The problem with the MLB end-of-year awards is that they do not recognize amazing turnaround achievements from players who have had middling success at their position. Yes, they have the Comeback Player of the Year award, but most of the time those recipients are players who have returned well from a devastating injury, like former Blue Jays Aaron Hill and Chris Carpenter (playing for the Cardinals at the time), or if no such player exists, a player who did poorly the previous year. But currently, there is nothing to honour incredible career year achievements like a Most Improved Player of the Year award.
Which is a shame because the AL recipient, without a doubt, would be Edwin Encarnacion.
EE has improved in almost every offensive statistic this year. Averaging roughly 18 HR, 60 Runs, 65 RBI a year over his MLB career, Edwin enjoyed 42 HR, 93 Runs and 110 RBI this year. His slash line was .280/.384/.557, up from his career average .264/.344/.471 (which included this year). The walk rate improved to 13%, up from a 9.5% average, wOBA increased to .396 up from .353 career average, wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created +) at 152 from an average 114 and ISO (Isolated Power: SLG minus BA) at a whopping .277, up from career average .207. Finally, Edwin’s fWAR reached a career high 4.4, where his previous highest was at 2.0 while playing for the Reds in 2008. While the power was always good for a third baseman, this year Encarnacion shifted to a split DH/1B position, where even his numbers at the most offensive-minded positions are near tops in value around the entire Major League.
Of course there are other candidates that would be eligible for this award, with the 2nd-most deserving being Josh Reddick. The young outfielder has not been around for a long time in the Majors, debuting briefly in 2009, but this year the former Red Sox prospect broke out of his shell. Playing a full season, he swatted 32 HR, scored 85 times, drove in 85 RBI, stayed near career average in all slash line categories, increased the walk rate to 8.2% from career 7.2%, bumped the wOBA by .007 with a .326 season, gained a wRC+ of 108 up from 99, and increased the ISO to .221, up from .201 career. In addition, Reddick gained a 4.8 fWAR (previous highest was last year at 1.9), due mostly to an increase in fielding statistics. The UZR (ultimate zone rating, or the number of runs above/below average a fielder is in facets of range/arm/errors) improved from 8.6 to 18.5, which is 1st in the American League.
Unfortunately, there is no such award. The Comeback Player of the Year will most likely go to Adam Dunn or Alex Rios, since they both came back from a subzero fWAR and improved by a margin of 4.7 and 4.5, respectively. Both Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Reddick will most likely be in the top 10 of AL MVP nominees, but nothing more. Their outstanding seasons will be nothing but a personal fond memory, as neither player’s team won the World Series this year. They should make room in the award season for a Most Improved Player of the Year award so we can honour great achievements in what is hopefully a step forward in a player’s career.
Just like Jose Bautista and his powerhouse 2010 season, maybe there’s nowhere to go but up.