The real awards come out after the postseason is over. But why wait? Here is my take on the top pitchers and hitters in baseball this year.
Rookie of the Year
American League - Ichiro Suzuki
Awesome. Ichiro won seven batting crowns in Japan then really turned it up a notch over here. And he had to because we have the best players from all over the world -- not just one country. It was more than numbers (though his .350 BA, 242 hits, 127 runs and 56 stolen bases were remarkable). The key was that he did his job in the lineup, setting the table for the meat of the lineup. Ichiro really helped Bret Boone get much better pitches and they both flourished.
|Albert Pujols' first postseason homer was a big reason the Cards headed home tied with the D-Backs.|
National League - Albert Pujols
A truly great year. Albert Pujols came up from AA ball, lit up NL pitchers all year and deservedly made the All-Star team. He was the Cardinals most consistent player while playing third, first and outfield. Pujols' numbers are quite impressive on their own: .329 BA, 130 RBI and 37 HRs. Then you realize he did all this without a lot of protection in the lineup. Just a great season.
American League - Roger Clemens
Let's remember that Pedro Martinez only pitched half a season. Still, you can throw out the record or his number of complete games. The key was that Clemens made Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte better because, even at his advanced age, he's still the ACE of the staff. The team has confidence every time he takes the hill because he wins just about nine out of 10 times he takes the hill. Clemens set tone for Yankees to return to World Series. Amazing.
National League - Randy Johnson
He's the left handed Nolan Ryan. Johnson has dominated hitters over the years and this season will rank with his best ever. His teammate Curt Schilling was awesome too (22-6, 2.98 ERA, 293 Ks). But Johnson was just a little bit better (21-6, 2.49 ERA, 372 Ks). And Schilling led the league with 37 HRs allowed, while Johnson only got taken deep 19 times.
Most Valuable Player
American League - Jason Giambi
Don't compare his numbers to A-Rod's. The Texas Rangers finished over 40 games out of first place. Nobody in Texas could have been very valuable in 2001. And if you take either player off his team, how would the team do? The A's probably would have missed the playoffs and the Rangers still would have sucked. Giambi is just great in the clutch and he also adds another huge plus --- he sets the tone for the younger players both on and off the field. Play hard and enjoy yourself. They followed his lead and it paid off. That's a valuable player.
National League - Barry Bonds
It has to be Barry Bonds. And you know what? Mark McGwire got robbed in 1998. Does anyone who knows baseball have a clue how hard it was for both men to hit 70 and then 73 home runs? I pitched -- only the catcher and I knew what was coming. It's not that easy. Bonds and McGwire only make it LOOK that way. For me, in these types of cases, the criteria of making the playoffs goes out the window.
American League - Bret Boone
Truly remarkable numbers for a second baseman in his tenth big league season, .331 BA, 141 RBI, 37 home runs. Where did this come from? Boone led the league in RBI! All the while, playing his usual stellar defense.
National League - Luis Gonzalez
He was a role player on many teams for many years and then just exploded this year. Last year he hit 31 home runs. This year, when Steve Finley, Matt Williams and Jay Bell had off years, Gonzalez picked it up a giant notch and belted 57 home runs. Many believe the D-Backs are Schilling and Johnson and 23 other guys. But Gonzo was a huge part of the team's success. My hat is off to Luis and Bret. They are great guys on and off the field. I love when guys like this kick ass.