Here it is, my annual awards column. I eagerly look forward to fans questioning not just my MVP selections, but also my choices for ninth and 10th place.
A couple of things:
* To make this column as realistic as possible, I list the same number of players as the voters do for each award -- 10 for MVP, five for Cy Young and three each for Rookie and Manager of the Year.
* When I refer to WAR (Wins Above Replacement), I'm referring to the Fangraphs version.
* And finally, as we brace for another round of Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout, it's worth rolling out the instructions that all MVP voters receive:
"There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
"The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team."
OK, here goes:
1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3. Josh Donaldson, Athletics
4. Chris Davis, Orioles
5. Robinson Cano, Yankees
6. Evan Longoria, Rays
7. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
8. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
9. Manny Machado, Orioles
10. David Ortiz, Red Sox
I also picked Trout last season, but if anything the choice was more difficult this time. As I wrote a year ago, I don't see the Trout-Cabrera debate as an old-school/new-school referendum. I legitimately appreciate the arguments on both sides.
So, why Trout?
Uh, good question.
Cabrera's batting average/on-base/slugging line is even better than it was last season, when he won the Triple Crown. His team, unlike Trout's, is going to the playoffs. And usually -- never mind the criteria -- I prefer my MVP to come from a contender, believing that such players must perform under greater pressure.
My problem with Cabrera -- and it's admittedly nitpicking -- is that he essentially has disappeared in September due to his physical issues, producing only one home run in 79 at-bats and a .687 OPS.
The Tigers have gone 13-10 with Cabrera in this deteriorated state -- and, of course, some might argue that only reinforces his value. Cabrera supporters also will point out that Josh Hamilton won the MVP in 2010 after barely playing in September, beating Cabrera.
All fair. But Trout, too, arguably is performing better than he did last season -- his on-base has jumped from .399 to .431 while his slugging has barely declined, from .564 to .556. Factor in his defense and baserunning, and he easily is the game's best all-around player.
So, as I wrote recently, are you going to penalize Trout because Angels management made a series of foolhardy decisions? Sorry, I'm just not comfortable doing that.
The rest of my ballot is self-evident. I know Pedroia's power is down, but in my view he is the Red Sox's MVP. I know, too, that Ortiz is a DH, but his offense is so good, it's impossible to ignore his contribution.
1. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
4. Joey Votto, Reds
5. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
6. Freddie Freeman, Braves
7. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
8. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
9. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
10. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
The bottom of the ballot is more interesting than the top, no? Ramirez and Puig could have gone higher, but I adhere to the second criteria, number of games. Ramirez has appeared in 85, Puig 101.
I've got Ramirez higher because he ranks a stunning 11th in WAR, adding value with above-average defense at shortstop. (I generally lean toward up-the-middle defenders when making my MVP selections.)
OK, now to the top of the ballot. I was tempted to go with Molina even though he missed two weeks with a sprained right knee, believing that his value at catcher is greater than any metric will tell you. But Molina slumped in September, while McCutchen is second in the league in OPS since the All-Star break, behind only the Nationals' Jayson Werth. Really, what's not to like?
As for Goldschmidt over Votto, I know the Reds made the playoffs while the D-Backs did not. Still, Goldy is first in the league in OPS, first in OPS-plus and fourth in WAR, leading Votto in all three categories. He also is second in slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, trailing only Freeman.
Speaking of Freeman, he's enjoying a terrific season, but not at the level of Goldschmidt and Votto. Cardinals fans will clamor for Carpenter, and I love the guy, too -- he's third in the league in WAR, he converted to second base and became an above-average defender, and his 55 doubles are 12 more than any NL player. But if you asked Carpenter to name the Cardinals' MVP, he'd say Molina.
Gomez ranks 11th in the league in OPS and is the game's best defensive center fielder. Tulowitzki missed nearly a month with a fractured rib, but is second in OPS and seventh in WAR.
AL Cy Young
1. Max Scherzer, Tigers
2. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
3. Yu Darvish, Rangers
4. Chris Sale, White Sox
5. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
The "Kill the Win" crowd can relax: Scherzer is deserving even if you ignore his 21-3 record. He's first in WAR, first in opponents' OPS, third in ERA-plus. People need to stop trying to find reasons to pick someone else. Scherzer is the most deserving.
