season now finally closed, I figured that I might give my thoughts on who ought to win what awards and make some notes on other issues.
Rookie-of-the Year, American League.
My Pick: Justin Verlander, Pitcher, Detroit Tigers. It is hard not to be impressed with Justin Verlander’s performance this season. He enters the Tiger rotation having pitched just eleven innings in 2005 and promptly goes 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA. He’s done a nice job this season keeping the ball down (just 21 home runs allowed) and keeping runners off the base-paths. I’m impressed and I don’t know of a single rookie in the A.L. who was as good.
Rookie-of-the Year, National League.
My Pick: Dan Uggla, Second Base, Florida Marlins. Dan Uggla has a couple of things going for him. First off, Uggla is a Swedish name, so he can’t be all bad, despite playing for the Marlins. Second, Uggla is a power-hitting presence at a position not typically known for sluggers: second base. In his first MLB season Uggla had 104 Runs Created, with 27 home runs, 26 doubles and 7 triples. He stole six bases as well. He had real speed and major power at the plate from a position where most players are known for their defense. Uggla was second in the National League amongst second basemen with 22 Win Shares, just six behind the Phillies Chase Utley.
I think Uggla deserves the Rookie of the Year award more than teammate Hanley Ramirez or the Nationals Ryan Zimmerman because he plays a tougher defensive position than third baseman Zimmerman and he shows more power at the plate than Ramirez.
Cy Young, American League.
My Pick: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins. I think it would be ridiculous and absurd to award the Cy Young to anyone else than Santana. Let’s start by the fact that he led the A.L. in FIP ERA at 3.15. Santana also led the A.L. in strikeouts by a wide margin with 245 to the Tigers Jeremy Bonderman at 202. Santana also had the best ERA and the best WHIP in the A.L. What astonishes me about Santana is that he’s a power pitcher (10.2 K/9), but he’s absurdly hard to get a walk off of (2.0 BB/9). Is anyone this dominant in the game of baseball?
Cy Young, National League:
My Pick: Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros. Oswalt finished second in the American League in FIP ERA, just a little behind Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks. I give the narrow edge to Oswalt because he was a little tougher with allowing walks than Webb (38 to Webb’s 50) and pitches in more of a hitters park. Sure Oswalt’s 166 K’s were about 50 less than what the Reds Aaron Harang did, but Oswalt controlled the plate best. I admit that the N.L. Cy Young is very much in the air. Anyone can win it.
Most Valuable Player, American League.
My Pick: Johan Santana. Derek Jeter will win this award and, as much as I dislike Jeter and the Yankees, I will say that he is deserving. He turned in a good performance in 2006, leading the American League in Runs Created. But who meant more to their team? Jeter was a big bat in the middle of the Yankees Murderers Row. Santana was the key pitcher on a team built around pitching and defense. Simply put, the Twins needed Santana to win every time he takes the mound because their strategy is predicated upon Santana K’ing eight or nine batters every time he takes the mound and winning 3-2 and 2-1 games.
I’ve often said that the meaning of the MVP award is nebulous: does the standard relate to who is the best player, or to who is most valuable to their team? I am thinking that there is no one player who is clearly superior to everyone else, so you have to go with the idea that the award is meant for a player who made his team’s success possible.
That’s Johan Santana.
He was 10-1 after the All-Star Break and nearly single-handedly fueled the Twins drive from nowhere to the A.L. Central division crown. On June 7, 2006, they Twins were 25-33 and were sitting eleven and a half games out of first in fourth place. The Twins posted the best record in the majors after that, going 71-33. Santana is the one responsible.
Naturally Santana won't win the award for two reasons: 1) there is a bias against pitchers for the MVP because they are not everyday players; and 2) the sports punditry world wants to kiss Derek Jeter's ass. He plays for the Yankees (a bias in and of itself) and seems destined for the Hall of Fame. He's going to get his MVP award.
Most Valuable Player, National League:
My pick: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies. Like with Derek Jeter, there is a very viable argument to be made here for Albert Pujols. The Cardinals needed him to win, but nobody meant more to his team than Ryan Howard. Howard’s towering home runs were pretty much the only thing keeping the Phillies in the playoff race. Without Howard clobbering those three-run shots, the Phillies offense would have ground to a halt. No, Ryan Howard is the MVP because the Phillies would have been sunk without him. I won’t be upset if Pujols wins, but I think Howard deserves it a little more.
