The second of what will certainly be many disappointing post-season awards was given away last night when Mariano Rivera won the Comeback Player of the Year above the Indians' Scott Kazmir. The first disappointment was when Michael Brantley, who was clearly one of the top three defensive outfielders in the AL (1.000 FLD%, 11 Assists), didn't even make the qualifying round for a Gold Glove. As always, the media got caught up in New York hype and gave the award to Mo in an effort to continue piling on every single glorification possible for the retiring closer.
The purpose of having so many awards in baseball is so players in different situations can be celebrated for what makes them great. Instead of one MVP for all of baseball, there are MVPs in both league, Cy Young Awards, Relief Men of the Year, Gold Gloves, Sliver Sluggers and more All-Stars than ever before. For some reason, the media and managers who vote for these awards enjoy piling as many awards as possible onto the same players. Instead of actually giving the award to the most deserving player, travesties like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez winning Gold Gloves (when they should have won lead gloves) happen all the time. Rivera taking this Comeback Player is very similar.
To begin, while Rivera did technically have a comeback from last season, it wasn't very impressive. First, he is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of professional baseball. There was no season he could have turned in for 2013 that would have been a surprise because of that. It is even less surprising when you consider why he missed 2012. He had a leg injury, not Tommy John surgery or a torn rotator cuff. With arm injuries, a pitcher would be expected to struggle, but a knee injury for a pitcher who throws one inning at a time should never be a major problem.
Scott Kazmir on the other hand, was out of baseball. He had issues coming back from injury and pitched just a single inning in 2011 before he wasn't able to sign with any team and had to try the Independent leagues. He was a two time All-Star, but was never near being the best player in the league, let alone the best pitcher in baseball history. The fact that the Indians signed him at all was an incredible risk.
Salary also shows something of expectations and there were certainly greater expectations for Rivera. He made $10 million for 2013, while Kazmir brought in the league minimum. The purpose of a Most Improved Player would be to exemplify the player that had the greatest difference between consecutive seasons, irrelevant of expectations and circumstances. Comeback Player of the Year is a little deeper. What did the player come back from? What did he do before he went out in the first place? What are the chances of him becoming a great player again?
As any high school math student could tell you, you can't divide by zero, so all of Kazmir's numbers are infinite increases over his missed 2012 season. Rivera did play some that season before tearing a ligament catching flies during batting practice. Because of that, it is interesting to look at the previous two seasons. Coming back from two years out of baseball is much more impressive than a one year comeback. Kazmir threw 1.2 innings and allowed five runs for an ERA of 27.00 over the past two seasons. It would be hard to find a player much lower than that. Rivera, on the other hand, saved 49 games in 73 games and held an ERA of 1.94 from 2011 through 2012. Just one year removed from an All-Star appearance and a top ten Cy Young finish, Rivera definitely started at a much higher point than Kazmir.
The second part of the equation is what they accomplished in the past season. Rivera obviously had the better year, saving 44 games 2.11 ERA and 6 Ks/BB. Scott Kazmir took a little longer to get used to Major League pitching, but ended up being the third best pitcher in the Indians staff and made 29 starts. His 4.04 ERA was his lowest full season ERA since 2008 and was strengthened by a strong September, despite throwing more innings than his past three seasons combined. He also threw almost 100 more innings than Rivera, greatly qualifying his ERA over the single inning reliever.
When it comes down to it, it seems obvious that according to the description of this particular award, Kazmir was the more qualified player. Rivera has already been made an All-Star this season, been given awards and presents from almost every single team in baseball and will likely receive Cy Young and Relief Man of the Year award votes as well. He will almost certainly enter the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and be considered forever as the man who became the greatest reliever in history with just one pitch. Couldn't the media look outside of their East Coast bias just once and spread things around a little bit? Rivera probably won't even remember this award in a week, but it would have commemorated a truly amazing comeback campaign for Scott Kazmir.