Baseball Predictions: 2009 Awards
It’s always fun to prognosticate what one thinks will happen over the course of a season, in any sport. But baseball places more emphasis on awards than any other major sport, and no sports’ awards are given more credit and more weight when deciding a player’s Hall of Fame fate. It’s the only sport that takes a whole day to announce the news of who won each individual award, after the season is completely over. I will now give my official predictions for the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in each league.
American League MVP: Evan Longoria, Rays
The young budding star now has a full season in the middle of the Rays’ lineup. In just 448 at-bats in 2008, Longoria hit 27 home runs and drove in 85 runs. He should get closer to 600 this year, which means 30-35 home runs and over 100 RBI is highly likely. He may never be a career .300 hitter due to his propensity for striking out (122 in 122 games last year), but the slugging potential is for real. He is also already good enough to win a gold glove at 3B, with perhaps only Seattle’s Adrian Beltre standing in his way of doing just that this season. But since gold gloves usually tend to gravitate toward better hitters, I say Longoria takes his first Gold Glove and MVP this season. The only thing going against him is if teammates B.J. Upton and/or Carl Crawford also have outstanding seasons, in which case he could lose votes to splitting. But this kid is a stud and should be for a very long time.
National League MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
The Marlins are my #1 pick for surprise teams this year, and by surprise I mean NL East champions. Despite what the Mets have done to upgrade their bullpen, the Braves to upgrade their rotation and the looming presence of the defending-champion Phillies, the Marlins have the best collection of young, big-upside talent in the division and call it a hunch if you want, but I think this is the year most of that talent emerges. Ramirez is still only 25 and just had his first 30-30 season in 2008. With his move to third in the lineup, he could approach 40 home runs and he still has the talent for 20-30 steals. The .297 batting average in 2008 was actually an anomaly; with fewer prolonged slumps this season he should easily hit well over .300 again. If the Marlins win as many games as I believe they will, this will be Ramirez’ true coming-out party. I am very much looking forward to seeing this kid perform in the postseason.
American League Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Orioles
Say hello to the 2009 version of Evan Longoria. To push back his free agency clock, the Orioles are going to wait until June to bring this blue-chipper up to the big leagues, and he’s expected to make a big impact right away. David Price might have something to say about the rookie of the year award as well, but if Wieters hits over .300 and close to the 31 home runs he’s been projected for from PECOTA, he’ll win in a landslide. He’s a 6’5″ switch-hitting catcher who has drawn comparisons to Mark Teixeira. And he’s also projected to be an above-average catcher at major league level. The anticipation of seeing this kid step to the plate is killing me. He’s being described as a Hall of Fame talent before he even plays a single major league game! What else needs to be said?
National League Rookie of the Year: Tommy Hanson, Braves
This kid is another young stud just waiting to get his first taste of major-league action. He boasts mid-90s heat a hard curve and an improving changeup to go with poise, command and a strong pitcher’s build. He may not be an ace this season, but he will certainly make his presence felt as soon as he is called up. That call-up I speak of is likely not until June, but if the Braves struggle early do not be surprsed if they bring this kid up and immediately insert him into the rotation. Some have predicted him as a future No. 2 starter but I think he’s being sold short. The baseball world will know who he is come this summer.
American League Cy Young Winner: Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays
This year, he probably won’t have Cliff Lee to worry about. Halladay understandably finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2008, but produced a new career high of 206 strikeouts and the best ERA (2.78) and WHIP (1.05) of any of his seasons over 30 starts. He also won 20 games for the first time since 2003, his first Cy Young season. And he did it while pitching in the AL East! His strikeouts are likely going to drop a bit, but he’ll induce plenty of groundballs for arguably the league’s best defense to gobble up. His biggest competition has to be new Yankee C.C. Sabathia, but Halladay at this point should be more reliable to pack on a huge innings load than the hulking Sabathia. Also, are Felix Hernandez or Jon Lester or Francisco Liriano ready to take their games to another level? Are Josh Beckett, Erik Bedard or Justin Verlander going to bounce back from sub-par seasons? This race is always loaded at the beginning of the season, but by the end it will be Halladay standing all 6’6″ tall above the rest.
National League Cy Young Winner: Cole Hamels, Phillies
While there is also some serious competition out in the National League, it’s time for Hamels to step his win total up to 20. He already has a World Series ring and MVP award to go along with it, and he pitched like a true ace throughout the 2008 playoffs. His spring training elbow flare-up was not serious, and he should be at full strength very soon. Hamels is still only 25, which makes him such an intriguing pitcher to watch. Considering his age, he ought to have room for improvement upon his 3.09 ERA and 1.09 WHIP from last season. From his debut in 2006 through 2008, his ERA and WHIP have gone down, his walks have remained relatively the same and his strikeouts have gone up each season. His spotty injury is a bit disconcerting, but assuming a reasonable level of health- say, 26-28 starts- he may have enough to win at least 17-18 games. The Phillies may not repeat as World Series or even division champions, but I see a league leader in wins and ERA in Hamels this season, and that translates to a Cy. The competition is also very stiff, including 2008 winner Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, and plenty of breakout candidates.