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The Saddest Nominees

I'm not writing a playoff post tonight. I'm not writing much of a relevant post at all tonight, really, but I'm specifically not writing a playoff post because I don't have anything interesting to say about the Phillies/Cardinals game that hasn't already been captured in .gif form, and I just can't get into the Brewers/Diamondbacks series at all. You'd think there would be plenty of reasons for me to be interested - Betancourt! Bloomquist! Putz! Brewers fans! Cinderella team! - but it doesn't register. I don't know why. Just because I can't put my finger on the reasons doesn't mean I don't have good reasons.

What this post is about is the Hank Aaron Award. If you don't know what the Hank Aaron Award is, don't fret - it's not one of the big ones. It's not one of the tiny, irrelevant ones, but it's not one of the big ones. The Hank Aaron Award is given to the top hitter in each league, and it's voted on by a panel of Hall of Famers, with some consideration given to fan input.

From what pool of players does the panel select two winners? A pool consisting of one nominee from every team. Immediately, you can see a problem: not every team has a great hitter. It's not really a problem so to speak since the worse players won't get any votes, but then why have them included in the first place? Why not just have a separate panel identify, say, the five best hitters in each league, and then the Hank Aaron Award panel can pick from those?

They don't do it that way. They get one nominee from every team, and do it that way. And here, you can see the collection of 2011 Hank Aaron Award nominees.

There are some really great hitters in there. As there should be. There's Miguel Cabrera. There's Jose Bautista. There's Matt Kemp, and Ryan Braun. Two of these guys should be the winners. Two of these guys presumably will be the winners.

But then there are some less great hitters in there, too. As you'd expect, since every team has to come up with someone. Sorted by 2011 OPS+, here are the five least deserving nominees:

J.J. Hardy (117)
Carlos Lee (117)
Dustin Ackley (117)
Mark Trumbo (113)
Cameron Maybin (103)

Ackley, of course, is the Mariners' nominee, and I was worried at first that he might be the worst hitter out of all of them. Thankfully, he's only one of the worst hitters. What makes his nomination uniquely sad is that, not only is he one of the worst nominees, but he posted that 117 OPS+ over just more than half a season. This was the best guy the Mariners could nominate for an award intended to recognize the best hitter in the league.

Ackley isn't the only one who's sad, though. Hardy's kind of sad, even though looking at the data, the Orioles just had a bunch of decent hitters, and no one exceptional. Lee's kind of sad, although in fairness the Astros traded the superior Hunter Pence in July. Trumbo is very sad, because Mark Trumbo finished with the same OBP as Alcides Escobar. But then Howie Kendrick posted a 125 OPS+ over more plate appearances than Trumbo had, so I don't know what's going on with this nomination. And Maybin...well Maybin bums me out, but Chase Headley had a 120 OPS+ in way more games than Ackley played, so he probably would've made more sense here.

It doesn't really matter that these guys are on the ballot. There are candidates who will never win on almost any ballot. But why even bother going to the trouble of getting a nominee from every team when the best picks are clearly obvious every season? This is just kind of awkward and humiliating. Not for most teams, but for some teams. Some teams that have to say they nominated Dustin Ackley and Cameron Maybin for an award that recognizes the best hitter in each league.

Check out this paragraph:

Ackley and Trumbo, both from the AL West, are hoping to become the first rookies to win the award. Ackley made his debut on June 17 and went on to compile 91 hits and 40 walks in 90 games. Trumbo finished the season with 29 homers and 87 RBIs, emerging as a top Rookie of the Year candidate.

Really? Are they hoping? I bet they're not. I bet Ackley understands that 43 home runs is more than six home runs.

I wonder how these nominations are submitted. I wonder if it's like an email, or a fax, or super thorough and official paperwork, or a hurried phone call.

Selig: Hank Aaron Award. I need a name.
Zduriencik: What's that one again?
Selig: League's best hitter.
Zduriencik: Oof.
So it's gonna be...
Zduriencik: DUSTIN
...shit, man, I'm sorry.

If there's an upside to this, it's that, down the road, we'll be scrolling through Ackley's bio, and we'll come across the fact that he was a 2011 Hank Aaron Award nominee as a rookie. That'll seem pretty neat, since we will have forgotten much of the context. But in the short term, this is so sad.