Yelich & Betts get MVP Awards
Both of the favored candidates did indeed win the Most Valuable Player Awards for 2018: Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers was the National League MVP, and Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox was the American League MVP. Both players were key factors in their teams' drives to win the divisional championships, but whereas Betts' team won the World Series, Yelich's team only made it as far as the league championship series. Yelich received 29 of 30 first-place votes cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America; Jacob deGrom (see below) received the other first-place vote. (The other "top" candidates were Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez and the Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado.) Meanwhile, Betts received 28 such votes, far outpacing the L.A. Angels' Mike Trout and the Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez.
Yelich came very close to winning a Triple Crown this year: he had a batting average of .326, well ahead of the Cincinnati Reds' Scooter Gennett (.310), as well as 36 home runs and 110 RBIs. In the home run race, Nolan Arenado led the NL with 38, and in RBIs, Javier Baez led the NL with 111; Arenado had 110, tying Yelich. Yelich, age 26, began his career with the Miami Marlins but was traded to the Brewers last January. He first drew my attention in the ninth inning on September 28, 2014, when he smashed a line drive to the gap in left-center field at Nationals Park, almost ruining Jordan Zimmerman's bid to record the Nationals' first-ever no-hitter. For the record, the Washington Nationals' Max Scherzer came in tenth place in NL MVP voting, and Anthony Rendon (batting average of .308, tied for fourth in the NL) came in 11th place.
On the American League side, Mookie Betts (like Yelich, age 26) led the major leagues with a batting average of .346 (his team mate J.D. Martinez was the runner-up with .330), as well as 32 home runs (tied for 9th place in the AL), 80 RBIs (tied for 22nd -- not bad for a leadoff hitter), and 30 stolen bases (tied for 5th). The other top AL MVP candidates were the L.A. Angels' Mike Trout and Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez.
Have any other MLB players been nicknamed "Mookie"? It's ironic, since it was the Mets' Mookie Wilson who hit the ground ball that Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner muffed in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, helping the Mets to win it all the next day. Bett's real first name is Markus, and Mookie Wilson's real first name is William.
Cy Young Awards to deGrom & Snell
As most observers expected, the 2018 National League Cy Young Award went to Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, while Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays won on the American League side. DeGrom received all but one first-place vote (the other going to Max Scherzer), while Snell received 17 such votes, edging the Houston Astros' Justin Verlander, who received 13. It's the second time that a Tampa Bay pitcher has been so honored; David Price won it in 2012. The other top candidate was Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians. See MLB.com.
DeGrom's amazing ERA of 1.70 was the sixth-lowest for any MLB starting pitcher since 1969, and Snell's ERA of 1.89 was only the 13th time since 1975 that such a pitcher has recorded an ERA under 2.00. Part of what makes deGrom's accomplishment so great is that he was so consistent: He set a major league record for most number of consecutive starts allowing three or fewer runs. In his worst outing, he gave up four runs, and yet he lost nine games thanks to the poor batting of his team mates. But what really stands out is that deGrom only got ten wins, the fewest ever for a Cy Young Award winner. See forbes.com. The runners-up, so to speak, are Felix Hernandez, who went 13-12 the Seattle Mariners in 2010, and Fernando Valenzuela, who went 13-7 for the L.A. Dodgers in 1981.
Once again, as with the Rookie of the Year Award, the Washington Nationals' candidate came in a distant second, even though several of the objective measures of performance indicated otherwise. In this case, however, Max Scherzer had won the award for the two previous years, on top of his 2013 AL Cy Young Award, when he was with the Detroit Tigers, so, it's not like he really needed another such trophy. I share his feeling of disappointment, as well as his respect for the winner. DeGrom almost certainly deserved the recognition. That being said, there did seem to be a contrast between the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards as far as how much the team's win-loss record factored into the decision. The Braves' winning season was a credit to Ronald Acuña, but in this case, "winning isn't everything."
|Jacob deGrom||Max Scherzer|
Finally, it is worth pointing out that Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and J.D. Martinez are all former members of the once-fearsome Detroit Tigers, who could not afford to keep all of them -- or indeed, any of them.
