Most Improved Player – Justin Masterson
The most improved player is supposed to be a sappy award given to some returning player coming off an injury or terrible season. There were plenty of candidates for that after 2010 (Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, etc), but none of them really improved in 2011. Justin Masterson went from a borderline starter/reliever that many people were willing to give up on to a bonafide ace. Masterson dropped 1.80 runs off his ERA between the two years and doubled his win total. He increased his strike outs and innings pitched while walking less batters even in the greater amount of innings. No player was more important than Masterson in games he started and last season he was just another starter.
“The Super Joe” Rookie of the Year Award – Vinnie Pestano
This was an extremely close race due to the large amount of rookies used by the Tribe this year. The main contenders were Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Vinnie Pestano. Pestano comes out on top mostly because he spent the entire season with the team. Within the first month of the season Vinnie had moved into a prominent role in the “Bullpen Mafia,” in fact the moniker was directly derived from him and Justin Germano. Pestano came in second on the team in holds (23) only one behind veteran lefty Tony Sipp. His 12.18 K/9 was by far the best of all Indians pitchers. His WHIP (1.05) and batting average against (.181) also lead the team. Pestano also was the only pitcher Manny Acta trusted when Chris Perez was unable to go and Vinnie came through, earning the only 2 non Chris Perez saves this year for the Tribe.
“The Steve Olin Memorial Award” for Best Reliever – Joe Smith
Joe Smith allowed 15 earned runs this year in 67 innings pitched for a 2.01 ERA. He only earned 16 holds and didn’t earn any saves, but this was more of a lack of opportunity than actual talent. Chris Perez, who recorded 36 saves, was the only pitcher allowed to earn saves, but Smith was actually much more efficient during his time on the mound. His ERA lead all Indians while his WHIP (1.09) was only behind Pestano and Josh Tomlin, while his BAA was also third on the team. He pitched more games than any other reliever (tied at 71 with Rafael Perez) showing Acta’s confidence in his right handed reliever. Only Chad Durbin pitched more innings out of the bullpen and his were in long relief and mop-up roles. Smith stranded 20 inherited runners this year, second on the team to Rafael Perez (25), saving the ERA’s of other pitchers while still beating them in that stat. Joe Smith was just plain nasty this season.
“The Big O” for Most Outstanding Defender – Jack Hannahan
This award I decided by mathematical equation based on my ‘Player of the Game’ system. The basic idea was +1 for any extra batter gotten out by good defense and -1 for any base given away by bad defense. Hannahan came out on top by 2 points. While Hannahan didn’t qualify for the Gold Glove, his .983 fielding percentage was the best of all third basemen who made a single error. His 5 errors on the year were 10 less than Asdrubal Cabrera (the second best defender) made. While Cabrera did have more chances and plays a more demanding position, Hannahan was still better.
Most Outstanding Hitter – Asdrubal Cabrera
Since there were only two starting hitters that played the whole season, the pool for this award was shallow, but Asdrubal really did earn it. Before this season, Cabrera had 18 home runs in more than 300 games played. In 2011 he hit 25 more. The new added power didn’t completely destroy his batting average either as he hit .273, better than any Indian starter except Travis Hafner. Cabrera lead the team in hits, runs and RBI, while he remained at least in second in all the other significant hitting stats like doubles, home runs and walks.
“The Addie” for Best Overall Pitcher – Justin Masterson
Most of the significant reasons for this were included in his earlier award, but there are a few more things that can be stated here. Masterson lead the team in ERA (among qualifiers), starts, wins, innings pitched and strike outs. When Justin Masterson pitched this year, every one expected the Indians to win. During games he pitched the team runs allowed per game were a full run lower than the team average for the year. His win total was harmed by the fact that the team scored less runs for him than for the rest of the staff. The numbers he pulled off at the end of the season were simply amazing considering what the rest of the team gave him in his starts.
“The Rose Award” for Best Overall Player – Asdrubal Cabrera
While Masterson was the best player in the 33 starts he made, the best player in the other 129 was Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera was undoubtedly the best offensive player on the team as already stated and was arguably the best defender. Cabrera was also the best base runner as he lead the team in steals (17) and was third in extra bases (40), just two behind the leader Michael Brantley. Most impressively Cabrera avoided the disabled list all season, only once taking two consecutive days off. His first game off during the year was game 89 a few days after he was removed from a game after he sprained his ankle and was almost unable to walk. Later in the season he hurt his knee and elbow at different times, but never missed more than a game for each. Only after the Indians were eliminated did he take any real time off. He was given 8 of the last 19 games off as he looked completely drained from carrying the team on his back all season. The Indians were so confident in his ability and duribility they didn’t even carry a true back up short stop until Jason Donald was called up for game 105. Asdrubal deserves more credit than any other player for the Indians sustained playoff run in 2011.
The Burning River Awards are things I just made up and are not official Cleveland Indians team awards.