No matter how you view the Tigers 2009 season, I think we can all agree that the ending was a disappointment.. All is not lost, though. The one positive about the season being over is that the team throws a really kick ass pizza party at Chuck-E-Cheese's, in the smoking section for Leyland, and dish out (weak pun 100% intended) the annual paper plate awards, designed by Miguel Cabrera. I was lucky enough to be in attendance because I accumulated enough tokens, so suck it.
Without further ado, here are the Second Annual End of the Season Detroit Tigers Paper Plate Awards.
Best Starting Pitcher:
Who: Justin Verlander
Why: This award means a lot to Justin Verlander. Unlike Armando Galarraga, who was seen eating the greasiest pizza ever off of his award last season, Verlander wanted it badly. He changed his entire attitude for this award by throwing away the complacency that led to an awful 2008 season, and getting mean. By doing so, he was able to absolutely blow away the competition this year for the award. Verlander finished the season 19-9 with a 3.45 ERA, and a Major League leading 269 strikeouts. And after seeing what eating a pizza off of your award can do to a guy's luck the following year (ahem, Galarraga), I think Verlander will be taking this just as seriously as he took pitching every fifth day this season. Kudos, Mr. Verlander.
Best Relief Pitcher:
Who: Tie -- Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney
Why the hell is there a tie: For starters, there's a tie to make up for the fact that Jason Grilli won this award by default last season. That's right. The Tigers bullpen was so bad a year ago that a guy who was shipped away mid-season won the award. Jason Segal had to accept on his behalf due to the tension between Grilli and Jim Leyland.
But seriously, Lyon and Rodney were amazing for the Tigers this year. I know Rodney was non-good in non-save situations, but he was nearly perfect in save situations, making the Tigers the best team in baseball when they led after eight innings. Rodney was 37 for 38 in converting saves with a very solid 2.79 ERA in the situations. He also managed to pick up a three two game suspension for trying to kill the opposing team's broadcasters after a game. That has to earn him something, right?
Brandon Lyon finished the year with a 6-5 record and a 2.86 ERA. That was with a rocky first couple months. He had a 1.77 ERA in the 2nd half of the season when they needed him most. Despite being one of the most hated Tigers for the months of April and May when he had an ERA somewhere in the six range, he shrugged it off with a 0.56 ERA in June, and by flipping a big ol' middle finger to the haters. I was almost inclined to give Lyon the award outright when he told me at a bar in Pittsburgh that he only cares about three things in lyfe: "Family, Tigers baseball, and beer."
Who: Miguel Cabrera
Why: It's about as obvious as his BAC indicating he was drunk at 7 AM in the morning. This picture should help with anyone that has doubts:
34 homers, 103 RBIs, a .325 BA, and a .944 OPS. This team is nothing without him in the lineup and he proved it to people by purposely not hitting well during his little RBI slump in June and July. Okay, it wasn't on purpose, but it makes you wonder if, maybe, he ran out of that special hitting kool-aid. Miguel is going to be a Hall of Famer one day, and as long as he's on the Tigers, he's going to have a cupboard full of these paper plate awards. (idea for the pic from Kurt at MAT)
Who: Gerald Laird
Why: Despite looking like a nine hitter on your local softball team, or a bloated John Turturro, Laird was unreal behind the plate for the Tags. He threw out 42% off the runners who dared to steal off him and he blocked nearly everything (aside from those Lyon pitches against the White Sox). Laird handled pitchers tremendously too, particularly Verlander. He knew exactly how to call games, even though he often couldn't help prevent the occasional Verlander melt down. Laird should win the Gold Glove at the catcher's spot this season, no question. Let me change your socks.
Who: Rick Porcello
Why: Another no contest. Alex Avila was remarkable during his short stint in the bigs, but he doesn't hold a candle to what Porcello did as the number three starter (arguably two). At just 20-years old, Porcello maintained the poise of a 2006 playoffs Kenny Rogers with every single one of his starts. He wasn't perfect, but he was never phased. The most rattled we saw him all season was when he was ejected against Boston, after throwing Kevin Youkilis to the ground, and that was because he was mad at the ump for ejecting him. Porcello was 14-9 in his rookie campaign and had a 3.96 ERA. If it weren't for Verlander being atop the rotation, this guy would be a sure ace one day. I'm excited as hell to see this kid continue to develop. I love him, no homo.
