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November 18, 2011

Internet Baseball Awards

American League

by Greg Spira

For full results to this year's IBA voting, look here.

It's that time of year when we announce the winners of the 20th annual Internet Baseball Awards. The first Internet Baseball Awards balloting took place in 1991, several years before the invention of the web. Most of the voters in '91 came from the Usenet newsgroup rec.sport.baseball. The voters selected Cal Ripken as their AL Player of the Year, Roger Clemens as their AL Pitcher of the Year, and Chuck Knoblauch as their AL Rookie of the Year. The BBWAA voted for the same three people that year, but that concurrence proved to be a rare occurrence in the early years of voting. Over the next 10 years (1992-2002, excluding 1994), IBA voters selected a different player than the BBWAA voters did in the AL MVP, AL Cy Young, and AL Rookie of the Year voting one-third of the time. In recent years, the BBWAA electorate and IBA voters have had similar ballots. Between 2007 and 2010, only once have IBA voters differed on MVP, Cy, or Rookie selection (Rick Porcello instead of Andrew Bailey as the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year). But as you'll see below, there are still some real differences between IBA and BBWAA voting, as you’ll see below.

The point system for the balloting was as follows:

  • Player of the Year ballots: 14 points for first-place votes, nine points for second-place votes, eight points for third-place votes, etc., down to one point for a 10th-place vote.
  • Pitcher of the Year ballots: 10 points for first-place votes, seven points for second-place votes, five points for third-place votes, three points for fourth-place, and one point for fifth-place votes. This point system we use differs from the BBWAA point system for historical reasons.
  • Rookie of the Year ballots: 10 points for first-place votes, seven points for second-place votes, five points for third-place votes, three points for fourth-place, and one point for fifth-place votes. This is a longer ballot than the BBWAA uses and (obviously) a different point system.
  • Manager of the Year ballots: Five points for first-place votes, three points for second-place votes, and one point for third-place votes.

Player of the Year
Jose Bautista’s tremendous 2011 season for the Toronto Blue Jays made it clear that his massive improvement at the plate in 2010 was no fluke, and it earned him the 2011 AL Player of the Year from online voters. The right fielder led the league in home runs (43), walks (132), and slugging (.608), and his .447 OBP was second-highest in the league. Bautista finished fifth in the voting last year—the first time he ever received a vote—but this year he is the first Blue Jay to win an IBA Player of the Year award.

Despite Bautista garnering 47 percent of first-place votes, Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury actually appeared on 19 more ballots and finished second in the balloting. In 2011, Ellsbury posted career bests in most every major official statistic except for triples and steals. Most importantly, Ellsbury blasted 32 homers, nearly quadrupling his previous high (nine in 2008). Ellsbury’s previous high in the balloting was a 19th-place finish in 2007.

While Ellsbury finished second overall, he did not finish second in first-place votes; Tigers ace Justin Verlander snagged 22 percent of all first-place votes compared to Ellsbury's 19 percent. Verlander’s third-place showing is the highest finish for a pitcher in Internet AL Player of the Year balloting since Johan Santana finished third in 1998. It’s also higher than any Tiger has finished over the past 20 years (Cecil Fielder’s took third place in 1991). Verlander’s previous highest finish in Player oft he Year voting was 16th place in 2009.

Two other players captured more than 10 first-place: Tigers hitting machine Miguel Cabrera (fourth place overall) and Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson (fifth place overall). Cabrera regularly sits atop Internet Player of the Year charts; he has finished in the top 10 six times over the last seven seasons, including his second-place finish in 2010. Unlike Cabrera, Granderson has only finished in the top 10 once (sixth in 2007).

There’s a huge gap between fifth and sixth place. Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez came in sixth in Internet voting for the second consecutive year. Of course, his finish last year came as a Padre. Gonzalez had previously finished at 24th in 2007, 21st in 2008, and ninth in 2009.

Robinson Cano’s seventh-place finish marks the second consecutive year he has finished in the top 20.

Evan Longoria’s 10th-place finish marks the third year in a row he’s finished the top 11.

Last year’s winner, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, finished 20th. The highest-placing relief pitcher was Mariano Rivera (25th). Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings received the most votes of any rookie and placed 35th.

The Internet’s 13 most valuable American League players all played on winning teams; nine of them made it to the postseason. On the other hand, the Seattle Mariners' highest-finishing player was Felix Hernandez, who finished 50th.

Pitcher of the Year
Voters didn’t face a difficult decision in selecting the 2011 AL Pitcher of the Year; Verlander won in a romp. The Tigers' ace led the league in wins (24), ERA (2.40), and strikeouts (250) while allowing .5 fewer hits per nine innings than any other major-league pitcher. No major-league starter since 1994 has allowed fewer baserunners per nine innings as Verlander did (8.28). Verlander made it through the sixth inning in each of his 34 starts. Prior to this year’s voting, Verlander had finished in the top 10 in both 2010 (ninth) and 2009 (fourth).

