Thearon W. Henderson
The ballots are in! Here are the team's year-end awards, as voted by the AN front-page crew.
Last winter, Billy Beane had one of the busiest offseasons in baseball. This year, he didn't even wait for the offseason to begin; we don't have a World Series champion yet, and Billy has already dealt a member of the starting lineup for a former All-Star. Slow down, Usain! We're not done basking in 2012 yet!
Of course, no season would be complete without year-end awards. Therefore, your stalwart front-page crew has cast their ballots and handed out the hardware. Well, it's not really "hardware," because we don't have any physical prizes. It's also not "software," though, because that would make even less sense. How about "kudos?" Everyone likes kudos. We're handing out the kudos. Not the candy bar. Actual congratulations.
The voting panel was made up of 5 members: Blez, Nico, Cuppingmaster, Zonis, and myself. (Baseballgirl was busy carving pumpkins in preparation for the launch of her new A's-themed jack-o-lantern start-up company, BibbidyBobbidyMelvin). We voted on 6 different awards, ranking our top 3 choices and tallying the votes on a 5-3-1 point scale (5 points for 1st, 3 for 2nd, 1 for 3rd). Here's what we came up with:
Team MVP: Yoenis Cespedes
In something of a land-slide, Cespedes was named Team MVP, receiving 4 out of 5 first-place votes (I was the only dissenter, having voted for Reddick). There are two accepted measures of WAR, and both versions had La Potencia finishing 3rd on the team behind Reddick and Parker. However, that low figure may belie the weight of his contributions. Remember, WAR works like a counting stat, and Cespedes played in only 129 games after missing a month with an injured wrist. Furthermore, both versions of his WAR total are heavily impaired by his statistically poor defense; although his throwing arm is the 8th wonder of the world, his strange positioning and comical routes to fly balls hurt his value a lot. Many of the spectacular diving catches that he made were just the result of his insane athleticism making up for his poor reads off the bat.
I'm not here to rip on the guy, though. He's the MVP! I'm simply explaining why his WAR total doesn't match his place in the voting. You see, despite the adventures that he provided on defense, you just couldn't deny that this guy was the heart and soul of the A's lineup. Forget WAR for a second. Here is the key stat: In games which Cespedes started, the A's went 82-46. When he was out of the starting lineup, they went 12-22. How much of that May swoon could have been avoided if Yo was launching Cuban Missiles the whole time?
The final stats probably don't look overwhelming to the outside observer, but they are indeed impressive. Without playing a single game in the minors (save for a 3-game rehab stint mid-season), Cespedes put up a .292/.356/.505 line, which was good for a 137 OPS+ in the Coliseum. He also hit 23 homers, stole 16 bases at an 80% clip, kept the strikeouts to a surprisingly reasonable rate (18.9%), and helped develop (with Coco) one of the best, most elaborate dugout celebrations that I've ever seen. Looking forward, it's exciting to think what Cespedes can do next season, with a year's worth of adjustments under his belt and a better feel in left field. Even as a rookie, though, he was good enough to be Oakland's MVP. ¡Si, Cespedes!
Team Cy Young: Jarrod Parker
This one was unanimous. All five ballots listed Parker as the Cy Young, and I think that the vote would still be unanimous if we'd had 100 ballots. There just isn't really a good argument for putting anyone ahead of him. Parker and Milone were the only two starters to pitch the full season, and everything from WAR to FIP to ERA+ to the "eye test" says that Parker was the superior performer. Like most of the team, his overall season stats are a combination of an average-to-poor 1st half (in which Parker struggled with his command despite a sub-3 ERA) and a white-hot 2nd half (specifically, September, in which he emerged as the staff's ace and put up the following numbers: 5 starts, 35ip, 2.31 ERA, 4.5 K:9, 1 home run).
Looking forward, Parker made big strides in two key areas. First, he harnessed his control. After walking 36 batters in his first 12 starts, he gave out only 27 free passes in his final 17 starts. Second, he stayed healthy. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010, he set a career high last year with 136 professional innings. This year, he broke 200 innings (181.1 in the Majors), suggesting that his arm is fully recovered and capable of taking the beating of a full Major League season. Sophomore slumps and young-arm-hangovers are always valid concerns, but it's hard not to be optimistic about Parker's immediate future. In totally unrelated news, Trevor Cahill put up an ERA+ of 110 for Arizona. Parker? 114.
Team Rookie Of The Year: Yoenis Cespedes
When your team's MVP and Cy Young are both rookies, you can pretty much expect that the Rookie of the Year will be one of the two. This was easily the tightest race of all the awards, with the two players splitting 1st place votes. Cespedes got the nod from Blez, Cup, and Zonis, while Nico and I sided with the pitcher (Nico also left Cespedes off of his ballot entirely, for international-veterans-being-rookies-is-dumb reasons). Whether or not you agree with Nico's viewpoint, it was still clear that Cespedes was a raw product who did a lot of on-the-job learning in his first few months in the Majors. After a slow April (with too many strikeouts) and an injury-shortened May, he exploded in June (1.016 OPS) and July (.961) before flashing a September power surge (.874, 7 homers). He may not be as young as Parker, but Cespedes definitely looked and felt like a rook all year, from his mile-a-minute playing style to his extended home run poses to his early-season tendency to chase bad breaking pitches. Also, there's this.
