Spent most of this morning at the Arizona Gun show, an interesting exercise in mostly Second Amendment rights, but with a side-dose of First Amendment ones as well. In particular, the booth apparently being run by a bunch of neo-Nazis, going by the material they were selling. I mean, DVDs of Jew Suss? CDs of Stormtrooper marches? Still, freedom of speech is intended to protect all speech, no matter how repellent it may be, and that First Amendment is probably the thing I hold dearest about the United States of America. I had to resist the urge to walk up to them and say, 'Newsflash, Heinrich: you do know you lost the war?' I did, however, get a very nice T-shirt, with the word "INFIDEL" on the front, in both English and Arabic, and got to meet the guys from TacGirls.com [site probably not safe for work, but no more than PG-13 either], which helped wash the bad taste from my mouth.
So, moving on. Last week's poll proved a well-contested affair, with a number of very credible candidates, some interesting debate, and the winner eventually proving only to need 30% of the votes for victory. Congratulations to Chris Snyder, who takes the award of Unsung Hero for his sterling work behind the plate, as well as an excellent second-half at it. Hopefully, we'll get to see more of this going forward into 2008, and Snyder both deserving, and getting, more praise. We now move on to Rookie of the Year, where there are four candidates [Montero, Petit and Upton were also considered but their playing time was deemed inadequate to qualify]
Micah Owings Only two pitchers in the majors made their debut in 2007, gave their team 150+ innings, and had an ERA better than league average. Micah Owings was one; the other was Daisuke Matsuzaka. And which had the lower ERA+? Not the man whom Boston paid $50 million to talk to. Owings burst upon the scene by one-hitting the Nats for five shutout innings in April, the third-best debut by any starter this year. He bounced back from a shaky outing to post a complete game against Houston in May, and despite a shaky July (9.55 ERA in six starts), he finished strong, with a 3.02 ERA over his last ten games, including a shutout of the Giants, another of the best performances of the year by a rookie. And that's without even mentioning his performances at the plate, perhaps making Owings the first true double-threat starter/position player in a generation or more.
Tony Peña The fuss about Peña's identity seems a long way in the past now, as the pitcher formerly known as "Adriano Rosario" proved his worth with a full season of work from the bullpen. Operating mainly in the seventh inning, he became a crucial part in the chain of Cruz-Peña-Lyon-Valverde, which was used by Bob Melvin to take the team through the second half of games. And given the extraordinary number of one-run games in which the team was involved, having a reliable relief arm like Peña was crucial. virtually half his appearances came with his team tied, or ahead by two runs or less, and he held opposing batter to a .207 average. Tony was particularly brutal on right-handers, who hit just .176, with an OPS of only .521. He did seem to run out of gas later on (a 6.66 era in August and September), but is likely the heir apparent to Valverde's throne as closer.
Mark Reynolds Or, as he was known before the season started, "Mark Who?" While our other rookies were, more or less, known quantities, Reynolds was not expected to be a contributor this year at all, starting the season in Double-A Mobile. However, injuries to Chad Tracy and the available replacements at Tucson left the team struggling. Reynolds responded impeccably, with a monster start that saw him bat .426 in his first fifteen games, including going 5-for-5 against Houston. He did cool off or a spell beyond that, and his strikeouts proved epic in number, but Mark rebounded to hit .342 in August and .300 in September, and his defense on the hot corner proved to be less an issue than was originally feared. With Tracy's knee apparently still problematic, the starting third-baseman's job for 2008 appears to be Reynolds to lose.
Chris Young In a season where some of our young players didn't deliver quite what was promised, Young provided a welcome blast of optimism. And quite a few other blasts too, swatting 32 homers to lead the team by a full eleven in his first full season at the major-league level. He spent most of the season batting leadoff, though his on-base percentage, which struggled (and failed) to reach .300, probably isn't what he'd have wanted, and will likely need to be improved next season. However, for raw speed, he likely had now equal in the regular lineup. Young stole 27 bases, being caught just six times, and also used his wheels to great effect in the outfield, covering the capacious center field at Chase to make any number of great catches. The highlight there was taking away a grand-slam from the Padres' Cameron, one of our Play of the Year nominees.
It's another interesting group of nominees: an infielder, an outfielder, a starter and a reliever, so we seem to have all the bases covered [okay, not quite literally, but you know what I mean!]. All of them have strengths; all of them have weaknesses. For example: normally, a rookie who hits thirty homers would be a shoo-in for this kind of award. But on the other hand, a rookie who bats .237 and almost sets a franchise record for strikeouts...less so. Chris Young, of course, is both. I really would not want to bet money on the outcome of this one. Oh, and whoever wins this will automatically qualify for the MVP Pittie that concludes voting in a few weeks.