The only other pitcher to earn more than two first-place votes was the Yankees ‘ CC Sabathia, who finished second for the second year in a row. The lefty, who picked up his own Internet Pitcher of the Year in 2007, has now finished in the top 20 in voting eight times and in the top 50 in 11 consecutive seasons.

Angels’ starter Jered Weaver took third place. He pitched 235 2/3 innings in 2011 (fifth-highest in the AL) while posting the second-lowest ERA in the league, 2.41, just one-hundredth of a run higher than Verlander’s ERA. He also finished second in the league to Verlander in baserunners per nine innings (1.01). Weaver placed in the top 10 for the second consecutive year (he finished sixth last year).

The fourth-place finisher was James Shields, whose 11 complete games for the Tampa Bay Rays not only led the majors in 2011, but was the highest total in the majors since Randy Johnson’s 12 in 1998. Shields' best previous result was a 14th-place finish in 2008. He also finished in the top 25 in 2006 and 2007.

Dan Haren pitched his way back into the top 10 in Internet Pitcher of the Year voting for the first time in three years by finishing second in the AL in walks allowed per nine innings (behind Josh Tomlin) and third in baserunners allowed per nine innings (9.21). Haren’s 2010 and 2009 were marred by injuries, but he finished eighth in Internet NL Pitcher of the Year voting in 2008 and seventh in 2007 when he pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Rangers ace C.J. Wilson, who finished sixth, is a newcomer to the top 10. The lefty’s highest previous finish was 14th in 2009.

Last year’s AL Internet Cy winner, the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, placed seventh. Tigers closer Jose Valverde was the highest-ranking reliever in this year’s voting; he had finished in the top 25 twice before, in 2007 (13th) and 2008 (21st).

Six of the top-10 finishers made it into the postseason. Two Angels starters finished in the top five, while the Yankees had four pitchers finish in the top 20. Neither the Twins nor the Royals had a pitcher who finished among the top 35 vote-getters; in fact, neither had a pitcher who appeared on more than one ballot.

Rookie of the Year
Seattle Mariners starter Michael Pineda edged out Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson for the Rookie of the Year. Most traditional and basic sabermetric statistics indicate that Hellickson was the better pitcher, but Pineda’s far superior control of the strike zone (3.15 SO/BB ratio for Pineda, 1.63 SO/BB ratio for Hellickson) resulted in Pineda’s fielding-independent statistical measures showing that he was better at shutting down the opposition. Pineda appeared on 18 more ballots than Hellickson and received 34.4 percent of all first-place votes (for a total of 190), while Hellickson placed first on only 22 percent (125) of the ballots.

The highest-ranking everyday player, Eric Hosmer of the Royals, finished third. He grabbed 16 percent of the vote. The Kansas City first baseman posted a .334 OBP and a .465 SLG in 563 plate appearances in 2011.

The other players who reached double-digits in first-place votes were Mariners second-baseman Dustin Ackley (30; finished in fourth place overall), Yankees starter Ivan Nova (29, fifth overall), Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo (27, sixth overall), Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie (19, eighth overall), Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings (18, seventh overall), and Athletics second baseman Jemile Weeks (13, ninth overall).

While both the Rookie of the Year and the runner-up were pitchers, only one additional moundsman joined them in the top 10.

Eight of the top 12 vote-getters played for teams that completed the regular season at or above .500, while 13 of the top 20 players were on teams that finished the season at .500 or below

Five of the top 20 rookies played for the Royals, a positive sign for their long-suffering fans. Detroit was the only AL team not to have any players finish among the top 25.

Manager of the Year
Despite losing several key players from his 2010 roster, Joe Maddon led the Tampa Bay Rays to a 91-71 record in the richest and toughest division and snagged the 2011 Internet AL Manager of the Year honors by a wide margin. Maddon showed up on 100 more ballots than anybody else and received more than two-thirds of the first-place votes. He also won the Manager of the Year award in 2008.

Jim Leyland, who lead the Detroit Tigers to the AL Central title, finished in second place. His only previous top-five finish came when he won the award in 2006. Ron Washington, the 2010 award-winner, finished third; he has now finished among the top three vote-getters three years in a row. Indians manager Manny Acta finished fourth; in 2007, he finished in third place as the Washington Nationals' skipper. Joe Girardi’s fifth-place finish marks the third year in a row he has placed in the top five. In his last year as the manager of the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona finished sixth; he placed in the top six in six of his seven years at Boston’s helm, but never finished higher than third place.

The highest-placing manager of a team with a losing record was Manny Acta. The only rookie manager in the AL in 2011, Blue Jays skipper John Farrell, finished eighth.

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