A tight race in the Game of the Year Pittie just went to the monumental comeback against the Pirates in May, which beat out clinching the NLDS by a couple of votes. We now move on to the next award, which is for the Unsung Hero of the Year; the man whose contributions to the team were most significant, yet largely went unnoticed. This eliminates the likes of major-league saves leader, Jose Valverde, Manager of the Year, Bob Melvin, and Cy Young runner-up Brandon Webb. For your consideration, we therefore present the following nominees:
Edgar Gonzalez Only eight NL pitchers both started and relieved in more than ten games, and EdGon was one of them. He was in the rotation at the start of the season, and was bumped to the pen after the return of the Big Unit. He was still occasionally the spot starter of choice, but also performed mop-up duty, pitching in a relief role every inning from the first (following Kim to the mound) to the eleventh. He had his blowout appearances, but only when it didn't matter: the most telling stat is, he didn't lose a game for more than five months. Gonzalez hit the mound 26 times between April 21 and September 23, posting a 7-0 record in that period. He came back to start four times at the end of the season, but perhaps his best performance was July 27th when he retired six consecutive batters during a tied game against Atlanta in the 10th and 11th, allowing Clark to hit a walk-off homer.
Conor Jackson Outside of a dismal April, Jackson was the best hitter on the Diamondbacks team. From May 4 until the end of the year, he hit .300, including a second-half line of .308/.371/.555 - an OPS of .926, which compares favorably with the likes of Helton (.939) and Derrek Lee (.941). But that wasn't enough to get him a regular spot at first-base: he only started 13 games in the last month, with Tony Clark often being preferred. He was generally regarded as being defensively inferior to Clark, but other defensive metrics than errors suggest he was actually as good as, if not better than, the veteran. Jackson was particularly brutal against left-handed pitching, smacking them at a .320 rate, and also helped the team out by playing a game in left-field, against Milwaukee on July 16.
Brandon Lyon Valverde may have got the saves, and be dreaming of a $60 million dollar payout, but his set-up man was virtually as good. Lyon posted an ERA only 0.02 worse than Valverde, while pitching more games and innings too. As a result, Brandon's VORP figure was actually higher than Papa Grandes, 24.0 to 21.6, and Lyon was particularly good in hitter-friendly Chase, where his ERA was a miniscule 1.69. He allowed only one home-run in 42.2 innings at home, and his overall HR/9 rate (0.24) was 3rd best in the majors, among the 212 pitchers with seventy or more innings. He blew only three saves all year, in 39 chances, and finished with 35 holds, most in the major-leagues. He also threw strikes a team-leading 66% of the time, and was a crucial part in Arizona having such a good record in one-run games. If we trade Valverde away, he could easily step into the role, and would likely be just as good.
Bryan Price Coming into the season, our bullpen was regarded as flawed, and our rotation behind Brandon Webb had questionmarks over almost every member. But, by the end of the year, we had the second-best ERA+ in the league, Arizona's 114 just trailing the Cubs 115. With the equal-lowest OPS+ in the NL (89), it's clear that our pitching won us the division, and Price's role in that, while difficult to quantity, has to be appreciated. Much as he did in Seattle, also under Melvin, he has helped craft a top-notch bullpen out of parts no-one really rated. In 2007, playing home games at one of the most hitter-friendly parks, they had an ERA of 3.95. Our top seven relievers by innings pitched were better yet, with a 3.47 ERA over more than 400 innings. But Brandon Webb also improved and Doug Davis had one of the best years in his career, while Yusmeiro Petit and Micah Owings proved better than league-average in their rookie campaigns.
Chris Snyder It was generally expected that this would be the year Miguel Montero took over the reins: Snyder thought otherwise, and earned more starts in August and September than any other month. He had a particularly productive second-half, batting .292 with an .889 OPS, good enough for second in the majors among catchers after the break, better than McCann, Martinez and Martin. But his defense was rock-solid too, with only one error in 106 games, and he threw out 35.8% of base-stealers - a better percentage than Gold Glove winner Russell Martin, and third-best in the league (50 or more games). He also called and caught almost all of Webb and Davis's starts, including the vast majority of the former's 42-innings scoreless streak. He has a lock in the position for Opening Day 2008, and since he's under Arizona control through 2010, promises to be a valuable commodity.