Best Man (to hit home runs when kids ask for them):
Who: Brandon Inge
Why: I'm getting married next summer, and I already have a best man, but if I had to pick a Tigers player to fill in, it would be Brandon Inge. Not only is he a Tiger4lyfe, but he's got a heart as big as the universe. What he did for those terminally ill children in spending time with them, promising to do his best to hit them HRs, and then pulling through is goosebumps inducing to the max. As Sportscenter so eloguently put it, this guy is THE DUDE.
Who: Andy Van Slyke
Why: This is more of a farewell tribute, and besides, Jim Leyland is smoking by the ball pit so he couldn't accept the award anyway. I've said this before, but Slick was one of the best first base coaches. He always half heartedly held players back during brawls and was always good for a cold shoulder if a guy made a terrible third out. Let's get real, aside from dishing out fist bumps, holding batting gloves, elbow pads, shin guards, and waving guys to second even though the guys do as they please, first base coaches don't do squat. Andy Van Slyke was the damn best at looking tough while he did that. May this paper plate carry on with you in your future endeavors, Andy.
Who: Ryan Raburn
Why: I'll be the first to admit, I was driving the "Raburn's a bum" bandwagon. I drove it fast and was never easy on the turns. And because of that, he gave me the same middle finger Brandon Lyon gave to his haters after the season. Raburn finished the season with a .290 BA and 16 HRs (22 adjusted to 162 games) and carried the hottest stick into the do-or-die Game 163 (.421 BA in the final two weeks). He also provided a walk off homer in one of the most exciting Tigers wins this season in an interleague affair with the Cubs. I've apologized to him before, but consider this my all out public apology to the man. He did well, he surprised the hell out of me, and I've officially crashed that "bum" bandwagon into a wall, while I was still in it. I managed to escape the blaze just in time to catch a ride in the "Ryan Raburn fan club" wagon. Thanks for the lift.
Who: Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn
Why: Much like the "Most Improved" this award has many negative connotations. They are all true in this case. It goes to the shittest players on the team that you feel bad for because they still physically showed up on a daily basis and cared a lot about the team, but man, did they ever suck. Neither of these guys asked to be traded to a contender and put into a situation they couldn't handle, but when they were, they took it in stride and tried their best. Unfortunately, their best was the worst and it earns them this pity award. They weren't completely worthless though. These guys did a great job rolling out the cage, shagging fly balls, and hitting fungos before games. Huff also saw himself in the lineup a number of times, allowing him to do his best to boost his teammates confidence by making them all look significantly better than he was. Keep hustlin' fellas, see ya never.
And now for the "Todd Jones Most Improved Player Award" (plate designed by Jonesy himself)
Who: Magglio Ordonez
Why: This award is like the "He sucked, but turned out to be okay" award, and that's exactly what it is for Magglio. I was ready to write Magglio off for dead, and I pretty much did with my "Magglio should do us a favor and retire" piece mid-season, but this wily vet really turned the corner after the all-star break. Hitting somewhere in the .250s, or too low to even care what it was exactly, Magglio wound up hitting .348 in August and .439 in September/October. By doing so, he managed to end the season in the AL's top 10 for batting average at .310. Pretty incredible for Singlio. Todd Jones gives this award with great pride and while impersonating his ALCS walk-off HR.
After the presentation of the awards, the guys took part in some arcade games and cake. Joel Zumaya crashed the party with a keg, but was sort of escorted off the premises by Andy Van Slyke when Miguel Cabrera started to twitch. Jim Leyland hawked up a lung while yelling at Joel in the parking lot. On his way back inside, Leyland then caught Rodney and Figaro smoking a doobie in the alley with Chucky. Once the drama died down, Adam Everett and Clete Thomas did some stand up comedy, capped off with Bonderman reading everyone a scary story. It was one hell of a party. Thanks, Tigers.