Here is the 2022 'All-Awardless' team

December 12th, 2022

At the Winter Meetings last week, Royals officials were still giving me grief for snubbing their guy Bobby Witt Jr. on my 2022 All-Debut Team -- a column I wrote way back in August.

I had really wanted to find a spot on that team for the Cardinals’ Brendan Donovan, so I gave him the third-base spot over Witt. One member of the Royals noted that I could have created a utility spot for Donovan. Fair enough, but then Donovan wouldn’t have been in my imaginary starting lineup!

Anyway, the point of rehashing all this is that, even in a completely subjective and utterly meaningless honor such as one sportswriter’s All-Debut Team -- an “award” that doesn’t even come with a cheap plaque -- people want to see their favorite players supported. And that’s completely understandable.

We have a ton of awards in MLB, and yet there are still great seasons that, for one reason or another, aren’t recognized with any hardware. That’s why, each year, I salute them with this other subjective, meaningless honor -- the All-Awardless Team!

To qualify, a player cannot have won the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Hank Aaron Award, Roberto Clemente Award, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, Reliever of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Outstanding DH, Players Choice Award, Heart & Hustle Award or been named to the All-MLB First or Second Team.

Here are this year’s non-winning winners.

CATCHER: Adley Rutschman, Orioles
There was absolutely no shame in losing American League Rookie of the Year to Julio Rodríguez this year. But in many years, a performance like the one Rutschman put together after his May 21 arrival would have won easily. His 5.3 FanGraphs WAR ranked second among all MLB catchers behind only J.T. Realmuto’s 6.5 mark. His 133 weighted runs created plus was first among all catchers with at least 400 plate appearances. He very quickly solidified himself as a guidepost for an O’s team that made a 31-game improvement in the win column (they were 16-24 before Rutschman’s debut and 67-55 afterward). Rutschman arguably should have made the All-MLB Second Team ahead of the Dodgers’ Will Smith.

FIRST BASE: Pete Alonso, Mets
The Polar Bear finished eighth in the National League MVP voting but didn’t receive Silver Slugger or All-MLB recognition thanks to big seasons for Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman. Alonso’s 131 RBIs were a Major League high. He reached the 40-homer threshold for the second time in his career while slashing .271/.352/.518. His batting average was a career high, and he cut his strikeout rate down to a career-best 18.7 percent.

SECOND BASE: Tommy Edman, Cardinals
Take your pick here between Edman and the Padres’ Jake Cronenworth. Both had very strong seasons overshadowed by the award-winning likes of Jose Altuve, Jeff McNeil and Andrés Giménez. At least Cronenworth was an All-Star. Edman did not get that recognition, but he slashed a respectable .265/.324/.400 while posting career bests in homers (13) and RBIs (57) while ranking in the 100th percentile in outs above average. He’s listed as the second baseman here, but Edman’s versatility in the middle infield (he played an almost equal number of games at short) was valuable for the NL Central champs.

SHORTSTOP: Carlos Correa, Twins
Correa’s real award will come whenever he signs what figures to be a mammoth contract somewhere. But amid a slew of outstanding shortstops, he did not get feted with any physical awards this season. Nevertheless, he slashed .291/.366/.467 with 22 homers and 24 doubles. His 140 wRC+ was the best among all shortstops. The Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette, who had an AL-leading 189 hits, 24 homers and a career-best 43 doubles, would also be a deserving non-winning winner here. Have you noticed that shortstop is an incredibly deep position right now?

THIRD BASE: Rafael Devers, Red Sox
Award-wise, Devers was overshadowed by the likes of José Ramírez (Silver Slugger) and Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado (All-MLB). But he finished 14th in the AL MVP voting after slashing .295/.358/.521 with 27 homers and 42 doubles. He cut down on his strikeouts, and his OPS+ was a career-high 141. Now, the question is whether the Red Sox will work out an extension with him prior to his walk year.

OUTFIELD: Brandon Nimmo, Mets; Taylor Ward, Angels; George Springer, Blue Jays
Nimmo, who just signed an eight-year deal to return to the Mets, is coming off his healthiest -- and therefore best -- season, having played 151 games and slashed .274/.367/.433 with 16 homers, 30 doubles and a league-high seven triples.

Ward is the perfect example of a player who gets lost in the shuffle in awards season. Though his numbers ultimately did not rise to, say, a Silver Slugger level, he made a huge jump in productivity and emerged as a key member of the Angels’ lineup, with a .281/.360/.473 slash line, 23 homers and 22 doubles. His 137 wRC+ ranked seventh among qualified outfielders.

After missing half of 2021 due to injury, Springer logged his most games played (133) since 2018 and was solid at the plate. His .814 OPS was tied for ninth among qualified outfielders. He had 25 homers, 22 doubles, four triples and 14 steals. Nothing outlandish, nothing spectacular, nothing that earned him an award. But a good year for a Toronto team that needed him to post up.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Bryce Harper, Phillies
This was a challenging season for Harper. Coming off his 2021 NL MVP season, he suffered an elbow injury that wound up requiring Tommy John surgery in November. The injury relegated him to DH duties, and he also missed 52 games after taking a pitch off his thumb. All that time away obviously made him a non-factor in the awards voting. But in this space, we can celebrate what Harper was able to accomplish in 99 regular-season games amid all that strife -- a .286/.364/.514 slash line, 18 homers and 28 doubles for a Philly team that got off the postseason schneid (and then did big things in October). Not bad for a guy with one working elbow.

STARTING PITCHER: Zac Gallen, D-backs
This is a really tough one, because the 10 All-MLB spots (which obviously include the two Cy Young winners) aren’t nearly enough to account for all the great starting pitching in the game. But with apologies to Corbin Burnes, Carlos Rodón, Shane McClanahan, Nestor Cortes and others, Gallen has a really good argument as the best of the rest in 2022. His 2.54 ERA was tied for eighth in MLB among qualifiers, his 158 ERA+ was ninth, and his 0.91 WHIP was second best behind Justin Verlander’s 0.83 mark. Gallen wasn’t an All-Star, but his 44 1/3-inning scoreless streak in the second half was the seventh-longest in the live-ball era.

RELIEVER: Evan Phillips, Dodgers
This is an even tougher choice, because the All-MLB team only has four total relief spots (two of which were occupied by the Reliever of the Year winners) at a time when there are so many bullpen weapons putting up silly stats. But Phillips gets special recognition here for posting the lowest ERA (1.14) of anybody with at least 40 innings, to go with the fourth-lowest WHIP (0.76). After May 22, he gave up four runs through the end of the season. Four!

For the year, he gave up just two home runs -- and none after May 26. He rose from virtual anonymity to become the bullpen linchpin for a Dodgers team that endured injury for Daniel Hudson and difficulty from Craig Kimbrel but won 111 games anyway.