Holy guacamole. We're at the finish line already? Didn't the Dodgers and Diamondbacks just get back from Opening Day in Australia like 10 minutes ago?
Well, if this is the end of another baseball season, you know what that means. It's time once again for my annual end-of-season awards, which, as always, will not be presented by Seth Meyers, Neil Patrick Harris, Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Samuel L. Jackson or even Reginald M. Jackson. So bring 'em on. The envelopes, please.
National League MVP: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers
I don't know if I've ever barbecued more brain cells trying to make my MVP choice than I have with this one. Mike Trout versus Miguel Cabrera was entertaining and all. But I didn't actually have a vote in those elections. I do in this one. A lot of people seem to make up their minds on this stuff and then look for facts to back them up. It's tougher when you start with the facts and then decide. Let's just make it clear that I'm not penalizing Giancarlo Stanton for getting drilled in the face. Heck, Clayton Kershaw missed more games than Stanton missed. And one Stanton supporter I surveyed made a compelling argument that, in an age where exactly two players in the National League have hit 30 homers, Stanton's incredible season might really be more unique than Kershaw's. Well, he might be right, but I'm still voting for Kershaw. Why? 1) Because we're specifically told, in the voting instructions, pitchers are eligible. So no grumbling over that, OK? 2) Because he's had the one season in this group that rises above the realm of "great" and lands in the orbit of "historic." A 1.77 ERA with a strikeout rate this high (10.8/9 IP) and WHIP this miniscule (0.86)? No left-handed pitcher has ever had a season like it. Only Sandy Koufax is even close. And 3) because when Kershaw pitches, his team pretty much never, ever loses. But when anyone else pitches, the Dodgers are basically the Blue Jays (four games over .500). The Dodgers are 20-1 in his last 21 starts -- 20 AND 1. So there's no way anyone can argue Kershaw wasn't the difference between this team heading for the Octoberfest and heading for the nearest driving range. And that's the definition of an MVP. Right?
Players I considered: Kershaw, Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Jonathan Lucroy, Russell Martin, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Anthony Rendon, Josh Harrison, Adam Wainwright, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Yasiel Puig.
(As a voter, I'm not permitted to reveal my ballot until November. Sorry.)
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
Los Angeles Angels
I get the impression some people think we're going to hand Trout this trophy as a make-up award -- just our little way of saying, "Hey Mike, sorry we Cabrera-ed you the past two years." But c'mon. Really? When the Best Player in Baseball also plays for the Best Team in Baseball, and then goes out and leads his league in runs scored, RBIs, total bases, extra-base hits and the trifecta of sabermetric indicators, Wins Above Replacement, Offensive Wins Above Replacement and OPS-Plus, you can forget all the conspiracy theories. Mike Trout is great. Period. And he earned this award. Period. Since RBIs became an official stat, he'll be the first player ever to lead his league in RBIs out of the No. 2 hole. He's going to join Babe Ruth as the only players in AL history to cram 35 homers, 39 doubles, 9 triples and 16 stolen bases into the same season. He's going to become the fourth player in the past 100 years to lead the American League in runs scored in three consecutive years. Want to hear the other three? Just Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Ruth (whoever they are). And once we hand him this award, Trout will become, by a mile, the youngest player ever to rip off three straight top-two MVP finishes. Sure, you can argue it ought to be three straight top-one finishes. But whatever you think of how the past two elections turned out, we're going to get this one right.
NL Least Valuable Player: B.J. Upton, Braves
We haven't had a lot of repeat LVP winners in the time I've been writing this column. But B.J. Upton has pulled it off, because his 2013-14 disaster in Atlanta puts him in a special category. You know how hard it is to have back-to-back seasons like this, with more than 150 whiffs, fewer than 15 home runs and a batting average under .210? So hard that nobody else in history has ever done it! But since this is a 2014 "honor," let's just focus on this year, when Upton is hitting .152 against relief pitchers (with 58 strikeouts, 23 hits), .131 in what baseball-reference.com describes as "high-leverage" situations, .182 after the sixth inning (with 50 K, 26 H), .149 after the sixth inning of close games, .140 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and .110 once the count reaches two strikes (with 171 punchouts and 30 hits). I could keep going. But why? The seasons this guy has had the past two years, since signing the largest free-agent contract in franchise history, are the kind that get general managers fired -- and, in his case, already have accomplished that mission. Think he'll send Frank Wren a sorry-about-that card?
