Thursday, November 25, 2010

Canadian Slugger Joey Votto Wins NL MVP

     Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto captured the National League Most Valuable Player award Monday, becoming only the third Canadian player behind Larry Walker and Justin Morneau to ever win a league MVP honor.  The 27 year old Etobicoke Ontario native finished the 2010 campaign batting .324 with 37 home runs, and 113 RBI, while leading the league in both on-base percentage (.424) and slugging percentage (.600).  His performance helped guide the Reds to their first NL Central Division title, and playoff appearance since 1995.
     Votto received an almost unanimous 31 out of 32 first place votes to give him a total of 443 voter points.  The reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols was a distant second with 279 points, and Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez finished third with 240.  Pujols was the recipient of the only other first place vote.

     Larry Walker won the 1997 National League MVP award, while Justin Morneau won the 2006 American League MVP.  Morneau was in the middle of another MVP caliber season this year, when he suffered a season ending concussion after a collision with Blue Jays infielder John MacDonald in early July.  Had that collision not taken place, we might have been talking about two Canadians winning in the same year.

      Votto has never been shy about his national pride, and has always carried himself as a proud Canadian.  So he didn't think twice when he had the opportunity to represent team Canada at the World Baseball Classic in 2009.  Although he was disappointed that Canada's appearance in the Classic was brief, losing a close one to the USA, then being stunned by team Italy, he enjoyed the experience.  When asked how he felt about the tournament itself, Votto replied  "I think that giving Major League Ball players and each country's best ball players the opportunity to represent their given country is something that every player really appreciates.  You know, we just, we all love playing for our countries and playing in front of our home town fans and representing ourselves and our country but playing as a unit and not really caring so much about money and all that extra stuff.  Just caring about playing for our country and it was such a special occasion for me and it was such a great experience and I really look forward to doing it again."  After his performance in the 2009 classic, I look forward to seeing Joey in a team Canada jersey again as well.  In the opener against the US, Votto went four for five, with a home run, a double, two runs batted in, and a run scored.  I was on hand at Rogers Centre with family and friends to see it happen.  Watching Canada play the United States that day was by far the best baseball environment I've ever been a part of at the Rogers Centre.  But, I also wasn't old enough to drive myself to the post season in 1992 or 1993.  I have a feeling being a part of that may have been a little more intense.

    While Votto was playing in the 2009 the World Baseball Classic, he didn't stay in a hotel with the rest of the team.  Instead, he was staying with his mom in Brampton Ontario, sleeping in his own bed, and riding the GO train down to Union Station to go to the games.  What surprises me, is that a player like Joey can ride the GO train, and not have anyone recognize him.  However I guess that's the price of being a baseball star in the centre of a hockey haven like the GTA. 

     I can't tell you how pleased I am that Votto beat out Pujols and Gonzalez for the MVP this year.  The award comes one year removed from a season in which he missed almost a month while struggling with anxiety and depression that stemmed from the death of his father Joseph Votto Senior, who passed away suddenly in August 2008 at age 52.

     After returning from a week of bereavement leave in August, Votto was able to buckle down and put together a strong finish to the 2008 season.  Strong enough to finish second in National League Rookie of the Year voting to the Chicago Cub's Geovany Soto.  Votto said that he "put that all on the back burner and just played baseball until the end of September."  However the emotions he had been trying to ignore came to the surface over the off season and into 2009.  Votto admitted that "From the beginning of the off-season until Spring Training, I was pretty severely depressed and dealing with the anxieties of grief, sadness and fear and every single emotion you can imagine everyone goes through. I had a really difficult time with it.  I was by myself down in Florida. I just was really looking forward to baseball.  And when baseball started back up in February, I kind of did the same thing I did last August and threw it all on the side, threw all of my emotions on the backburner and just played baseball again." 

     But this only worked for him for a short time.  When a person is depressed for a period of time, the illness can start to show it self by means of physical ailments.  I recall a time in my own life that depression led to shingles, ulcers, and insomnia.  Votto fell ill in May of 2009.  It started with an upper respiratory problem, then an ear infection.  While Votto was on the disabled list, he recalls  "It was taking the time away from baseball and recovering from being sick was when the first time all my emotions I had been pushing to the side, that I had been dealing with and really struggling with on a daily basis in the winter, they all hit me. And they hit me 100 times harder than I had been dealing with all off-season."  Votto experienced anxiety and panic attacks, and went to a hospital for treatment on two occasions, one of which started with a call to 911 in the middle of the night.  He sought out treatment, and was back on the field manning first base for the Reds by the end of June.  Votto still managed to finish the 2009 season with 25 HR, 84 RBI, and hitting for a .322 average.  That speaks volumes for the type of talent he really is.

