Posey vs. Heyward remains toughest call in final awards watch

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With the 2010 regular season concluded, this final edition of Awards Watch presents my best guesses at to how the voting will shake out for the three major awards in each league. Be sure to check back in November to see how I did.

NOTE: All stats are final. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics. Rookies are players who, prior to the 2010 season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or have spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster before rosters expand on September 1.

American League

1. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers

Final Stats: .359/.411/.633, 32 HRs, 100 RBIs, 8 SBs

Though his 133 games played this season would be the fifth-lowest total for an MVP since the 162-game schedule was put in effect in 1961 and his five games played after August 31 would be the least ever by an MVP, Hamilton remains the favorite. His candidacy is built upon an absolutely insane half-season as Hamilton hit .412/.464/.722 with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs from June 1 to September 3, a stretch during which he played in exactly 81 games, starting 78. Add to that his all-around ability (eight steals in nine attempts, 29 starts in center field, and superlative defense in left) and the fact that he was the best hitter on the first Rangers team to make the postseason since 1999 and he should claim the award. It helped that Hamilton was able to return in the final two games of the season and came through with a home run and his 100th RBI, even if he dropped his season average below .360.

2. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers

Final Stats: .328/.420/.622, 38 HRs, 126 RBIs

Cabrera hit at an MVP level for the first five months of the season (.340/.435/.643 through August 31), and though he finally cooled off a bit in September, he still slugged .500 with five home runs and 19 RBIs on the month before a high ankle sprain ended his season a few days ahead of schedule. The legitimate knock on Cabrera is that he doesn't contribute outside of the batter's box. The illegitimate one is that his Tigers fell out of contention in late July. Never mind that Cabrera hit .329/.455/.627 from the All-Star break through August 31 while injuries tore through the roster and rookie Brennan Boesch's bat went into deep freeze. Sadly, as long as a significant portion of the electorate still conflates "value" and team performance, deserving candidates such as Cabrera will struggle to get their due.

3. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees

Final Stats: .319/.381/.534, 29 HRs, 109 RBIs

There are strong arguments to be made for Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre (.321/.365/.553, 28 HR, 102 RBI and Gold Glove-quality defense) and Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (.260/.378/.617 with 124 RBIs, nine steals in 11 tries, and a major league-leading 54 homers), but Cano provided excellent defense at a tougher defensive position and was the most productive hitter for a team that made the playoffs. He also became just the second second baseman in major league history to collect 200 hits and 25 home runs in multiple seasons, having also done so in 2009. The other was Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby.

1. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds

Final Stats: .324/.424/.600, 37 HRs, 113 RBIs, 16 SBs

In my first Awards Watch I wrote, "Unlike most of the other players on these lists, Votto's 2010 production is right in line with his 2009 performance, which means he's less likely to fade than the rest. Don't be surprised if he sticks around on this list, and if the Reds do slip past the Cardinals, Votto could be a winner as well." Bingo. Though the statistical difference between Votto and Albert Pujols this season was slight, Votto should win the award comfortably given the fact that his Reds upset Pujols's Cardinals to claim the NL Central crown on the strength of a league-leading offense in which Votto was far and away the most productive hitter.

2. Albert Pujols, 1B, Reds

Final Stats: .312/.414/.596, 42 HRs, 118 RBIs, 14 SBs

Pujols won the last two NL MVPs with superior rate stats (.342/.452/.656 combined). This year, he's in a statistical dead heat with Votto, an impressively similar player from his own division, and the tie will go to the new face on the first-place team.

3. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies

Final Stats:.336/.376/.598, 34 HRs, 117 RBIs, 26 SBs

His teammate, Troy Tulowitzki, got a lot of attention for hitting a 15 home runs in September, but while Tulo hit .322/.376/.800 in a single month, batting crown-winner Gonzalez was even better. CarGo hit .374/.424/.709 over a three month span covering July, August, and September while contributing on the bases and in all three outfield positions.

American League

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners

Final Stats: 13-12, 232 Ks, 2.27 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.31 K/BB, 6 CG, 1 SHO

Cover up the wins and losses, statistics highly dependent upon run and bullpen support, and King Felix was clearly the best pitcher in the American League in 2010, something that seems to have sunk in with the electorate during a heated debate over the relative merits of Hernandez and the league's wins leaders that has raged for most of the last month. Hernandez received just 3.07 runs per game of support from the miserable Mariners offense this year, and according to Baseball Prospectus' Support-Neutral Wins and Losses, had Hernandez simply received league-average support, he would have gone 22-12, the best support-neutral record in baseball in 2010. No starting pitcher has won a Cy Young award with fewer than 15 wins in a non-strike year, but that record was set last year when Tim Lincecum did so in the NL. For good measure, Zack Grienke won last year's AL award with 16 wins for a last place team, so the message seems to finally be getting through about the relative insignificance of pitching wins and losses.