AL LVP: Stephen Drew, Red Sox/Yankees
New York Yankees
What we have here, I'm pretty sure, is a season that has never been duplicated in the history of baseball. After all, who else beside Stephen Drew has ever contributed this heavily to keeping the Red Sox and Yankees from both making the playoffs in the same year? In his two months as a Yankee, Drew has had the worst batting average in the majors, the second-worst on-base percentage, the sixth-worst slugging percentage and the third-worst OPS among players with as many plate appearances as he's gotten. In his two months with the Red Sox, he only had the third-worst average, ninth-worst OBP, 21st-worst slugging percentage and 11th-worst OPS. But he gets extra LVP points for inflicting such psychological duress on Xander Bogaerts -- who had to move from short to third to make room for him in Boston -- that during the time Drew was there, Bogaerts plummeted to the worst average and the second-worst OPS in the sport. So you can make a case that the best part of Drew's year was the part of the season where he held out and didn't play at all. Except that part cost him almost $5 million. So when you factor in all of that, this was a year worthy of the LVP Hall of Fame. Or Shame.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Here's an idea. Let's have a Clayton Kershaw Award just for Kershaw, and give the rest of the league an actual chance to win the Cy Young. Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels and even Aroldis Chapman have all had fantastic and dominating seasons. Just not as dominating as the best pitcher in baseball. Who has rattled off one of the greatest seasons of modern times. His 42 runs allowed in 27 starts? The fewest in any 20-win season ever. His amazing slash line, of 1.77 ERA/0.86 WHIP/10.85 K/9 IP ratio/.196 opponent average? Matched or beaten only by Pedro Martinez's superhuman 2000 season. Those 26 starts (out of 27) allowing no more than three runs? The highest percentage (96.3) by any starter since 1900. Know how many runs opposing leadoff hitters have scored against him all season? Three. Know how many homers opposing cleanup men have hit? Zero. Know what opposing hitters have batted against him with two outs? An absurd .150 (with 79 strikeouts, 33 hits). Want to guess what opponents have hit in the eighth and ninth innings against him? How about .106 (7 for 66, with 24 strikeouts, no walks and no extra-base hits). Wow. What. A. Season.
My "ballot": Kershaw, Cueto, Wainwright, Bumgarner, Hamels.
AL Cy Young: Corey Kluber, Indians
Yikes, was this tough. So tough that I actually had the name "Felix Hernandez" chiseled into this space three days ago, before King Felix threw this Cy Young derby into turmoil by allowing seven runs in one inning in Toronto. Even now, it's still almost impossible to separate the King, Chris Sale and my pick, Corey Kluber. But here's how I did it: Sale has been awesome -- but in about 50 fewer innings than Kluber or Hernandez. And when it's this close, those innings matter. Hernandez, meanwhile, has been fantastic. But has he really been more dominant than Kluber? That answer, I think, is no. If we define a DS ("Dominating Start") as 7-plus innings pitched, two earned runs or fewer and at least 10 strikeouts, then guess what? Kluber has had nine DS to Hernandez's five. Now let's go to the history books. In the past 25 seasons, eight AL starters have had at least nine Dominating Starts in a season. Seven won the Cy Young -- all but Randy Johnson, who unjustly lost in 1993 to Jack McDowell, based solely on "wins." If you take an even wider view, Kluber leads all AL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (at a Kershaw-esque 6.9 -- half a win more than Hernandez), and can still win the strikeout title. And while Kluber doesn't lead the league in ERA, he does lead in Fielding Independent Pitching, which reminds us how ugly the defense was behind him. It's still hard for me to believe I'm not picking King Felix. But the most dominating pitcher of this season was Corey Kluber.
NL Cy Yuk: Edwin Jackson, Cubs
Has an LVP ever been traded for a Cy Yuk? Now there's a question you won't see posed in one of those mainstream awards columns. But it almost happened this July, when the Braves talked about swapping their B.J. Upton contract debacle to the Cubs for Edwin Jackson and his own uplifting contract debacle. It never did happen. But the fact that we've conferred these prestigious honors on those two men testify to the fact it's an even trade waiting to happen. But first, Jackson has a Cy Yuk season to finish. Baseball-Reference.com computes his Wins Above Replacement value at minus-2.3 -- the third-worst recorded by any starting pitcher in modern history -- and calculates his Adjusted ERA-Plus at only 60 -- which would be the worst by any starting pitcher since Jack Neagle put up a 55 in (ready?) 1883. Oh, and Jackson's 6.38 ERA would be the highest by any starting pitcher with at least 27 starts and 139 innings in the history of the Cubs. Which is quite a feat, considering they're, well, the Cubs. So let's hand out those trophies and then make that LVP-for-Cy Yuk deal. What do you say? It's their destiny.
AL Cy Yuk: Colby Lewis, Rangers
On one hand, Colby Lewis has ground his way back from hip-resurfacing surgery -- a procedure that sounds so painful, it hurts just to type it -- to lead the Rangers in innings pitched this season. And who among us wouldn't give him credit for that? On the other hand, he's still had one of those Cy Yuk kind of years. In 29 trips to the mound, the guy has eight quality starts. And only his QS Thursday kept him from tying John Halama's "record" for fewest in a season of 29 starts or more in the expansion era (which began 54 seasons ago). Opposing hitters have a .304/.352/.488/.840 slash line against him, which means, essentially, he's turned everyone he's faced into Buster Posey. Then there was that messy July 10 start against the Angels, in which Lewis became the first pitcher in the last 100 years to allow 13 hits and 13 runs in an outing in which he didn't even get eight outs. And, finally, there was The Quote. The one in which he told Toronto's Colby Rasmus that bunting against the shift, with two outs in a two-run game, was not "the way the game should be played." Which must be some sort of secret Colby Rules edict or something. I don't usually deduct points for goofy quotes, but that AL Cy Yuk competition was especially heated this year. Couldn't help it.