     The Lou Marsh Trophy is awarded annually every December by a panel of journalists to Canada's top athlete, professional or amateur.  In a non-Olympic year Joey Votto would have almost been a shoe in to receive the award.  However, in a year that saw 14 Olympic gold medals awarded to Canadian athletes on their home soil, it might be a tough sell.  Even though he may not win, you can bet that Joey Votto's name will be in that conversation.

Congratulations and all the best on the award, Joey.  Now do me a favor please:  Stop talking contract extension and come home would you?  I think you'd look good in blue and white.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

AL Cy Won By the Right Guy

     King Felix was given his crown today.  24 year old Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners was named the American League Cy Young award winner for 2010.  I'm very happy for him, but at the same I'm also very surprised.  Don't get me wrong, I believe that Felix should have won the award hands down over his competition.  I was just impressed that the members of the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) who vote for the AL winner, were able to look past his win loss record and reward him for an outstanding performance this season despite the lack of support he received from his teammates.  In his 12 losses this year, Hernandez received only 7 runs of support from his team while he was on the mound.  I'm sure Blue Jays fans will remember that Jose Bautista's 50th home run of the season was hit off of Felix Hernandez on September 23 of this year.  But do you remember Felix's line that day?  He went the distance, allowing just that one run on only 2 hits.  The Mariners had seven hits that day off of five Blue Jays pitchers.  But they couldn't manage to score a single run for him.

     With a record of just 13 wins and 12 losses, I thought Hernandez would be overlooked for either CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA) of the New York Yankees, or David Price (19-6, 2.72 ERA) of the Tampa Bay Rays.  But he wasn't.  Hernandez led the American League in ERA (2.27) and in innings pitched (249 2/3).  He also struck out 232 batters, one behind the Angel's Jared Weaver for most in the league.  King Felix received 21 of a possible 28 first-place votes and finished with 167 voting points.  Price finished a distant second, receiving 4 first-place votes and finishing with 111 voting points.  Sabathia had 102 voting points with 3 first place votes.

     The 13 wins by Hernandez is the fewest for a Cy Young winner in a full season.  The previous record was set by Tim Lincecum last year when he won the award with just 15 wins last year in San Francisco.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blue Jays Acquire Rajai Davis

    After missing out on Dan Uggla yesterday, the Blue Jays moved forward today acquiring Rajai Davis from the Oakland Athletics in a deal that sent two minor league pitchers the other way.  For the first time in a long time, the Jays have a speedy player who hits for average.  A player they could easily bat out of the lead off spot if he makes the starting roster.  Drafted by the Pirates in the 38th round of the 2001 amateur draft, 30 year old Davis has been in the big leagues since 2006.  Davis spent time in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Oakland before landing today in Toronto.  In 525 at bats last year, Davis batted .284, with a .320 OBP, 5 HR, and 50 stolen bases in 61 tries.  In 2009 he hit .305 with a .360 OBP and 41 stolen bases in 390 at bats. 
    Davis can play all three outfield positions, and he brings to Toronto a threat on the base paths that this team has needed, and fans in this market have been craving for quite some time.  He also seems to fit the mold for the type of player John Farrell wants for the way he's planning on running the team. Trying to make the Jays a team that can produce offense by creating and taking advantage of more scoring opportunities, rather than relying on the long ball to score runs.  During his first press conference after being hired as the new manager, Farrell indicated that there was work to be done to make the Jays into "a more complete offense that can take advantages of opportunities that present themselves inside of each and every game."  In other words, getting more guys on base and finding ways to get them home.  The Blue Jays may have led the Majors in home runs last year with 257, but they were ranked 25 in batting average (.248), and 28 in the majors in stolen bases (58) which was good enough for last place in the American League for thefts on the base paths.  Davis helps them improve in both these areas.  I also think that if he's hitting atop this lineup, Davis has a great opportunity to post a career high in runs scored next season too.  If the season were to start tomorrow, I think we would see Davis playing in the outfield everyday, and Jose Bautista starting at third.  This, of course, will depend on what Alex Anthopoulos and his staff can get done throughout the rest of the offseason.

    Danny Farquhar and Canadian Trystan Magnuson are the players headed to Oakland in the deal.   In 53 relief appearances at AA New Hampshire this season, Farquhar was 4-3, with an ERA of 3.52, and a 1.200 WHIP.  He picked up 17 saves, and struck out 79 in 76.2 innings pitched.  Farquhar was drafted by the Jays in the tenth round of the 2008 Amateur Draft.  Vancouver native Magnuson was drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft.  Also in New Hampshire as a reliever this year, Magnuson was 3-0 with an ERA of 2.58, a 1.091 WHIP, and struck out 63 in 73.1 innings of work.  Magnuson was expected to be in the running for a bullpen spot with Toronto next spring.

    The Blue Jays also announced today that Mississauga native Shawn Hill has cleared unconditional waivers and is now a free agent.  Hill, after recovering from a second Tommy John surgery, started four games at the end of the 2010 season for Toronto.  He went 1-2 posting a 4.74 ERA.