Today on MLB Monday we look at a season from just about 10 years ago, as professional baseball in North America entered an interesting phase of its history, replete with ethical and integrity challenges—as has been the case for the last few decades, of course. We’re always here to sift through the garbage to find the worthy … always.
On with the show, folks!
2011 AL MVP: Justin Verlander (original), Ian Kinsler (revised)
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander won the AL MVP vote, but our rule is no pitchers. So, the top candidates for us are Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (8,3), Toronto Blue Jays right fielder José Bautista (8.3), Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (8.0), Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (7.6), Tampa Bay Rays utility player Ben Zobrist (7.6), Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (7.3), Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (7.2), and Texas Rangers 2B Ian Kinsler (7.0).
The Boston and Tampa Bay teammates eliminate each other, and both Bautista and Cabrera had negative defensive value, so that reduces this discussion to just Gordon and Kinsler. The Royals finished under .500, while the Rangers won the AL West, so that means Kinsler wins this award, surprisingly, from us this time around.
In addition to his 2.1 dWAR mark, Kinsler also added 34 doubles, 32 HRs, 77 RBI, 30 SBs, and an .832 OPS as Texas left its competition behind in the division. He only finished 11th in the voting at the time, but he was 10th overall in MLB for WAR among position players. Go figure.
2011 NL MVP: Ryan Braun (original), Matt Kemp (revised)
Milwaukee Brewers LF Ryan Braun (7.7 WAR) won the NL MVP vote at the time, but not only did he have a negative dWAR (-0.4), he also was busted famously for cheating. We stripped him of his 2007 NL ROTY Award, too, and now we do it again here. The real candidates are Los Angeles Dodgers CF Matt Kemp (8.0), Cincinnati Red 1B Joey Votto (6.6), Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (6.2), and San Francisco Giants 3B Pablo Sandoval (6.0).
The Reds and Rox finished under .500, while the Dodgers and the Giants didn’t make the postseason. Hmmm. San Francisco finished 3.5 games ahead of Los Angeles in the standings, and the two teams split their 18 games against each other. Kemp was clearly the better player, though, and we have expressed serious concern about Sandoval’s ethical integrity already.
The last issue is that Kemp was a negative defender (-0.4 dWAR): In a strange, circumstantial seasonal analysis like this one, however, we’re going to just have to let that go, or else we end up with just a decent player winning this award. Kemp was the difference between a losing season and a winning one for L.A., and that will just have to do this time around.
His offensive numbers—Kemp topped the circuit in runs (115), HRs (39), RBI (126), and TB (353) while hitting .324 with a .986 OPS and 40 SBs—are incredible, so it’s too bad it was wasted on a third-place team that won just 82 games on the season.
2011 AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander (original), James Shields (revised)
Also noted above, Verlander won the AL MVP vote, and he also won the AL Cy vote as he posted a league-high 8.6 WAR for pitchers. The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games, so is there anyone else out there to consider? New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia (6.4) may have made the difference between the AL East title and a wild-card spot, as the Yankees beat the Rays by 6 games for the division crown.
Also, Rays star James Shields (5.8) was the difference for Tampa Bay as it edged out Boston by 1 game for the final playoff berth in that unforgettable final day of the season. Otherwise, we’d also be considering Red Sox legend Josh Beckett (5.8), too. Clearly, Verlander was the best pitcher, but Shields and Sabathia have more contextual value. By our rule here, Shields should get this nod, which is a shock.
But it fits: Verlander was outstanding, but his value is diminished by the team performance. Shields gets this surprising nod with the following stat line: 16-12, 2.82 ERA, a league-best 11 CGs, a league-high 4 shutouts, and 1.043 WHIP to go along with 225 Ks in 249 1/3 IP. This was arguably the best season of Shields’ career, and it got the Rays to October.
2011 NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (original, confirmed)
This is funny analysis, as three of the top four pitchers in the league were on the same team: the Philadelphia Phillies. As such, Roy Halladay (8.8 WAR), Cliff Lee (8.5), and Cole Hamels (6.4) can’t win this award. The other guy? Dodgers phenom Clayton Kershaw (6.8), who did win the vote at the time, despite the Dodgers barely finishing above .500 for the year.
But like the Kemp analysis above, what else can we do? Kershaw, just 23 years old, led the NL in wins (23), ERA (2.28), Ks (248), and WHIP (0.977) to win the Triple Crown. This is not a bad choice, of course. He coughed up just 6.7 hits per 9 IP, too, which was another league-best number. He deserves this.
2011 AL ROTY: Jeremy Hellickson (original, confirmed)
Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson (4.2 WAR) won the AL ROTY vote, as he clearly made a difference for a team that skipped into the playoffs by 1 game. He also led the league’s rookies in WAR, so there isn’t much room here for negotiation. It’s closed case, as he won 13 games with a 2.95 ERA while pitching 189 innings overall in 29 starts.
2011 NL ROTY: Craig Kimbrel (original, confirmed)
After leading the NL with 46 saves, Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel (2.5 WAR) won the NL ROTY vote, although we also think Phillies starter Vince Worley (3.5) deserves some attention. But the Phils won the NL East by 13 games over the Braves, so Worley wasn’t as valuable. Meanwhile, the Braves missed the postseason by 1 game when Kimbrel blew a save on the final day of the season.
Who was more valuable? We are going to go with Kimbrel, because without him, Atlanta would not have been in position to clinch a postseason spot on the final day of the season—even if his blown save did end up costing them big time. With 127 Ks in just 77 IP, this rookie was on fire all season long.