In each installment of Diamond Digits over the last two regular seasons, we have anointed the players with the titles of Best and Worst Stats of the Week. When making these selections, we look only at the previous seven-day period stretching from Monday to Sunday, and in virtually every case, season statistics play no factor. This edition is a little different. In the final installment of the season, we looked not just at the last week, but at the full bodies of work over the course of the past six months. Instead of doing best and worst, we skipped the negativity and broke the yearly honors up into the best position players and pitchers.
The two winners come from vastly different ends of the baseball spectrum. One is a perennial All Star, MVP candidate and a sure Hall of Famer who plays for a Division winner. The other has overcome myriad troubles to get his career on track, becoming the best at what he does for one of the game's most sorry franchises. The only common thread between them has been that they're both Show Me State greats. And now they're also Diamond Digits Players of the Year for 2009.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals
Few choices are ever as easy as this one. Pujols was by far the best offensive player in the game this year and has solidified himself among the greatest of this generation. It's not that there weren't other candidates who in a different season would have had the numbers to earn such an honor, but when Pujols' entire body of work for the year was examined, he became the clear choice. He became only player to begin his career with nine straight 30-homer seasons (including a career-best 10 multi-home run games in 2009), leading the NL thus far with 47. He also tops the majors in runs scored (121), walks (tied with Adam Dunn at 112), on-base percentage (.446), slugging percentage (.670), extra-base hits (91), times on base (300) and total bases (365). He places third in RBIs (132) and sixth in batting at .328. If that wasn't enough, for good measure Pujols has also flashed the leather; he has a chance to top the NL and major league records for assists by a first baseman (Pujols currently has 179, with the NL mark being 180 by Mark Grace and the major league record held by Bill Buckner at 184).
Others in the running:
• Despite missing the entire month of April with a bad back, Twins catcher Joe Mauer came back to put himself in strong position to repeat as AL batting champ (.371) while pacing the AL in slugging (.602) and on-base percentage (.444) and piling up 28 home runs and 92 RBIs for the AL Central contenders.
• In any other season, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder might've taken top honors for batting .297/.406/.596 while compiling 43 home runs, a major league-high 137 RBIs and 339 total bases, but he can't even be considered the best first baseman in his division.
• When Mark Teixeira signed an eight-year, $180-million contract in January, the Yankees were hoping to get a stabilizing force at first base and in the middle of the order. Even with the lofty price tag, Teixeira exceeded expectations by leading the AL in total bases (338) and RBIs (120) while currently placing second with 38 home runs (one behind the injured Carlos Pena), batting .294/.384/.568 and leading the Yankees to the AL East crown and the best regular season record in the game.
• He doesn't get the ink that many of his contemporaries do, but Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez is having a historic season. Batting .340 with 24 home runs, 105 RBIs and 26 stolen bases, he's on the verge of becoming just the fourth player in big-league history to top .340/20 HR/100 RBIs/25 SB in a season, joining Larry Walker, Ellis Burks and Darin Erstad.
Other Finalists: Ryan Howard, Phillies; Ryan Braun, Brewers; Chase Utley, Phillies; Adrian Gonzalez, Padres; Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; Robinson Cano, Yankees; Derek Jeter, Yankees; Kendry Morales, Angels.
Zack Greinke, Royals
He may play for a second-division team, but everything about Greinke's 2009 breakout season has been first-class. He leads the major leagues with a 2.06 ERA which is nearly a quarter of a run lower than the second-place Chris Carpenter and the lowest in the AL since 2000. Pitching for a club with a .408 winning percentage, the 25-year-old righty has won at a .667 clip, and his 16 wins ties him for fifth in the Junior Circuit. Only Detroit's Justin Verlander has more strikeouts in the AL and only Roy Halladay has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio. Greinke's also tied with Halladay for the big-league lead with three shutouts, and he's allowed two earned runs or fewer in 24 of his 32 outings, 10 of which he allowed no earned runs at all.
Others in the running:
• In 2006 it appeared that Adam Wainwright's path to stardom would lead through the ninth inning, as he served as the closer in the Redbirds' run to the World Series title, but as a starter Wainwright is the major-league co-leader in wins and ranks in the top 10 in ERA, strikeouts, winning percentage and opponents' slugging percentage. He is also the odds-on favorite to capture the NL Cy Young Award as his league's top starter.
• Being the object of trade rumors for nearly the entire season while pitching for a club that had little chance of competing in the majors' toughest division apparently didn't effect Roy Halladay on the mound. Halladay displayed his usual excellence, going 16-10 with a 2.90 ERA and 202 strikeouts.
• CC Sabathia may have cost the Yankees $161 million, but after leading New York to the AL East Division crown by winning 19 of his 26 decisions -- going 11-1 with a 2.36 ERA in the second half -- you couldn't find a single person in the Bronx who regrets a single penny of it.
• Baseball's best comeback story of 2009, Chris Carpenter made just four starts in 2007 and 2008 due to elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery, but came back in '09 with a vengeance by winning 16 games, the second-best total of his career. He also leads the major leagues with an .800 winning percentage (16-4) and places second to Greinke in ERA (2.30). Twice he held opponents to a single hit in a game, including a one-hit complete-game shutout of the heavy-hitting Brewers earlier this month. And in each of his two other complete games he allowed only one run, each time coming on a solo home run.
Other Finalists: Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Tim Lincecum, Giants; Justin Verlander, Tigers; Scott Feldman, Rangers; Brian Fuentes, Angels; Mariano Rivera, Yankees.
Like 20-something teams, my season is just about over. Check back next spring for a weekly look back at the week in baseball numbers. Have a great winter.