Team Gold Glove (best overall defender): Josh Reddick
Let's get one thing straight right now: Josh Reddick should not only be Oakland's top defender. He should be the American League's Gold Glover in right field. To put it simply, nobody in the AL could touch Reddick's defense in 2012. UZR has him well ahead of his top competition (Ichiro Suzuki and Torii Hunter), Defensive Runs Saved has him atop the entire Majors (even ahead of Jason Heyward, the overall UZR leader, and 7 runs ahead of Hunter), and only Jeff Francoeur can compete with his throwing arm. Of course, we all know that Gold Glove voters inexplicably weigh offense into the equation (often picking the "good hitter with the best defense" rather than the "best overall defender, regardless of offense"), and that trend should only help Reddick's case thanks to his 32 home runs.
Between running down flies in the gaps, making diving catching on dying quails, and gunning down any runner foolish enough to try to take an extra base against him, Reddick changed every game in which he played with his defense. His reputation reached the point that coaches would hold runners on hits which may well have scored them, just because they couldn't take a chance against his arm. With that kind of respect bestowed upon his cannon, plus his range on flies, Reddick is the obvious choice for Team Gold Glove. (Note: Coco Crisp also received a 1st place vote, from Cuppingmaster.)
Team Hank Aaron (best overall hitter): Yoenis Cespedes
Surprise! This one was another no-brainer, with Cespedes receiving 4 out of 5 first-place votes. Zonis went with Brandon Moss, which is actually a pretty defensible pick. While Cespedes led the team in the batting portion of Fangraphs' WAR, Moss was right on his heels despite getting only two-thirds of the playing time. If you extrapolated Moss's numbers into a full season's worth of at-bats, he'd be an AL MVP candidate. However, he didn't get a full season's worth of at-bats, and so Cespedes is the one leading every offensive leaderboard (Baseball-Reference has him at 4.2 offensive WAR, ahead of runner-up...Coco Crisp, who, at 2.7 oWAR, accrued nearly all of his value at the plate while posting generally neutral defensive metrics).
I don't have much more to say about how awesome Cespedes is, so here is a video of him hitting a home run which started in New York and landed in New Jersey. When the actual Hank Aaron saw this clip, he straight up fainted.
Team Captain: Jonny Gomes
This year, I got to go to my first postseason game. I had heard a lot of good things about the raucous crowd, and was looking forward to drinking in the full atmosphere. Unfortunately, the contest that I attended was Game 5. With Justin Verlander in full beast mode, the A's didn't even get two runners on base at the same time, much less score a run. Without so much as a legitimate rally to get excited about, the crowd never got to unleash its full fury on the Tigers. Honestly, I felt a bit robbed. Even a meaningless late-inning RBI double or solo homer would have been enough for me to witness one full-crowd cheer, and I never got it.
There was something of a consolation prize, though. In the 8th inning, Jonny Gomes came up for a token pinch-hit appearance, and the crowd lost its shit. I once went to a Nationals game at RFK Park in Washington, where Redskins fans claim that the stadium will physically sway and shake when the crowd gets crazy enough. That was the feeling that I got when Gomes came up. 35,000 people chanted "Jonny" over and over at the tops of their lungs, and I swear that I could feel the ground moving beneath me. It was the Goma Prieta Earthquake.
This was a team full of excellent personalities. There were a lot of rookies, but there was also a good complement of veteran leaders. Indeed, the first-place votes were split between Balfour's Aussie rage, Reddick and Crisp's Bernie infusion, and Gomes's general passion and excitement. Brandon Inge also received a pair of 2nd-place votes, and this seems as good a time as any to mention that Inge tallied a shocking 1.9 fWAR in just 74 games (almost entirely because of his defense). This was meant to be a more subjective vote, as I provided no instruction for what "Team Captain" should mean. I do know this, though: I'm stoked on Chris Young, but if/when his presence costs Gomes a spot on the roster, I will shed a silent tear for one of the coolest players that I've ever seen. Now please, PLEASE don't let him wind up on the Giants in two years, "coming out of nowhere" to do something wild and win a World Series MVP or something. They've taken Marco Scutaro now, as his 2012 postseason will obviously be the defining moment of his career. Let us have this one home-town cult hero.
And that's a wrap, folks. Cespedes walks away with half of the year-end awards (or, knowing him, he probably sprinted away and then dove head-first into his car after throwing the key directly into the ignition from 100 feet away).
It was a fine year, and I doubt that we'll see one just like it for a long time. Sure, the A's may enjoy greater success in the coming seasons, but it will be tough to match the unexpected, youthful excitement of this squad. It wasn't just the division crown. It wasn't just the team of rookies, or the ultra-low preseason expectations, or the pair of AL West goliaths that had to be brought down. It wasn't just the pies, or the Bernie, or watching Moneyball on the outfield grass on the 10th anniversary of The Streak. It was all of that. It was the feeling that we were watching the film Major League playing out in real life, right down to the stripped cardboard cutout of Lew Wolff after every win (you guys all made one of those too, right?). It was watching Coco Crisp and Brandon Inge and Grant Balfour all burn to the ground, only to rise from their own ashes. It was a catcher playing an above-average third base, an outfielder playing a Barton-esque first base, and a first baseman becoming a shut-down reliever. It was a couple dozen amazing individual stories, all coming together into a drama so good that you couldn't have made it up.
It was magic. And I'll never forget it.