Instead of doing a league-wide awards voting this season, I'm going to condense it down to just the O's. It'll make the awards easier to vote for and thus let you and me think a little less (which I see as a negative), but it'll also make it more personal. Being the Camden Chat MVP will mean a little more to us, I think.
We'll do all the awards -- the MVP will be named the Cal Ripken/Brooks Robinson Award, the "Cy Young" will be known as the Jim Palmer, and my vote for "Rookie of the Year" is the Gregg Olson Award. There will also be other awards, some funny, some serious, some stupid.
But how about MVP? It's an interesting race, and I think there are four strong candidates. This is more than we would have had most years.
Pros: Huff's second season in Baltimore has been a massive success, and he's served as baseball's best designated hitter this season, which is shocking. Huff has hit .316/.372/.581 with 31 homers, 102 RBI, and 44 doubles. He's been a monster in the middle of the lineup. The Orioles have not had a power threat like Huff since Eric Davis in 1998, and Davis missed 31 games that season. (Yes, the O's have had good power seasons since then, but nobody has posted a slugging percentage this high since Davis' .582 mark a decade ago.)
There's also the fact that he's sort of a feel-good story. After calling Baltimore a "horses**t town" and making no friends in the fanbase during the 2007 offseason (and also running around all willy-nilly with the likes of the deplorable Melissa Midwest), Huff has become a fan favorite. You know why? He's earned it. This is another point in favor of only judging a book by how it hits. Huff could go on XM radio this November and personally call me a d-bag, and he's OK by me.
Cons: Huff doesn't play the field very often, with 20 games at first base and 21 at third scattered among his 136 appearances. This doesn't much matter to me, but things like this matter to some people. Huff was brought to Baltimore to hit. It took him a year, but he's done his job.
There also may still be some stragglers that don't much like Huff, and I guess that's understandable. You can cheer for his bat without cheering much for him. He can't take any comments he's ever made back, but he can do his best to atone for them.
Pros: Nick Markakis is the man. There was some talk around other team blogs this spring that we as Orioles fans overrated Markakis, and that he was a good but totally unspecial player. I disagreed -- I said he would get even better, that we had yet to see just how good he could be. I had my reasons for thinking this, such as the fact that he has always shown a knack for outperforming expectations.
Well, 2008 has done it again. No, Markakis isn't going to be slugging 30-40 homers a year, but he's going to be good for 40-50 doubles and a crap load of walks. He'd always shown a great eye, but this year he's really taken it to a new level, posting a .399 OBP with 87 walks thus far. A lot of this happened early in the season, when teams liberally pitched around Markakis because there was no one behind him. Huff's emergence has slowed it down some, but Markakis has also hit better as the season has gone on. A rough May (.231/.304/.442) hurts his overall numbers (.301/.399/.484, 43 doubles, 18 HR, 81 RBI).
Beyond his stick, Markakis contributes as a baserunner (just 10-for-16 stolen bases this season, but he doesn't make many mistakes) and with his excellent glove, which is legitimately Gold Glove-worthy. He's got a cannon arm, covers a lot of ground, and doesn't screw up. He's a smart, excellent ballplayer. And he's still just 24.
Cons: Markakis simply does not have Huff's numbers, and it'd be nice if he did hit more homers. Offensively, Huff has been way better than Markakis this season. Huff's 61.7 VORP trumps Nick's (41.5), and it's not even close. Other than that, not much to complain about.
Pros: Ahhh...GUTS! The ace. The big guy. The dude that could do it two years in a row, unlike others.
Guthrie's 10-11 record this season is a crying shame. He went 7-5 last year, and that was a crying shame, because he pitched better than that. But this year, he's actually gotten a little bit better (or a little bit luckier, or whatever). His numbers said he would slip up a bit this season, even if he stayed pretty good. Well, he's repeated those numbers, essentially, and had about the same level of success.
What's refreshing with Guthrie is that every five days, no matter the circumstances, the team has a chance to win. They have not rewarded him with the win-loss record he deserves, but he's kept us in almost every game he's pitched. That's worth a lot.
You know what the coolest thing about Guthrie is? He doesn't complain much, and he's got perhaps the most reason to do so on the entire team. He takes the ball, does his best, and win or lose, he comes back next time it's his turn and does the same. He's a pro.
Cons: The W-L record doesn't matter if you're smart enough, which all of us are. He did all he could most nights, and either the offense or the bullpen didn't or couldn't back him up. Good pitchers on bad teams often don't have good records. And sometimes good pitchers on good teams aren't that inspiring W-L wise, either (take a look at Johan Santana this year).
The biggest con, really, is he's not on the field every day. Yes, he does his job, but he does it every fifth game. Which is his job. So it's kind of a catch-22. What can you do? Nature of the beast, y'all.
Pros: In many ways, Roberts is the team's leader. He's the leadoff man, the one in charge of starting the game off right, either by getting on base or working the pitcher enough so that everyone else can get a read on him. He's the offensive firestarter, and a good one at that. He's having the second-best season of his career, and remains one of the elite second basemen in baseball.
Roberts is hitting .293/.376/.457 with 47 doubles and a 36-for-46 success rate stealing bases. He's pesky at the plate, classically so. He's more than happy to take a walk, but he can hit, and he's got gap power.
The biggest pro of Brian's season, though, has been his stunning success batting right-handed. For his career, he hits just .256/.335/.368 against left-handed pitching, numbers that are spiked by his marks this year: .321/.404/.484, numbers that soundly thrash his line against RHP (.282/.364/.445).
Cons: The bottom line is that even if you adjust for position, it's hard for Roberts to stack up to Huff. He's about the same as Markakis (Roberts' VORP is 46.0). He's a hell of a good player, and he's the type of guy that ages well. Though some question how long he'll stay in Baltimore, he'll probably be effective for another half decade, at least. He could be a strong leadoff man for another 10 years if he stays healthy.
There's still a good amount of ball to be played. Things can happen. Right now, I'd say Aubrey Huff has a healthy lead, but that's just me.