2011 will be a proving ground for many new players and recently signed free agents. WIll Cliff Lee dazzle in red pinstripes? Will Adrian Gonzalez use Fenway as a launching pad? Can Bryce Harper succeed at the highest level of baseball, years before he can buy beer from a stadium vendor?
In 2010, San Diego’s Bud Black and Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire were named best skippers. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz and fellow World Series star Buster Posey, the Giants’ catcher, were named best rookies. Josh Hamilton of Texas was the AL MVP alongside Reds’ clean-up hitter Joey Votto in the NL, while Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and the perfect Roy Halladay were Cy Young winners.
Manager of the Year
This can seemingly be the hardest award to predict, but there are really only a few candidates each year. Managers of teams with very high expectations almost never win, so you can count out Terry Francona of the Red Sox and Charlie Manuel of Phillies unless injuries make them prove their mettle. Other managers might outdo low expectations, but they still need to at least come close to a division title for consideration; this probably rules out the respected Clint Hurdle in Pittsburgh and Ned Yost in Kansas City. Prediction:
AL: Ron Washington, Texas Rangers, after holding things together with Michael Young, working on a young pitching staff and fending off fiercer competition in the AL West.
NL: Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves, after stepping in for Bobby Cox and not missing a beat, while holding ground against the Phillies’ pitchers.
Rookie of the Year
Since the ROY began in 1947 with Jackie Robinson, 14 winners have gone on to Hall of Fame careers, or about 10% of the recipients (and this excludes active ROY winners like Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter and Ichiro). While the award seems to frequently go to flashes in the proverbial pan, it’s also a sign of a great career ahead.
Favorites in 2011 include Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ 18 year-old who took a G.E.D.; the Reds’ flamethrower Aroldis Chapman who impressed in late 2010; Mike Moustakas, a slugger for the Royals’ with a bold personality; and Jesus Montero, heir apparent to Jorge Posada. Prediction:
AL: Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay. A solid starter who may very well turn in a season you would want from a No. 3 or 4 starter.
NL: Domonic Brown, Philadelphia. Even hand surgery in Spring Training won’t stop this rightfielder from succeeding in 2011. Aroldis Chapman will be great, but 2011 will see him stuck in a middle relief role and he’ll have to make adjustments when hitters start sitting on his fastball.
Most Valuable Player
Here’s an easy call: neither Josh Hamilton nor Joey Votto will retain their MVP titles in 2011. Hamilton will come back down to earth a bit and Votto may be just as good, but other guys will be fulfilling promises in 2011.
AL: Carl Crawford, Boston. Conspiring for this to hapen will be a team regaining its playoff glory and a man asserting himself with the home run numbers we expected of him and highlight reel defense we won’t even believe. Adrian Gonzalez will play a Teixiera-like supporting role, but hard-nosed Crawford will be the new star of the Idiots.
NL: Albert Pujols, St. Louis. How could you ever bet against this guy? He’s already won thrice, and only Barry Bonds’ dominance from 2001 to 2004 kept Albert from winning one or two more early in his career. Being in a contract year doesn’t even matter: Pujols is truly the most valuable player every year, and the odds are he’ll win again in 2011.
Much was made of Felix Hernandez’s 2010 win, as though his 13-12 record meant that voters were recognizing new parameters for the Cy Young Award. In actuality, it was an easy call given King Felix’s dominance, seen in all his other statistics including the most traditional stats like ERA. And that’s the thing about the Cy Young: there’s many types of performances that can earn the award, and it comes down to a gut feeling about who is the most dominant at the time.
AL: David Price, Tampa Bay. This guy wants to be in this position more than anyone else, and he has the talent and power to do it. He’ll just about repeat his 2010 numbers of 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA, and Felix Hernandez will regress just a tad after pitching almost 500 innings the last two years.
NL: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia. The other Phillies starters will (relatively) disappoint in 2011, but Halladay is locked in and not slowing down. Unless Brian Wilson saves 60 games or Ubaldo Jimenez transcends to another level, this is Halladay’s award yet again.
Award Winners: http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/
MLB 2011 Rookies: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20101114&content_id=16098534