The Nationals’ 2012 may have left the fans searching for answers, and a bit sick in the heart – at least, that’s how I felt for a time – but the post-season recognition that they have received from their peers and the field of reporters that is the BBWAA has been nothing short of outstanding.
The Nationals have picked up three Silver Slugger awards, one Golden Glove, and late yesterday Bryce Harper was named the second teenager ever to receive the Rookie of the Year award. Tonight, recently re-signed manager Davey Johnson is a likely favorite for the NL Manager of the Year award. Tomorrow, Gio Gonzalez is a finalist for the Cy Young award for best pitcher in the NL. It’s hard not to look at this year as anything other than a success, except that may not be true in the eyes of its players.
Last night on the MLB Network Bryce Harper was quick to point out that he wasn’t ready to rest on his laurels: “I’m never satisfied with any of my numbers, my biggest goal is to win the World Series.”
Harper’s rookie season was nothing short of astonishing: .270/.340/.477 for an OPS of .817, including 26 doubles, 22 homers, and an amazing 59% XBT (extra base taken – meaning going from 1st to 3rd on a single, or 1st to home on a double, etc). There’s no question that his fiery personality and his inability to say the word “die” or “quit” justified the honors, despite heavy competition from the Diamondbacks’ Miley, or the Reds’ Frazier.
The Cy Young may be one of the most difficult choices that the BBWAA votes have this year, if only because there are three totally different styles of pitching at place. You have the Mets’ R.A. Dickey and his sly knuckleball, Gio Gonzalez’s power curve, and the dominance and team leadership of Clayton Kershaw from the Dodgers. Each had phenomenal seasons, but Gio’s 21 wins were the best in the NL this year, and his scant 64 earned runs are as low as anyone’s in the league. I do expect this award, given out by the BBWAA on Wednesday, to end up in the hands of Dickey. At 38, Dickey’s accomplishments are too much to be overlooked by the voters, but it’s possible that Gio might slide in under the wire.
I wouldn’t put any money on that, though.
In the category of “having a really good contract year,” allow me to highlight Adam Laroche, whose Golden Glove defense was matched by his Silver Slugger offense. 33 HRs, 100 RBI, and an .853 OPS is enough to give you a good payday when the free agent market comes calling. Couple that with just 7 errors, and the ability to make even the hardest play look like the easiest thing in the world and you have a package that is going to cost the Nationals a pretty penny.
In addition, Stephen Strasburg collected his first Silver Slugger award at the plate, with 7RBI in 53 plate appearances, including a home run, four doubles and 8 singles, for an OPS of .729. The Nationals’ pitching staff was a force at the plate this year, and Strasburg was no exception, to the point where a few suggested he might make a fine pinch hitter for the postseason if the team was interested.
There is one frustrating moment in this round of awards, though, in that the golden glove could have gone to Ian Desmond. It would have been special award in its own right, and well deserved, after a season that saw Desmond’s defense improve by leaps and bounds, and his highlight-reel play was something to be seen to be believed. Desmond struggled at shortstop after coming up to the Nationals initially in 2010. His 34 errors in the 2010 campaign had many an armchair analyst – and a few of the pros – thinking that the Nationals might do well to move the youngster. Desmond’s athleticism allowed him to get to a lot of balls that other shortstops couldn’t, and that range lead to some rushed decisions. Time, and experience, have seasoned Desmond into a strong point at the center of the infield for the Nationals, with a bat to match.
Look for this narrow miss to push Desmond harder next season on the defensive front, he’s capable of a ten error season.
It’s hard not to love what Davey Johnson has done with this year’s team. Given that most predictions had the Nationals finishing this season just barely above .500 and in third place in the NL East, the final results are a huge testament to what Johnson’s experience and knowledge can bring to a club that’s right on the precipice. I don’t see this award going to anyone but Davey at this point. To add wins the way the Nationals did this season, and despite all the injuries and other obstacles, it would be the sort of snub that just doesn’t happen very often.