NL Rookie of the Year: Jacob deGrom
New York Mets
So which is more impossible? Trying to compare 23-year-old rookies from Indiana to 27-year-old "rookies" from Cuba, or trying to compare a position player who played in more than 150 games to a pitcher who won't even make it into 25 games? That's what us Rookie of the Year judges are wondering. On one hand, here in the NL, there's Billy Hamilton, the Reds' sprint champ who found out he couldn't outrun the grind of the season. On the other, there's Jacob deGrom, who has had a spectacular rookie season but only made 22 starts, thanks to a mid-May call-up and an August visit to the disabled list. Well, you have to go back 60 years (to Bob Grim in 1954) to find a rookie pitcher who won this award with fewer than 25 starts in a non-strike year. But the heck with that precedent. Hamilton has lost his way down the stretch (with a .511 second-half OPS, dead last among all NL regulars). And deGrom has been, surprisingly, not just the Mets' best pitcher, but one of the best starters in the whole NL. Bet you didn't know he'd be seventh in the league in ERA, fifth in opponent OPS and fourth in FIP if he had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. And since his 0-4 start, he's 9-2, 1.90 in his past 15 starts. Which would rank him second in the NL in ERA since then, behind that Kershaw dude. So if a guy is in that kind of company, would YOU have any regrets about handing him a Rookie of the Year trophy? Not me.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, White Sox
Chicago White Sox
Have we talked enough this season about how great Jose Abreu has been? Of course we haven't. I recognize that he's 27, and he's played a lot more baseball than, say, Rougned Odor. But the rules still say the guy is a "rookie." And since he is, he's had one of the greatest rookie seasons in the history of rookies. Here's his slash line: .315/.379/.576/.956. Over the past 75 years, exactly two rookies have matched or beaten it -- Ted Williams in 1939 and Albert Pujols in 2001. Now add Abreu's 35 home runs and 72 extra-base hits to that slash line, and you know how many rookies have ever had this season? Two -- Pujols and Hal Trosky (in 1934). And here's the money ball: Abreu's Adjusted OPS-Plus is an incredible 167. Which, according to baseball-reference.com, ranks No. 3 among all rookies in modern history. The only rookies who ever topped it? How 'bout Shoeless Joe Jackson (193) -- over a century ago (in 1911) -- and Mike Trout (168) two years ago. So I'd like to thank Jose Abreu for his help in writing this column. Even in a year when a half-dozen rookies in this league have had a better season than any rookie in the other league, he made this easy.
NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, Giants
It's an "even" year, right? So it must be time for me to nominate Bruce Bochy for another manager-of-the-year award. Wait. How is it possible that this man hasn't won one since 1996, and that he's never won while managing the Giants? That's embarrassing, because Bochy is as good at this job as it gets. And this year was one more example. He lost Matt Cain, Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt for extended periods of time. He had to pull the plug on a closer who got the last out of a World Series just two years ago (Sergio Romo). He had to take local hero Tim Lincecum out of his rotation eight weeks after the guy pitched a no-hitter. And by the way, that rotation, the foundation of everything the Giants have been all about in the post-Bondsian era, is just 10th in the league in quality starts. Some teams only have 13 position players on their entire roster. Bochy has used 13 just on the right side of his infield. Yet somehow, amid all this turmoil, this team still had a shot to win the division in the final week of the season? Sounds like manager-of-the-year material to me. How about you?
AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter, Orioles
He lost his All-Star catcher (Matt Wieters) in May. He had to change closers (adios Tommy Hunter, hello Zach Britton) six weeks into the season. His third-base phenom (Manny Machado) blew out his knee in August. His Opening Day cleanup hitter (Chris Davis) batted .196, slugged .404 and got suspended in September. His big free-agent starting-pitching signee (Ubaldo Jimenez) was a prime Cy Yuk candidate. And he had one starting pitcher (Jimenez) with a league-average strikeout rate. That was the deck Buck Showalter was dealt this season. Does it sound like the perfect recipe for even a master chef to cook up a team that has gone on to lead the mighty AL East by 13 games? Well, that's what Showalter did, with his customary genius for manipulating a roster and bullpen, with his unparalleled attention to every detail and with a vision for running baseball games and baseball teams that has caused his club to outwin its expected won-lost record in all four full seasons he's been managing this team. I feel like I pick this guy to win this award every year -- but I know I've got it 100 percent correct this year.
My "ballot": Showalter, Lloyd McClendon, Mike Scioscia, Ned Yost, Terry Francona.