It seems like the awards debates have started a little earlier this year, possibly because there's only one close playoff race. We've already been through round one of the annual "Can a last-place team produce an MVP?" debate, and we still have 15 cycles to go before Matt Kemp finishes eighth in the MVP voting, at which point we'll have to start all over again.
But every year, there is a class of player that gets shafted around awards time. Every year. Everyone is all "Cy Young this" or "Rookie of the Year that" right now. Rookies, starting pitchers, and hitters have all the fun. Even closers have their award -- you can get a list of the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year winners at Baseball Reference, even. The next time you're at a party, drop a ...
Did you know that Antonio Alfonseca won the 2000 Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year award, despite having an ERA above 4.00?
... but only if it's an awful party, and you want everybody to stop talking to you so you can drink alone in the corner.
But where's the award for setup men? You know, the guys who can bridge the gap from starter to closer, and who can break or win your heart just about every day? This year, there's no shortage of amazing bullpen performances. Sergio Romo has 56 strikeouts and four walks this season, which gives him one of the highest K/BB ratios in history, even if you don't set an innings minimum for your search. Antonio Bastardo is on pace to have the lowest batting-average allowed in history. Brian Fuentes has appeared in several games, often wearing a hat. All of these performances deserve to be recognized. Where's the award for the best setup pitcher in baseball?
Oh. Well, I guess they've had one for almost ten years now. It's called the Setup Man of the Year Award, which is clever, and it's awarded by MLB.com through a fan vote. This brings up all sorts of trivia.
Did You Know #1: Did you know that Adam Wainwright is the only pitcher to finish in the top three of both the Cy Young Award voting and the Setup Man of the Year voting?
Did You Know #2: Did you know that Cliff Politte existed? He was here just a second ago. Said he was going out for a carton of milk, and then poof.
Actually, that's every last scrap of trivia that can possibly come out of that list. No one debates who should win the Setup Man of the Year Award. It doesn't have any hype or prestige. We can change that. Here are three suggestions to give the award the prominence it deserves:
Change the name:
The Setup Man of the Year Award isn't catchy at all. The acronym of SMOTY has a little bit of a ring to it, but there are better options. The Cy Young Award and the Jackie Robinson Award are both named for former greats, so why not give the award in the name of the career leader in holds? My suggestion: "The Mike Stanton (Not That One) Award for Pitching Excellence."
Get a real $@#& statistic for middle relievers
To get a hold, a reliever can get a hold by coming in with a three-run lead, walking the bases loaded, and recording just one out along the way before he's replaced. There are all sorts of ridiculous permutations that can lead to a hold. It's the worst statistic ever invented in baseball, which is sort of impressive.
I'm not saying there's a way to popularize a sabermetric stat for middle relievers, but there has to be something better than holds. It should be something uncomplicated, like saves or quarterback rating. Get a stat like that popular, and people on the internet can argue about it, which is usually how problems are solved these days.
Lose the fan voting
When fans vote for an award like this online, they think about it for two seconds, push a button, and then never think about it again. When writers vote for an award, though, they think about it for two seconds, submit their vote, and then write several hundred words justifying their decision. Giving the power back to the writers will be a PR boon, and it will help popularize the award.
Setup men are underrated creatures. They might not have the longest, most prominent careers, but they're fun while they last. Here's hoping that the Setup Man of the Year Award can turn into something that makes people irrational, angry, and opinionated in the near future.