Before the season, I compared making predictions to a pink shirt. Allow me to amend that.
Making predictions is like golf: I stink at it, and so does just about everyone else.
Of my choices for the six major awards – American League and National League MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year – I nailed only two from the preseason and at the midseason reset.
And this is not to mention the preseason pick of the Atlanta Braves over the Chicago White Sox in the World Series, or the midseason pick of Chicago over the New York Mets, or the complete omission of the New York Yankees, who head into the postseason as the prohibitive favorite.
Frankly, it's a lot easier choosing when the season is almost done, the numbers nearly tabulated and the standings fairly straightforward. Though as the first award shows, those choices aren't always that easy.
• AL MVP: Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees
When confronted with a difficult choice between position players, I like to take into consideration a handful of aspects: the traditional numbers, the sabermetric numbers, situational hitting, demand of position, clubhouse leadership and team success. In the first category, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz trumps Jeter by 40 home runs and 41 RBI, though Jeter bests him in runs, doubles, triples and, particularly, stolen bases (32 to one). In advanced statistical metrics, Jeter beats Ortiz in both value over replacement player (75.8 to 74.7) and Win Shares (31 to 27). For his sheer dramatics, Ortiz gets the nod for clutch hitting, though Jeter is no slouch, hitting .384 with runners in scoring position. Jeter earns points for playing a position, while Ortiz rests on the bench between innings. Their presence is a wash; both are their teams' lifeblood. So with everything else almost dead even, it comes down, as the MVP award should in all but rare instances, to team success. The Yankees are going to the playoffs. The Red Sox aren't. Case closed.
Again, we'll start with the numbers. While Ryan Howard has 11 more home runs and 13 more RBI than Pujols, his batting average and on-base percentage don't stack up, and their slugging percentage – the greatest indicator of power – is within one thousandth of a point. Pujols, despite spending two weeks on the disabled list, has a higher VORP (84.0 to 80.9) and more Win Shares (36 to 29). Pujols' situational numbers absolutely crush Howard's: 1.298 on-base-plus-slugging to .935 with runners in scoring position, 1.187 to 1.038 in close-and-late situations, and so on. Both play first base, though Pujols does it much better. Neither is a particularly big voice for the team, though Pujols' is bigger, probably because he's been around longer. And to add one more criterion in this case: support. As in, Howard has Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, and Pujols does all the heavy lifting himself.
What I don't understand about preseason picks is why anyone would pick against Santana. He is clearly the best pitcher in baseball. There is no need to rattle off his second-half numbers over the last three years, because at this point they've been talked about so much people believe they're real, even though they don't look it. Instead, here are four others: 233 2/3, 245, 19 and 2.77. Those are Santana's innings pitched, strikeouts, victories and earned-run average, and if he finishes the season leading the league in all four – which he currently does – he'll become the AL's first pitcher since Hal Newhouser in 1945 to win pitching's equivalent of the quadruple crown.
• NL Cy Young: Chris Carpenter, SP, St. Louis
Now, this would change if the Cardinals do gag away the NL Central. Carpenter and Brandon Webb have put up numbers that run practically even. Webb has one more win and an ERA less than a quarter of a run better. Carpenter has more strikeouts, less walks and less hits per inning. Webb's VORP and Win Shares are a tad higher. But Carpenter has been the Cardinals' only reliable starter the entire season, and for a team that's on the precipice of losing its playoff spot, every one of those starts was a necessity.
3) Trevor Hoffman
Preseason: Roy Oswalt
Survival of the fittest more than anything. Verlander lasted the season and is going to the playoffs. Jonathan Papelbon's shoulder couldn't hold up, nor could Francisco Liriano's elbow. Which is a pity, really, because had the three stayed healthy, it would have made for some kind of spirited race. As it stands, now the AL has three tremendous pitchers – along with Jered Weaver, in a close fourth place behind Liriano – to help usher in the future.
Next to AL MVP, this was the toughest call. Because as of 10 days ago, Ramirez's keystone partner, Dan Uggla, was the frontrunner. Since then, Uggla has gone 5 for 41 with no RBI and 10 strikeouts, and though it doesn't diminish his rookie record 26 home runs for a second baseman, it does kill his candidacy. And while Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's 20 home runs and 109 RBI are impressive, one thing stood out: Ramirez, a leadoff hitter, has a slugging percentage equal to Zimmerman's. Tack on his playing a more demanding position – though Zimmerman does field his better – to the 51 stolen bases, 118 runs, 17 home runs and resurgence since a midseason slump, and Ramirez, though a difficult choice, is the right one.
Preseason: Jeremy Hermida
• AL Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota
• NL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi, Florida
• AL Comeback Player of the Year: Frank Thomas, Oakland Athletics
• AL Gold Gloves
• NL Gold Gloves
And, just for fun, some miscellaneous awards that we don't think Major League Baseball will be handing out anytime soon.
• The Screech Powers Award (for taking a dump in September): Chicago starter Mark Buehrle, who, in five starts this month, put up a 6.67 ERA, gave up 46 hits (the second most in baseball) and struck out just 13.
• The Mark Prior/Kerry Wood Award (for excellence in injury): Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby, who, for the second consecutive season, missed a significant portion of the season. His doctor saw a strained shoulder, bruised finger, sore triceps, bruised hand and stiff back this season after treating bruised ribs, a sore hand, upper back pain, a fractured rib, a strained quadriceps and a broken ankle last year.
• The Mark Fidrych Award (for grandest imagination): Cincinnati utilityman Ryan Freel, who claims to communicate with Farney, "a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him."
• The Jack Kevorkian Award (for mercy killing): ESPN, which canceled "Bonds on Bonds."
• The I'll Have My Cake, Eat It and Wouldn't Dare Share It Award (for idiocy): Kansas City starter Odalis Perez, who, when with the Dodgers, was yanked from the rotation, then stopped giving away the 45 tickets he had earmarked for local inner-city children.
• The Anthony Young Award (for futility in pitching): Cleveland reliever Fausto Carmona, who, after being installed as the Indians' closer, lost four games within a week's span between July and August.
• The George Burns Award (for unexpected longevity): Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, who would have suffered far less stress had the Cubs whacked him a few months ago instead of later this week.
• The Mr. T Award (for general badassery): Toronto manager John Gibbons, who first sent Shea Hillenbrand packing for insubordination, then picked a fight with starter Ted Lilly after he whined for getting yanked from a game.
• The Didn't Mom Tell You Not to Play With Machetes! Award (for, um, insanity?): Reliever Ugueth Urbina, who, as of the last report on him in May, remained in a Venezuelan jail for allegedly attacking ranch hands with lighter fluid and a machete.
• The Banished to the Couch Award (for spousal indiscretion): Baltimore outfielder Jay Gibbons, whose foul ball earlier this week smacked his wife in the ribcage.
- Johan Santana