MLB Coverage: 2013 American League Awards

There is still technically one more game left in the American League regular season, as Texas and Tampa Bay play a tiebreaker game for the final playoff berth tonight. But with the 162-game schedule in the books, TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage is set to close out the regular season with the final choices for the major individual awards in the American League.

We previously picked the American League All-Star team, covering not just the everyday positions, but a full starting rotation and complete bullpen. Those selections will serve as the basis for the top awards.

MVP: Miguel Cabrera (3B, Detroit): It was an easy pick to make, even if it’s tough to leave Chris Davis in second place, when the Baltimore first baseman would have triumphed over any of the National League candidates. Cabrera blew away Davis in on-base percentage (.442 to .370) and even nipped him in slugging percentage (.636 to .634) in spite of Davis’ 53 home runs.

In the more traditional stats, Cabrera’s batting average was sixty points higher and he was within one of Davis in RBIs. The only definitive edge Davis had was in home runs, which ended 53-44. And in spite of Cabrera being rested some in September for a nagging abdominal injury, they ended up fairly close in at-bats, with 555 for Miggy and 584 for Davis. Any hope for trumping Cabrera would have to be built around being on the field more, and the advantage for Davis was just not substantial enough.

We also haven’t touched on the biggest difference–Miguel Cabrera is putting together these extraordinary seasons, including his MVP run of 2012, while hitting in the perhaps the worst hitters’ park in the American League, the vast Comerica Park. While Camden Yards isn’t Yankee Stadium, it’s still most definitely geared toward hitters. If Cabrera and Davis played in the same park, the gap would be even more pronounced.

Ultimately it boils down to the fact that Miguel Cabrera has spent the last two seasons operating on a different plane than the rest of the world. Chris Davis just had the misfortune to be stuck in the same league at the same time.

Cy Young: Max Scherzer (SP, Detroit): I’m not one who automatically defaults to Scherzer because of his 21-3 record and ignores everything else. He did get a lot of run support and the same argument used on Cabrera’s behalf–the dimensions of Comerica Park–work against Scherzer. But the Tiger starter overcomes these caveats.

Scherzer’s 2.90 ERA is still in the top five of the American League, so it’s not like he just rode the offenses coattails. Even if you want to adjust him downward for park effects–which is quite fair–he has to be given credit for his 214 innings pitched, also top five in the AL. With Detroit having bullpen issues all year long, how important is that Scherzer was going deep into games consistently?

Finally, the legitimate contenders, Bartolo Colon in Oakland and Hisashi Iwakuma in Seattle are also in pitchers’ parks. There was just not a good contender for the award in a hitters’ park, not after Boston’s Clay Bucholz got hurt in June and New York’s Hiroki Kuroda fell apart in the final six weeks.

And that whole 21-3 thing? I might not automatically default to it, but it’s still pretty damn impressive. Let’s not let follow the regrettable path of the sabermetrics community, who has gone so far in studying other ways of measuring pitchers (as they should) that they’ve completely dismissed this little thing called winning games.

Manager Of The Year (Terry Francona, Cleveland): I know there’s a great argument for John Farrell, who took Boston from last place to first place. But the Red Sox were also a franchise with a long recent history of success and a lot of the players from that success still in place. Give Farrell great credit for restoring the clubhouse culture, turning around Bucholz and Lester and piecing together a bullpen from next to nothing.

But you want to talk about a losing culture, how about coming to Cleveland. This organization hadn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2007. They play in a city that oozes sports losing. On the field, they had no pitching. Francona turned around the career of Ubaldo Jiminez and restored the career of Steve Kazmir, en route to making the playoffs.

Farrell is to this debate what Davis was to the MVP discussion. A worthy contender on his own merits and one who would deserve to win more often than not. But Tito is to managers this year what Miguel Cabrera is to players. In a world all his own.

Read The Choices For The 2013 National League Awards