Rookie of the Year - Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
(13-10, 2.95/1.15, 117 Ks in 189.0 IP)
A case can be made for several other players, including Eric Hosmer and Mark Trumbo, but Hellickson has one number that I think sets him apart. Hellickson had 189 innings in 2011, good for 27th in the AL. Now, 27th isn't all that incredible, but as a rookie, to provide 189 innings for your team is pretty impressive. The fact that Hellickson gave those innings at a 2.95 ERA clip means that he did yeoman work for a playoff team. Well done, sir.
Cy Young - Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
(24-5, 2.40/0.92, 250 Ks in 251.0 IP)
It's not close. Jered Weaver, James Shields, and CC Sabathia all had nice seasons, but Verlander led the league in wins, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. He was simply the best pitcher in the game, and rightfully earned consideration for the AL MVP award.
MVP - Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
(.302, 105 R, 43 HR, 103 RBI)
This was my toughest call of all the awards this season. Miguel Cabrera won his first batting title and continued his mastery of major league pitching, but didn't do much that we haven't already seen from him. His teammate Verlander was far and away the best pitcher in the league, but probably needed to hit a magic number like 25 wins to win the MVP. Curtis Granderson was nearly an across-the-board producer, but hit just .262 for the division champion Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, and Dustin Pedroia were all great, but all played for Boston, so they'll sap votes from each other.
In the end, I think Bautista will benefit from the same factor that will cost Cabrera: being measured against himself. Cabrera has been a regular factor in MVP races, with two 5th place finishes for Florida, and being 4th and 2nd the past two years for the Tigers. He was great, but he posted just the 7th highest home run and RBI totals of his career. On the other side, Bautista's home runs and RBIs fell off, but the real story about him is that he grew into a hitter. He added 42 points to his batting average, and 69 points to his on-base percentage. Despite dropping 11 home runs, his OPS actually went up. Nobody thought Bautista was the real deal; the fact that he might be even better than his number said in 2010 will win him the AL MVP for 2011.
Rookie of the Year - Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
(4-3, 46 saves, 2.10/1.04, 127 Ks in 77 IP)
Washington Nationals' rookie Danny Espinosa showed plenty of pop and was a fantasy star, but when it comes to real live baseball, it's more important that you help your team win, and Kimbrel was extremely effective in this regard. He tied John Axford for the NL lead in saves, and his averages and strikeout rate indicate that he was as effective a closer as there was in baseball last season. He may have stumbled a little towards the end, but baseball is about the long haul, and Kimbrel shone all season long.
Cy Young - Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
(21-5, 2.28/0.98, 248 Ks in 233.1 IP)
Like Verlander, Kershaw takes home pitching's triple crown (W, ERA, K), and again like Verlander, I expect Kershaw to win the Cy Young. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay both had very good seasons as well, but Kershaw was a pinch better, and I think any bonus Lee and Halladay will get from being on a more successful team will be mitigated by the fact that they may take votes from each other. Ian Kennedy tied Kershaw with 21 wins and posted very good averages, but Kershaw is the total package. He'll take it down.
Most Valuable Player - Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
(.324, 115 R, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB)
Kemp was incredible in 2011. He led the NL in runs, home runs, and RBI, and finished tied for second in stolen bases. What makes this even more impressive is his utter lack of support. The Dodgers next two best players in each category combined to total 123 runs, 28 home runs, and 127 runs batted in. Ryan Braun had a magnificent season as well, and if Braun had been able to edge Jose Reyes for the batting title, I might sing a different tune. But as it is, Kemp was a do-everything player for a team that needed a do-everything player just to break .500.
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