Silver Slugger Awards honor game's top mashers
In an era when pitching and defense have become so powerful, the art of hitting the ball and creating runs remains a force in Major League Baseball. At each position in the field, there's someone capable of doing some damage at the plate, and those who accomplished the most by swinging wood during the 2014 regular season have been honored with silver for their efforts.
The Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Awards were distributed for another year on Thursday, and while there were several repeat winners and unquestioned qualifiers, the 2014 lineups for each league included eight first-time recipients. At the head of the list of players earning a first Silver Slugger Award is Jose Altuve, who unseated Robinson Cano after four straight awards at second base in the American League. The Giants' World Series-winning battery of Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey took home honors, as well.
The Angels' Mike Trout picked up his third Silver Slugger Award in three years, and the Rangers' Adrian Beltre returned to the list with his fourth to lead the repeat honorees. Five teams wound up with a pair of winners, as determined by balloting by managers and coaches of all 30 Major League teams who were asked to vote for the players they feel are the best offensive producers at each position.
This year's winners:
First base: Jose Abreu, White Sox
Abreu didn't waste any time in establishing himself in the Majors upon signing a six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox after defecting from Cuba. He's paying dividends already. With a strong .317 average to go with 36 homers and 107 RBIs, Abreu became the first rookie to rank in the top five in all three Triple Crown categories, and only the fourth player to go for 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs in his rookie season -- the first since fellow candidate Albert Pujols in 2001.
Second base: Jose Altuve, Astros
The little man swings a big bat. The 5-foot-5 Altuve was a revelation in 2014 with his all-around offensive assault in either of the top two spots of the Astros' order. Altuve won the franchise's first batting title at .341, led the Majors with 225 hits and led the AL with 56 steals, becoming just the third player since 1945 to win league titles in those three categories (the last being Ichiro Suzuki in 2001).
Third base: Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Beltre's four Silver Slugger Awards are the most among this year's winners, and he has taken three of the AL's last five at the hot corner. Beltre is just the fourth third baseman with four awards, joining Wade Boggs (eight), Mike Schmidt (six) and Matt Williams (four). Beltre stood out as a model of offensive consistency amid a season that went downhill quickly for his team, managing to put up a .324 average with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs, leading Texas in all three categories for a second time in as many years.
Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
It's a second Silver Slugger Award for Ramirez to go with his 2011 trophy, as he led AL shortstops in homers (15), RBIs (74), slugging percentage (.408), extra-base hits (52) and total bases (254). Ramirez is the fourth member of the White Sox to win multiple Silver Slugger Awards, and he and Abreu became the first Cuban-born teammates to win the honor in the same season.
Outfield: Mike Trout, Angels; Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; Michael Brantley, Indians
Trout's assault on the record books continued in 2014, when he scored 115 runs to become the first player in history to lead his league in the category in each of his first three seasons. The five-tool phenom tallied big numbers across the board for the third time in three tries, setting or tying career highs in doubles with 39, triples with nine, home runs with 36 and RBIs with 111.
Bautista was simply a machine when it came to getting on base this season, a lot of times just jogging his way around the bases after a towering home run. Bautista reached base safely in an uncanny 140 of his 154 starts in 2014. After going deep 35 times this past season, he has 187 homers since 2010, more than anyone else in the Majors.
As for Brantley, what part of 200 hits, 40 doubles, 20 homers and 20 steals doesn't make sense for winning a Silver Slugger Award? Answer: None of it. He's a first-time winner.
Catcher: Yan Gomes, Indians
Beyond Brantley, the Tribe grabbed a pair of Silver Sluggers with its catcher taking one home. In his first full season in the Majors, Gomes led AL catchers in batting average (.278), on-base plus slugging percentage (.785) and extra-base hits (49), ranking second in RBIs (74) and third in homers (21).
Designated hitter: Victor Martinez, Tigers
With a dangerous bat and one of the best eyes at the plate in the game, Martinez delivered some huge numbers for the Tigers -- career numbers. Martinez set personal highs with a .335 average, a .409 on-base percentage, a .565 slugging percentage, 32 homers and 217 total bases, and he led all of baseball with a .974 OPS. Martinez picked up his second Silver Slugger Award, the first coming at catcher in a tie with Ivan Rodriguez in 2004.
First base: Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
Talk about your double threat. Gonzalez already collected a Gold Glove Award this offseason, and he matched his 2011 performance while with the Red Sox by picking up some silver to go with that gold. Bonus: He's the only player to win both this year. Gonzalez's second Silver Slugger Award came primarily courtesy of his NL-leading 116 RBIs, clinching his seventh season with 100 or more RBIs.
Second base: Neil Walker, Pirates
The hometown kid is bringing some hardware back to Pittsburgh this offseason, snagging his first Silver Slugger Award after his fifth full season and a second trip to the postseason in as many tries. Walker hit a career-high 23 homers with 76 RBIs and added 25 doubles to rise above the rest at second base.
Third base: Anthony Rendon, Nationals
Rendon began the season at second base and moved to third when All-Star Ryan Zimmerman was injured, and Rendon stuck at the hot corner with a consistently productive bat for a Nationals team that ran away with the NL East crown. Rendon, 24, led the NL with 111 runs scored, and he led the Nats with 66 extra-base hits.
Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Nationals
Make it three in a row for Desmond, who went for 20 homers and 20 steals for the third straight season and stood out among his peers as a leader not only in the infield but in the batting order. He led NL shortstops with 24 homers and joins Trout as the only players to go 3-for-3 in silver the last three years.
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates; Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; Justin Upton, Braves
The standout here is Stanton, who became a true force in the NL this season before a harrowing beaning ended his season on Sept. 11. Stanton still wound up as the NL's leader in homers with 37 and total bases with 299, and he was the Senior Circuit's Hank Aaron Award winner. This is his first Silver Slugger Award, but he probably ought to go ahead and purchase the multi-bat rack for these things.
McCutchen, meanwhile, hits in the No. 3 spot for the Pirates, and he makes his team go. His .952 OPS led the NL, and his offensive numbers in earning a third straight Silver Slugger Award actually were a tick up from last year's portfolio, which earned him an NL MVP Award.
Upton picked up his second Silver Slugger Award, his first since 2011 as a member of the D-backs, and he did it with 29 homers and a career-high 102 RBIs despite the Braves' rough second half.
Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants
Posey was at the center of San Francisco's surge down the stretch, batting .393 with 18 RBIs in September to help push the Giants into their NL Wild Card position. He wound up with a .354 second-half batting average that was tops in the Majors, and his .311 overall average and .346 average with runners in scoring position both ranked fourth in the NL.
Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Even before he became a walking history book with MVP honors in both the NLCS and a World Series he made his own stage, Bumgarner had become a threat at the plate in 2014 en route to winning his first Silver Slugger Award. Bumgarner showed plenty of power, going for two grand slams among his four homers on the season. After pedestrian numbers at the plate his first few years, the ace left-hander went off in 2014 by going 17-for-66 (.258 average), knocking in 15 runs to go with those four homers and leading all pitchers in average, hits, homers, runs (10) and slugging percentage (.477). (He can pitch a little bit, too.)
With their battery double, the Giants joined the Indians, Pirates, Nationals and White Sox with a pair of Silver Slugger Award winners.