Jason Bay was the only Red Sox player to receive a 2009 Silver Slugger Award. His selection came two days after the Sox were shut out of the Gold Glove Awards despite being the fourth best American League team in terms of overall fielding percentage.
Bay led all American League outfielders in several key offensive categories, including home runs (36), RBI (119), slugging percentage (.537), and OPS (.921). He was second in runs scored and walks, but also had the dubious honor of leading in strikeouts. At times, he single-handedly carried Boston to wins, and his overall production this season was a major reason why the Sox were able to earn the wild card.
Admittedly, Bay went through some tough stretches as well, including a summer swoon in June and July during which he amassed an OPS of only .700. In spite if the slumps, his body of work was extremely impressive, and it could be argued that he was Boston’s most valuable player. The very real possibility that he could be playing elsewhere next year ouight to have the organization giving serious thought to its offensive future.
Bay was far and away the best outfield selection. The others, L.A.’s Torii Hunter and Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki were popular players who were picked more for their names than for their on-field performances.
Ichiro had a fantastic year at the plate, leading all A.L. outfielder with a .352 average. And he set a record for consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits. However, his other numbers falls short of what a “slugger” should have.
Among qualified outfielders, Ichiro was tied for 29th in home runs with only 11, and finished 36th in RBI. Given that he bats leadoff and that power isn’t his game, I might be willing to overlook these numbers if they were his only shortcoming. However, he also finished 10th in runs scored, tied for 38th in walks, 5th in on-base percentage, 11th in slugging percentage, and 9th in OPS. In short, his lofty batting average was the only statistic that set him apart from his peers.
Hunter’s numbers were better and his production more impressive, but my complaint with Torii’s selection is that he played in only 119 games in 2009. I find it incredible that missing more than 40 games due to injury should have no effect on one’s eligibility to win an award for top offensive player.
Worse, he finished 9th in OBP, and 5th in both slugging percentage and OPS- those numbers should not have been affected by his absence. If anything, they’re probably higher than they might have been had he played the full schedule. Hunter’s .873 OPS is a new career high at age 33. I can’t help but think that his reduced workload contributed to that, and the he was in turn rewarded for missing time.
There were far better choices in the A.L. outfield. If missing at bats wasn’t an issue, the voters might have been better off choosing J.D. Drew, who had one more at bat than Hunter and an OPS 41 points higher. Drew was second only to Bay in that category and finished third in slugging percentage. He also beat out Hunter in home runs, runs scored, and had a 26 point edge in on-base percentage. However, I don’t think Drew or Hunter should have won given the time they missed.
The Twins’ Michael Cuddyer and the Indians’ Shin-Soo Choo would have been better selections, and should have been recognized along with Bay. Choo led all outfielders in on-base percentage (.394) and was third in OPS (.883) behind Bay and Drew. He hit .300, and had 20 homers and 86 RBI for a poor offensive ball club.
In other Red Sox news, team captain Jason Varitek chose to exercise his $3 million option for 2010. Varitek, who hit .209/.313/.390 in 2009, is no longer an asset offensively. He is also the worst in the league at throwing out base runners- his 13% success rate was by far the poorest among starting backstops. But his knowledge of the Boston pitching staff and his leadership in the clubhouse does have value. And the Sox obviously felt that there was something to be gained by retaining him last season.
With the addition of Victor Martinez, Varitek will assume a backup role while continuing to mentor Boston’s stable of young hurlers. Granted he’ll be a mighty expensive backup catcher, but this is likely his final year in Fenway. His presence has meant a lot to the organization over the years, and decline or not, he’ll be remembered as one of the best catchers in Red Sox franchise history.