Sanchez, if he had not missed nearly three weeks with a strained right shoulder, might have edged Scherzer; his statistical portfolio also is excellent, but innings matter; the more good ones a pitcher throws, the greater his value. Darvish vs. Sale is essentially a coin flip. Iwakuma is second in the league in innings -- he has thrown 35 1/3 more than the Athletics' Bartolo Colon -- and third in ERA.
NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
2. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
4. Matt Harvey, Mets
5. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Not much of a discussion -- Kershaw's 1.88 ERA is the lowest since Roger Clemens' 1.87 in 2005, and he also is first in WAR and ERA-plus. My only reservation with putting Fernandez second is that he threw only 172 2/3 innings, or 63 2/3 fewer than Wainwright. But Fernandez's brilliance -- he leads the NL in opponents' OPS -- is undeniable.
Harvey actually threw 5 2/3 innings more than Fernandez and ranks among the league leaders in a number of significant categories despite making his last start on Aug. 24. Bumgarner benefits from pitching at AT&T Park, but he's fourth in opponents' OPS and fifth in ERA. I had him just above the Dodgers' Zack Greinke.
AL Rookie of the Year
1. Wil Myers, RF Rays
2. Jose Iglesias, SS Tigers
3. Chris Archer, RHP, Rays
A few weeks ago, I was leaning toward Iglesias over Myers; Iglesias is a far better defender and at the time his WAR was slightly higher, in part because he had played in a greater number of games.
Well, things change.
Myers' .907 OPS in September helped propel the Rays to the top of the AL wild-card standings. He also has passed Iglesias in WAR, despite appearing in 23 fewer games.
Archer, Rangers lefty Martin Perez and Athletics righty Dan Straily are all legitimate candidates for the third spot; Archer has the lowest ERA of the three.
NL Rookie of the Year
1. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins
2. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Dodgers
I didn't struggle much with Fernandez vs. Puig. Fernandez made the Marlins' Opening Day roster, while Puig did not join the Dodgers until June 3. Fernandez also is second on my NL Cy Young ballot, while Puig merits only my 10th-place vote for MVP.
Third place was a tough call -- I chose Ryu because he has thrown a slightly greater number of innings than Cardinals righty Shelby Miller and Braves righty Julio Teheran and also produced a slightly better ERA.
AL Manager of the Year
1. John Farrell
2. Bob Melvin
3. Terry Francona
I'm tempted to give it to Joe Girardi for keeping the Yankees in contention despite using a club-record 56 players. But in the end, it's difficult to choose him over managers who achieved greater success.
Francona could go higher if the Indians secure a wild card without a likely top-five Cy Young or top-10 MVP finisher. Farrell, though, is my choice for presiding over the Red Sox' startling turnaround, leading the team to a winning record each month.
Melvin, last year's winner, is worthy again, and not simply for surviving the sewage at O.Co Coliseum. The Athletics opened the season with the game's fourth-lowest payroll and endured sub-par seasons from outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. But they again prevailed over the Rangers in the AL West.
NL Manager of the Year
1. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
2. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
3. Don Mattingly, Dodgers
This is a runaway. The Pirates no longer are short on talent, but Hurdle's positive energy was infectious, helping him reverse a losing culture, helping the team avoid a third straight second-half collapse. Pitching coach Ray Searage should get some kind of award as well; the Pirates' staff is aggressive, and it is good.
Gonzalez dealt with significant adversity -- bullpen injuries, the season-ending loss of ace right-hander Tim Hudson, sub-.200 batting averages by B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. No matter -- the Braves rolled the disappointing Nationals and the rest of the weak NL East. Gonzalez's insertion of Jason Heyward into the leadoff spot was one of the better moves of the season.
Mattingly, what can I say? I predicted in May that he would be fired. Club president Stan Kasten warned him that he might be fired. And the man never flinched. Puig's arrival and the returns of Ramirez and Greinke from injuries ignited the Dodgers' turnaround. But Mattingly's steady hand helped, too.