Saturday, November 10, 2012

Silver Sluggers Review

The winners of MLB's Silver Slugger awards were announced on Thursday to honor the best hitters at each position. Like Gold Gloves, these awards are voted on by coaches and managers. But whereas Gold Gloves typically miss the mark, these awards do a much better job of identifying those that enjoyed the best offensive seasons. There were a couple selections I disagreed with, but on the whole the voters got them right this year.

C A.J. Pierzynski
A 35 year-old catcher having a career year is pretty rare, but it couldn't have come at a better time for the veteran backstop. Pierzynski enters free agency after winning his first Silver Slugger and setting personal bests in runs, home runs, walks, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and total bases. His 27 dingers surpassed every catcher in baseball not named Wilin Rosario and were ten more than he hit in the previous two seasons combined.

1B Prince Fielder
The hefty slugger did not appear phased by his new giant contract nor his transition to the American League. As expected, his power numbers sagged somewhat, but at the end of the day Fielder still put together an incredible all-around season.  The Tigers cleanup hitter batted a robust .313/.412/.528, walked more than he struck out, and reached the 30 home run benchmark for the sixth consecutive season.

2B Robinson Cano
Terrible postseason notwithstanding, Cano was far and away the best second baseman in baseball this year. The Yankees keystone set career highs in runs scored, homers, walks, total bases, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and extra base hits to take home his third straight Silver Slugger (fourth overall).

3B Miguel Cabrera
Miggy moved back across the diamond to make room for Prince Fielder and manned the hot corner everyday for the first time since 2007. Not only did Cabrera provide adequate defense there, but he also made history by winning the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

SS Derek Jeter
The 38 year-old face of baseball continued his assault on the record books this year. His 216 base knocks topped the major leagues as he leapfrogged the likes of George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr. and Willie Mays on the all-time hit list. His .316 batting average led all shortstops and his 99 runs scored were second only to Jimmy Rollins at the position.

LF Josh Willingham
Willingham, fresh off signing a three year, $21 million deal with the Twins, was a beast in the heart of Minnesota's order batting cleanup behind OBP-machine Joe Mauer. The hulking slugger brought back memories of Harmon Killebrew with his 35 circuit drives and 110 RBI. Good to see Willingham finally get some recognition. He has always been productive on a per game basis, but now that he's been healthy the past two seasons he compiled monster numbers despite playing for terrible offensive teams in ballparks that suppress power figures.

CF Mike Trout
The major league leader in runs (129), steals (49) and bWAR (10.7) has his first Silver Slugger award, and I'm betting it won't be his last.

RF Josh Hamilton
Hamilton couldn't maintain his torrid start but still finished his contract year with some gaudy totals. His 43 home runs, 128 RBI, .577 slugging percentage, and AB/HR ratio all ranked second in the American League. The modern day Mickey Mantle is primed for a massive payday this winter.

DH Billy Butler
During his first five seasons with the Royals, Butler was a high average, high doubles hitter in the same mold as Nick Markakis, leaving many to wonder when/if his home run power would ever develop. Well, this year some of those two-baggers cleared the fences. Butler emerged as a legitimate power threat with his 29 home runs, 107 RBI and .510 slugging percentage all setting new career highs. Not taking anything away from Country Breakfast, but Edwin Encarnacion deserved this award after breaking out Jose Bautista-style. E-5 posted the best AB/HR rate in the American League , finished third in slugging (.557) and RBI (110) while his 42 big flies placed him fourth. On an injury-riddled Blue Jays squad, Encarnacion was one of the few bright spots. It will be interesting to see if, like Joey Bats, he can sustain his success and avoid becoming a one-hit wonder.

C Buster Posey
The cornerstone of San Francisco's championship team led both leagues in batting with his .336 mark, becoming the first National League backstop to win a batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942.  Posey also posted the best OPS+ in the majors, drove in 103 runs and had a second half for the ages; starting July 8th he batted a sizzling .386/.458/.649. While most catchers wear down during the dog days of summer, Posey took his game to another level as the Giants ran away with the division.

1B Adam LaRoche
Written off after his disastrous debut with Washington that ended with shoulder surgery last year, LaRoche rebounded with a Mark Teixeira-esque campaign. His 33 bombs and 100 RBI (both career bests) outranked all NL first baseman as he helped lead the Nats to the the best record in baseball. First base is traditionally a deep position but he didn't have much competition this year given the free agent departures of Fielder and Albert Pujols and injury plagued seasons from Ryan Howard and Joey Votto (who probably should have won the award, but I'll let it go).

2B Aaron Hill
Following a pair of down seasons, Hill rediscovered the form that helped him win the award with Toronto in 2009. Arizona's second baseman deserves some MVP consideration after batting .302/.360/.522 with 44 doubles, 26 home runs and 318 total bases.

3B Chase Headley
Headley put together a monster offensive season not seen in San Diego since Adrian Gonzalez. The switch-hitting third baseman entered 2012 with just 36 home runs and a .392 slugging percentage to his name before morphing into Chipper Jones. Was especially lethal down the stretch, batting .318/.389/.632 with 19 dingers and 63 RBI from August 1st on. Set career bests in almost every offensive category, paced the NL with 115 ribbies and received his first Gold Glove award. He's also one of the five finalists for NL MVP.

SS Ian Desmond
Desmond ranked first among shortstops with 25 home runs and was the only player at the position to slug better than .500 this season (.511). His breakout season would have been even more impressive had he not spent a month on the Disabled List with an oblique injury.

LF Ryan Braun
The 2011 NL MVP secured his fifth consecutive Silver Slugger award by topping the Senior Circuit in runs scored, home runs, extra base hits, slugging, and total bases. He was the only National Leaguer to go 30/30 this year.

CF Andrew McCutchen
'Cutch put it all together this year with an MVP caliber season. His 194 hits, 269 times on base and 7.5 Offensive WAR paced the NL, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. He ranked second in runs scored, total bases, batting average, and OPS+ while rating third in OBP and SLG, all while playing Gold Glove defense in center and keeping the Pirates in the playoff picture for most of the summer.

RF Jay Bruce
Bruce has improved his home run and RBI totals every year since debuting as a 21 year-old rookie in 2008. This year he finished with 34 and 99, respectively, to anchor the Reds lineup and win his first Silver Slugger. I disagree with this selection and would have chosen Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton crushed 37 home runs while posting the best slugging percentage (.608) and AB/HR ratio (12.1) in the major leagues.

P Stephen Strasburg
Everybody knows Strasburg is a force to be reckoned with whenever he toes the rubber, but he also acquitted himself well in the batter's box this season. The 2009 first overall draft pick was anything but an easy out, for he batted .277/.333/.426 with five extra base hits in his 53 plate appearances. He also helped his own cause by driving in seven runs.

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