Thoughts on Gold Gloves: I don’t pretend to know how the Golden Glove winners are selected and what the criteria for selecting them is. How Bobby Abreu, as clueless a player in the outfield as there could ever be, could win an award marking him as one of the finest fielders in baseball – as he did in 2005 – strikes me as absurd.
First Carlos Beltran was the best defensive outfielder in 2006, so if he doesn’t win a Gold Glove, I will be stunned. Beltran had great Zone Rating numbers and had 13 Assists. He was great … Adam Everett was the best N.L. Shortstop as well – leading everyone in Zone Rating and committing just seven errors – so if he doesn’t win I’ll be stunned.
If Beltran and Everett don’t win I will be surprised, but I will be outraged if Chase Utley is not the N.L. Gold Glover for second base. Utley was third in Zone Rating, but played over three hundred more innings than the Astros Craig Biggio and five hundred more than the Rockies Jamey Carroll. Chase led all N.L. 2B’s in put outs, was second in assists and third in Range Factor. How can he not be the Gold Glove for second?
And naturally Derek Jeter will win the 2006 Gold Glove for shortstop. And naturally we’ll hear Joe Morgan prattling about Jeter’s exceptional defensive skills. And naturally we'll get talk about how Derek Jeter is destined for the Hall of Fame ... You get the idea. The problem with giving Jeter the A.L. Gold Glove is that is there is no evidence to support such a gift. Jeter was dead-last (!) in Range Factor for A.L. SS’s, he was fourth in fielding percentage, and he was seventh of nine in Zone Rating. Oh, and he ranked tenth in Fielding Win Shares among A.L. SS’s. There is not a shred of evidence to support the proposition that Derek Jeter is a good defensive shortstop. And yet they keep giving him awards …
As for the Eagles 13-6 loss yesterday to the Jacksonville Jaguars … Well, the less said the better. The Eagles great Achillies Heel – both of them – were exposed for the world to see on Sunday. First, the Eagles cannot run the ball. Just 85 yards on 20 carries, but 37 of those came from McNabb scrambling five times. Correll Buckhalter managed just ten yards on two carries and Westbrook got 38 yards on thirteen carries. Simply put, the Eagles could not run the ball worth anything and it caused the Jaguar defenders to tee off on McNabb and the wideouts and clamp down on them.
The Eagles passing game had its worst game of the season as a result: McNabb completed just eighteen passes for 161 yards, easily a season-low. Players not named Westbrook caught ten passes for 93 yards. An offense that relies on big plays got none. What really stuns me was how the Eagles wideouts managed just five catches for 73 yards, and Donte Stallworth had three of those grabs. Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis might as well been invisible yesterday. They did nothing.
A big disappointment was L.J. Smith, the Eagles tight end. With the wideouts bottled up, L.J. ought to have had a bigger play making plays, but he caught just one pass for eleven yards. Terrible.
So while I fault McNabb a little for the Eagles poor performance, it was really the failure of the supporting cast – Westbrook dropping passes, the Eagles wideouts vanishing, the Eagles backs not running the ball – that led the Eagles to score just six points. Easily a season-worst.
And the Eagles D couldn’t stop the run at all. Jacksonville looked like Nebraska circa 1997 back there, running the ball 46 times for 207 yards. Fred Taylor had 103 yards, Jones-Drew had 77 and David Girard had 36. The Jaguars run game was so good they threw just 17 passes and completed just ten for 87 yards. The Eagles will face Clinton Portis and the Redskins twice this season along with Michael Vick in the season finale (that is starting to loom like a very important game), so we have to stop their running games or we won’t make the playoffs.
So what do the Eagles playoff chances look like? Not good, but anything can happen in this league. What is important is for the Eagles to stick it to the Washington Redskins when they come out of the bye and make up some ground and quick. Last season the Eagles entered the Redskins game at 4-3 and had just dismissed T.O. They lost a game they could have won 17-10 and saw their season implode with a 21-20 loss to the Cowboys the next week. If the Eagles lose to the Redskins they will fall to 4-5 and will need a lot of help getting into the playoffs.
It’s a Must-Win.
The Wiz Kids will be back tomorrow with what happened after the 1950 All-Star Break.