Two weeks ago, the winners of the 2009 awards were announced and surprisingly there were few close calls in each league's votes for MVP, rookie of the year and Best IX.
The Yomiuri Giants' Alex Ramirez won his second straight Central League MVP by a wide margin over teammate Michihiro Ogasawara, while Hokkaido Nippon Ham ace Yu Darvish obliterated his Pacific League rivals in the voting, collecting four times as many first place votes as the next two players combined.
In the third best season, Darvish picked up his second MVP in a year that saw no blockbuster seasons in the PL.
Bill James' Win Shares system says batting champion Teppei Tsuchiya, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles' center fielder, was the league's best.
James' system--a diabolically complicated set of formulas which assigns each player a share of his team's wins based on batting, pitching and fielding numbers at each position relative to his team and to his league --perhaps undervalues pitchers and fielders in today's game. But even so, Darvish was not far behind Tsuchiya and could indeed have been the best in the PL.
Darvish ranked ninth but was credited with just 1-2/3 wins fewer than Tsuchiya and played for a champion, so he's a decent choice and was comparable to four teammates whom James' system gave slightly more credit to.
Although Ramirez was a popular selection in the CL and an excellent player, Ogasawara, who won the award in 2007 with the Giants and 2006 with the Fighters, would have been a better choice.
It's a simple comparison. Ogasawara scored 12 more runs and drove in four more while making 46 fewer outs. He also plays third base, while Ramirez mans left field.
Prior to Game 5 of the Japan Series, Ramirez suggested splitting the Golden Gloves for each outfield position. As it is, two or three center fielders scoop up the awards each year with right fielders getting the rest. Ramirez thought it unfair he had to compete for the award with guys who can run fast and throw but who are under less pressure to produce runs.
Ramirez, by the way, finished fourth among left fielders in the Golden Glove voting. Still, he has a valid point. While each outfield position is not as specialized as those in the infield, it makes some sense to give a fielding award at each outfield position.
Had that been the case, the CL's 2009 winners would have been the Swallows' Kazuki Fukuchi in left, Tokyo Yakult teammate Norichika Aoki in center, and the Giants' Yoshiyuki Kamei in right. Giving an award to a left fielder would have meant taking one away from Giants center fielder and rookie of the year Tetsuya Matsumoto.
Ogasawara, who won a Golden Glove at third in 2003, was a distant second in the this year, but Win Shares ranks him highly for his defense. Another factor in his favor is that the Giants' third basemen as a group were very good at turning ground balls to the left side of the infield into outs.
Ogasawara was better than average at third, a more demanding position than left field, and was a superior run producer.
Win Shares says Chunichi Dragons third baseman Masahiko Morino was more valuable than any other player in the CL, two-thirds of a win ahead of Ogasawara and three wins ahead of Ramirez, who ranked eighth.
Ramirez wasn't a bad choice; he just wasn't the best choice. Perhaps if Ogaswara did a dance after every home run, he would get more votes.
Speaking of Ramirez's dance, he gets some flak from players who say he shouldn't do here what he wouldn't do in the States--where a pitcher would put one in his ear if he did his sidelines thing.
But the game here is different. Perhaps because many Japanese players ignore the fans, it's a treat when a big star pays attention to them.
"Maybe someone says that, 'Don't do it here if you don't do it back home,'" Ramirez said. "If they do, I have one answer for them. You are not back home. You're in Japan now."
Although he wasn't really the league's most valuable player, Ramirez is invaluable to the Giants on the field, in the clubhouse and even doing his little bit on the sidelines for those people who pay the bills--the fans.