(Game date: Oct. 7, 2018) — The Lake League’s 2018 player awards have been announced today, and there are few surprises among the winners.
Starting with the Carl Simms MVP Award, which recognizes the premier position player in the league based on their overall contribution to their team during the season, this year’s recipient went to Orlando Garza, of the 2018 Bull Cup championship Montreal Metros.
The young center fielder, just 23 years old, was a massive presence in the batting order, as well as defensively. The early bloomer now has five seasons under his belt, after debuting in 2014 at just 19 years old. This season was his best yet, leading the LL in hits with 147, and stolen bases at 32. His average of .347 was second behind Sluggers rookie Les Groves, and he had the highest WAR in the LL at 5.4.
It was the third year in a row that a Metros player won the MVP, with teammate and fellow outfielder Jose Ramirez taking the prize in 2017, and Yoshiaki Fujimara winning it in 2016. Montreal now has the second-most MVP awards awarded to their players at 8, just behind the Nevada Speeders (12).
Toronto’s Knuckles Malone was named to the Sandy Koufax Award as the best pitcher in the league. After struggling through some injuries for the past two seasons, and being beaten out by a wicked-hot Judson Martel in 2017, Malone stood alone among LL starters with a league-best ERA of 2.31, as well as league-bests in WHIP (0.90) and HR/9 (0.4).
Malone gathered just 8 wins, mainly on the back of poor run support from the worst offensive team in the LL, but nonetheless his mound presence was dominating all season. In 144 innings he whiffed 158 batters, third-best in the LL. His 7 complete games tied him for third. Malone tied Ricky Rodriguez for pitcher WAR at 6.0, and was the most difficult pitcher for batters to face overall, crafting a .202 opponent average.
It was the first Sandy Koufax Award for Malone, who debuted to a hot season in 2015 and took home the Rookie of the Year and finished 2nd in Koufax voting that season. He is now 28-13 after four seasons, with a career 2.02 ERA, 11 shutouts, and 18.2 career WAR.
The Relief Pitcher of the Year, the Woodchuck Trophy, was awarded to New York Dragons closer Alex Sanchez, who produced 56.2 solid relief innings over 50 appearances, tallying up 25 saves to lead the league. He held an ERA of 3.34, about half a point lower than the LL reliever average of 3.83.
A quiet professional who entered the Bull League as an amateur free agent in 2017, this was his debut season at the major level and he has quickly become one of the most popular players on the team.
The least surprising award of 2018 went to LL Rookie of the Year, Les Groves, of the Louisville Sluggers. Groves, a former Bull Oceanic League top prospect and MVP winner, was drafted into the Bull League in 2017 and played just 18 games last season, but had already given the league a glimpse of his capabilities, batting .282 in 18 games.
This year, Groves exploded into a starting catcher role for the Sluggers, and won the LL batting title with a .371 average. His 22 homers and 26 doubles helped propel him to a league leading slugging percentage of .657. Combined with his league leading OBP of .428, he also had the top LL OPS of 1.085.
Groves struggled on the base paths, despite his apparent speed. He was thrown out 7 times and only stole 1 base, but he more than made up for that with his offensive skill, and overall was an effective defender behind the plate.
With the 2018 player awards out of the way, the honored players can move forward into the offseason and work on their routines, or in some cases work on their arbitration cases.