Managers of the Year
Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves and Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics won the NL and AL Manager of the Year Awards, respectively. Snitker received 17 first-place votes, while the Milwaukee Brewers' Craig Counsell received 11. The consensus third-place choice was Bud Black of the Colorado Rockies. (He's the guy that the Nationals almost hired to replace Dusty Baker as manager last year.) On the American League side, the A's Bob Melvin received 18 first-place votes, more than the combined total of the Red Sox' Alex Cora and the Rays' Kevin Cash. Both the Brewers and the Athletics staged remarkable late-season surges that caught many people by surprise, presumably reflecting the strong, effective leadership. That did not happen with the Washington Nationals this year.
Suzuki rejoins the Nats
The Washington Nationals signed their former catcher Kurt Suzuki to a two-year contract, pending a physical exam. He will get $4 million in 2019 and $6 million in 2020. Suzuki, who played with the Nationals for about one year (August 2012 - August 2013) has been a solid player with the Oakland A's, the Minnesota Twins, and (for the past two years) the Atlanta Braves, but he is getting a little old (35), and his performance numbers show it. Washington Post) columnist Thomas Boswell says that Suzuki just might be the "front-line catcher" the Nationals need, but most observers think he's probably just a stop-gap, bolstering a weak spot in the Nats' defense. Neither Spencer Kieboom nor Pedro Severino seem to be top-notch future catchers, so perhaps Suzuki could help mold them into better players or else keep the team steady until the Nats do land a star-caliber catcher. What about Wilson Ramos? He's a free agent who was acquired by the Phillies in a trade with the Rays at midseason, and while there are good sentimental reasons to bring him back to D.C., his record of injuries makes him just too risky. As for the Nats' first-string catcher for the past two years, Matt Wieters just did not live up to expectations set by his years in Baltimore, so he was not offered a contract renewal.
Football in baseball stadiums
On Saturday, Notre Dame easily beat Syracuse in the "Shamrock Series" game held in New Yankee Stadium, upholding the tradition of football games being played in the home of the New York Yankees. I watched part of that game on TV, but not until later did I realize that football was also being played in the home of the world champion Boston Red Sox: Harvard beat Yale in Fenway Park! (See a photo gallery at boston.com.) So, I added a brand-new football diagram for Fenway Park (since the gridiron is aligned differently than it was when the Patriots played there in the 1960s) and updated the text on both those pages.
But what about Wrigley Field? The latest renovations there included retractable grandstand seats precisely so as to allow for football games, but negotiations between the Chicago Cubs and the Big Ten last summer did not bear fruit. Maybe next year. Perhaps memories of the awkward football game at Wrigley Field in November 2010 still linger. See Sports Illustrated.
Then there's the converse situation: baseball games played in football stadiums! That's what happened, essentially, in 1982 when the Cracker Jack Old Timers' Game was inaugurated in RFK Stadium. (They held the event for the next three years in Washington, and yet somehow I never managed to attend any of the games even though I lived in the area.) The Senators had left Washington a decade before, and the task of moving the lower deck back into the proper position for baseball was considered just too difficult. There is some good information on the Old Timers' Games in RFK Stadium at the Baseball Hall of Fame, most notably when 75-year old Luke Appling hit a home run to the absurdly short (260-foot) left field. I got some useful (though blurry) images of that game from the Ultimate Baseball Look blog. From them, I realized for the very first time that the diamond was rotated about five degrees counter-clockwise and moved backward and to the right. To minimize damage to the turf, furthermore, they only removed the grass from the areas near the four bases and the pitcher's mound. And so, I just couldn't resist doing a 1982 baseball diagram for RFK Stadium, even though that configuration was rather silly -- much like when the Dodgers used Los Angeles Memorial Stadium as their home. Voilà!