2. David Price, LHP, Rays

Final Stats: 19-6, 188 K, 2.71 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.38 K/BB, 2 CG, 1 SHO

For those still unwilling to look past the wins column, Price out-pitched league wins leader CC Sabathia in almost every other way in 2010 and capped that performance off by matching Sabathia for eight scoreless innings on September 13, then beating him head-to-head at Yankee Stadium the following week despite both times having to face the tougher Yankee lineup. The Rays won both of those games, which proved to be the difference in the AL East this season.

3. CC Sabathia, LHP, Yankees

Finals Stats:21-7, 197 K, 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.66 K/BB, 2 CG

Sabathia had a fine season by any standard, but he wasn't even the third-best pitcher in the league (that argument starts with Jered Weaver and Cliff Lee). Credit Sabathia for eating up 237 2/3 innings, but bear in mind that he received an average of 5.89 runs per game of support from the major league-leading Yankee offense. Still, he is the only man to win 20 games in the DH league since 2008, and that will count heavily with the voters.

1. Roy Halladay, RHP, Phillies

Final Stats: 21-10, 219 K, 2.44 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 7.30 K/BB, 9 CG, 4 SHO

2. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals

Final Stats: 20-11, 213 K, 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.80 K/BB, 5 CG, 2 SHO

Halladay and Wainwright's stat lines are alarmingly similar until you get to Doc's staggering 7.30 K/BB ratio and multitude of complete games and shutouts, the last of which includes his perfect game on May 29. Mix in that accomplishment and the fact that he threw 20 1/3 more innings than Wainwright, and the choice is obvious. Halladay will be come just the second man to win a Cy Young for a season in which he threw a perfect game since the award was introduced in 1956. The first was Sandy Koufax in 1965.

3. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Rockies

Final Stats: 19-8, 214 K, 2.88 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.33 K/BB, 4 CG, 2 SHO

Jimenez seemed to have this award locked up when he was 13-1 with a 1.15 ERA after his June 17 start. That he's a mere honorable mention behind Halladay and Wainwright speaks to the endurance and consistency required to win these awards.

American League

1. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers

Final Stats: 2.73 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.94 K/BB, 40 SV

Feliz saved his best for last by not allowing a run to score on his watch, inherited or otherwise, in his last 16 outings of the season, allowing just nine baserunners while striking out 15 in those final 16 1/3 innings. Along the way, he broke the rookie saves record of 37 by nailing down the Rangers clincher, then pushed the new mark to 40. In a weak AL class, Feliz was the one rookie to perform at a star level from Opening Day through to October and should be the clear choice for the award. He is also the only player to hold first place in these rankings in every edition of Awards Watch this season.

2. Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers

Final Stats: .293/.345/.400, 4 HRs, 41 RBIs, 27 SBs

The average major league center fielder hit .261/.325/.405 this season. Jackson bettered that while playing solid defense and stealing 27 bags at an excellent 82 percent success rate. That's not a star performance, but it's impressive coming from a 23-year-old who made his major league debut on opening day and was really the only other reliable, full-season performance by an AL rookie this year.

3. Wade Davis, RHP, Rays

Final Stats: 12-10, 113 Ks, 4.07 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 1.82 K/BB

Take your pick from among a handful of mediocrities and partial seasons for this third spot. It matters not. I'd be shocked to see anyone other than Feliz or Jackson ranked higher than third on any of the 28 ballots.

1. Buster Posey, C, Giants

Final Stats: .305/.357/.505, 18 HRs, 67 RBIs

2. Jason Heyward, RF, Braves

Final Stats: .277/.393/.456, 18 HRs, 72 RBIs, 11 SBs

This is the toughest race to call. Many voters were probably hoping Heyward or Posey would pull ahead amid the final scramble for the last two playoff spots in the NL, but neither did much of anything until the final day, when both came up with big hits. The argument for Heyward is based on his on-base percentage, advantage in playing time (Heyward was in the Braves' Opening Day lineup, while Posey spent most of the first two months of the season in Triple-A), and five-tool athleticism in the field and on the bases. The argument for Posey is based on the fact that he plays the toughest position on the field and plays it well, and that if you compare the two players from the time of Posey's debut on May 29, you find that Heyward hit just .268/.379/.405 with nine homers and 36 RBIs during Posey's time in the majors. That unfairly cuts out Heyward's .295/.422/.568 line prior to Posey's debut to focus on the portion of the season during which he was battling a lingering thumb ligament strain, an injury suffered in mid-May which ultimately put him on the disabled list for the first half of July. Still, the Posey argument seems more compelling at the moment as a catcher who can do what Posey did this season is a more thrilling proposition than a right fielder who can do what Heyward did.

3. Jaime Garcia, LHP, Cardinals

Final Line: 13-8, 132 Ks, 2.70 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.06 K/BB, 1 SHO

Perhaps it's Garcia's fault for starting so strong (he had a sub-2.00 ERA in late June), but his season ultimately seemed to fall a bit short at 13 wins and 163 1/3 innings. Still, it's a startling accomplishment for a rookie to qualify for the ERA title with the sixth-best ERA in the major leagues. That alone puts him ahead of the rest of the NL's very strong, very deep rookie class.