Consequently it was wonderful to see Mike Trout, unquestionably one of the most dazzling young players the sport has got, receiving his first Most Valuable Player Award a couple of weeks ago.
The news stories, online videos and TV coverage garnered by him receiving a trophy from a legend of the game in front of a packed crowd at a gala event would have been a good way to keep MLB fresh in the mind.
That’s not how the awards are dished out in baseball, though.
Instead, there was a bland press release and various TV networks interviewing him on a video link from his parents’ house. From the point of view of demonstrating Trout is really just ‘a regular guy’ then that approach may have some merit.
From the point of view of celebrating a great baseball talent, and convincing people he’s someone special they should be excited about watching, it’s as much use as a chocolate teapot.
A televised gala award evening to celebrate the recent MLB season is a blindingly obvious way to present all the major trophies, reliving the pennant races, the postseason and also all the other smaller stories that made up the year, as well as acknowledging again the people elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame that year.
Getting everyone together in a single place in the offseason might not be the simplest task, but it is certainly achievable and would be a great way to send-off the season in style, whilst getting people excited about next season in the process.
MLB does many things very well. Promoting its players is not one of them.
It was only recently that MLB decided it might be worth making a show of the early rounds from the amateur draft. They are starting to build that up as a televised event now and an end-of-season review extravaganza would be a positive next step to further promote the game’s emerging young stars and established names.
Quite simply, if MLB can’t be bothered to make a big thing of the awards, why would a casual sports fan care about them either?
Irrespective of the ropy way they were announced, this year’s selections for the four main awards all gave reason to consider some of the subtleties around how achievements should be weighted when selecting a winner.
With the MVP awards, the main talking point was the decision to crown LA Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw as the NL’s MVP alongside his now traditional Cy Young award. The fact that pitchers have their own prestigious award, and that they play in significantly less games over the season than a position player, does call into question whether a pitcher should win the MVP award.
The voting criteria makes clear that pitchers are eligible for the award; the case from there is how you measure a position player’s contribution against that of a starting pitcher. Starting pitchers may only take the ball one day out of five, but on that day they have a far greater impact on the game (delivering 100+ pitches) than a position player taking four or five at-bats and making a couple of fielding plays.
Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen both had great seasons, yet neither were exceptionally above Kershaw’s outstanding performance for the Dodgers and consequently that made him a fitting choice.
There were fewer arguments around Kershaw’s NL Cy Young award success. In the AL version it was Corey Kluber who came out on top over Felix Hernandez. Both had excellent years so whichever way you went with those two there was a good case to say you had the right answer.
King Felix clearly has the more impressive track record over a number of seasons, which could be argued as being a crucial factor rather than just focusing on one exceptional campaign. Ultimately there’s a good case that Kluber had the slightly better season – for example, using Baseball-References’ WAR as a guide Kluber added 7.4 wins to his team over a replacement player, compared to Hernandez’s 6.8 – and if the award is there to honour the best pitcher that season then previous seasons should only come into it if there is really nothing else to separate them.
In the Rookie of the Year stakes, Jacob deGrom gave the New York Mets a rare reason to be cheerful and Jose Abreu was a similarly uplifting presence for the Chicago White Sox.
Abreu doesn’t quite fit the traditional image of a young, fresh-faced rookie. He made his Major League debut this year as a 27-year-old having defected from Cuba and came into the Big Leagues with considerable experience of playing in his homeland and on the international stage.
His unanimous selection as Rookie of the Year showed that his strict definition as a Major League rookie regardless of his previous experience was good enough for the voters. Considering the challenge he faced in competing against MLB pitchers and in adjusting to life in the States, it was a decision few could find much fault with.
Finally, the Baltimore Orioles’ Buck Showalter and Washington Nationals’ Matt Williams took home the Manager of the Year honours for the AL and NL respectively.
Showalter’s work with the Orioles has cemented his reputation as an excellent, experienced manager. In some respects this contrasts considerably with Williams for whom 2014 wasn’t simply his first year as a Major League manager, but a manager at any level.
His team led the National League with 96 wins and that’s a good starting point for any discussions on how successful a year a manager has had. Still, the impact that a manager can have in the standings is always largely determined by the roster of players he has at his disposal.
There is a school of thought that Williams made his share of mistakes this year. Had Williams been given his managerial break by the Arizona Diamondbacks – for whom he was a coach for several years before joining the Nationals – or perhaps a team like the Colorado Rockies, then I’m betting he would not have been any part of the Manage of the Year conversation.
The problem with that stance is that you end up penalizing a manager for having the benefit of a talented group of players to call on, as trying to put some subjective value on what a manager brings to a team is devilishly difficult.
Bruce Bochy would have been an obvious alternative for his postseason exploits, yet let’s give Williams some credit for leading the Nationals to 96 wins and wait and see if he can do it again in 2015.