Ellis watches one of his 13 HRs leave the yard.
As a relatively successful 2005 campaign came to a close with the Oakland A’s 8-3 win over the Seattle Mariners, it signaled the time for us to open up the trophy case and give out a few season-ending awards. In a season filled with ups and downs and hot streaks and cold streaks, there were a few players who gave the Oakland A’s excellence throughout the season. We award an Offensive MVP, a Pitching MVP and a Rookie of the Year.
Offensive MVP…Mark Ellis
When the season began, there probably wasn’t a player on the team who would have been less likely to win this award then Mark Ellis. Ellis was one of the team’s biggest question marks coming into spring training due to his uncertain recovery from a severally dislocated throwing shoulder that caused him to miss all of the 2004 season. In addition, Ellis’s 2003 offensive campaign was a big disappointment, as his average dipped from his 2002 level of .272 to a 2003 total of .248.
The A’s were so uncertain what they were going to get from Ellis that they traded for second baseman Keith Ginter, who was supposed to take the everyday starting second base job and provide above-average offense from that spot. In fact, at the start of the season, the A’s would have probably been happy if Ellis had played his always fabulous defense over 80-100 games and hit .250. Instead, they got one of the best offensive campaigns of any second baseman in the American League.
Ellis began the season hitting for a decent average but little power. Over the first two months of the season, he hit .283 in 120 at-bats. However, he didn’t hit his first homerun until June 1 against Tampa. Ellis hit well in June, posting a .304 batting average and an 807 OPS, but he only had 46 at-bats, his lowest total for any month. The time off may have been a boon to Ellis’s health, even though it would later cost him a chance at an American League batting title. A well-rested Ellis hit .337 from July 1 through the end of the season. He also clubbed 12 homeruns, drove in 40 runs, scored 54 runs and played every game but one from August 23 until the last day of the year.
Perhaps most importantly, Ellis brought some stability to the top of the batting order when he slid successfully into the lead-off spot on September 5. On that day, Ellis entered the game with a .302 batting average and would raise his average 14 points over the last three weeks of the season while hitting lead-off. Meanwhile, it allowed the A’s to move their former lead-off hitter, Jason Kendall, down to the second spot. The move seemed to awaken Kendall from his season-long malaise, as he raised his average from .256 to .272 in that second spot.
Down the stretch, there was no hitter on the A’s who was hotter than Ellis. In 14 games from September 6 – September 20, Ellis collected 27 hits and scored 16 runs. As the A’s offense sputtered in the month of September, Ellis shined with a stunning 1050 OPS. At the end of the season, Ellis wound up with career-highs in homeruns (13) and batting average (.316) and tied his career-highs in RBIs (52), triples (5) and hits (137) despite playing in 32 fewer games then he did in the season he set those previous career-highs. He also scored 76 runs in only 122 games and led the team with a .384 on-base percentage and an 861 OPS.
Ellis has always flown under the radar. He was supposed to be a throw-in when he was included in the 2001 Johnny Damon to Oakland trade. Instead, he ended up being an important cog in the A’s 2002 AL West division championship team. Then he surprised everyone once again this season when he played like an All-Star one year removed from what should have been a career-ending injury. Second base shouldn’t be a question mark going into the 2006 season. In fact, perhaps the only question surrounding Mark Ellis going into next season will be what surprise he’ll bring to the table next.
Pitching MVP…Joe Blanton
Like Mark Ellis, Joe Blanton was an unlikely candidate to be the A’s most valuable pitcher at the start of the season. It seemed even less likely that Blanton would win the award when he finished the month of May with a season record of 0-5 and an ERA of 6.66. However, he would go 12-7 with a 2.67 ERA over the remainder of the season. Hard-luck would keep Blanton’s record at a misleading 12-12, but the rest of his pitching line demonstrates his excellence in 2005.
When Blanton won his final game of the 2005 season, he achieved a few milestones. He earned his 12th win, tying him with Chris Codiroli for the most wins by a rookie A’s pitcher. Blanton also went over the 200 inning mark and didn’t miss a start all season, showcasing Blanton’s reliability and durability. He finished the season tenth in the American League in ERA with a 3.53 mark and was tops in ERA on one of the AL’s best starting rotations. Blanton was also very difficult to hit. He finished fourth in the AL in batting average against with a .234 mark and tenth in the league in WHIP at 1.22. Both marks were better than the numbers put up by the pitchers he helped replace: Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder.
However, perhaps the most impressive part of Blanton’s season was his consistency in the months of August and September. From August 1 through the end of the season, Blanton allowed more than three runs only once, more than two runs only twice and he didn’t have a start shorter than six innings. While Rich Harden missed most of the final six weeks of the season and Barry Zito struggled in September, Blanton was the rock of the rotation. With a little more run support, Blanton could have easily have posted 15 or 16 wins and would have been a shoe-in for AL Rookie of the Year. Instead, he’ll have to settle for OaklandClubhouse’s Pitching MVP award and the respect of A’s fans and AL batters everywhere.
Rookie of the Year…Huston Street
So how can one rookie win Pitching MVP and another rookie hurler go home with the Rookie of the Year award? Well, for one, we admit that if the same player won two awards, it would make the article painfully short. But, in all seriousness, we think that Huston Street deserves the award, in part, because the closer’s job is perhaps the most difficult for a rookie to handle.
Street began the year as a surprise addition to the A’s roster after he took advantage of an injury to Chad Bradford to grab a spot in the majors perhaps one season earlier then expected. He started the season as a middle reliever/mop-up reliever, but he was quickly thrust into a more important role when set-up man Kiko Calero got hurt in mid-April and set-up man Juan Cruz proved ineffective. Over his first 17 major league appearances, Street posted a 2.18 ERA. However, he seemed to take his game to another level when he was named the team’s closer on May 17.
May 17 was the day that A’s closer Octavio Dotel was first sidelined with an elbow injury that would eventually end his season. Although losing a reliever as talented as Dotel should have been a blow to the A’s chances (especially considering he was replaced by a rookie), Oakland never looked back when the mantle of closer was handed from Dotel to Street. The 21-year-old might have been only a year removed from the College World Series, but his presence at the back of the A’s bullpen was a calming influence on the rest of the team.
Unlike his predecessor, Street rarely gave the A’s much to worry about in the ninth inning until a few tight scares in September. Street emulated former A’s closers Keith Foulke and Dennis Eckersley in his ability to throw strikes and keep runners off of the basepaths. Street finished the season with a remarkable 1.01 WHIP, and he only walked 26 hitters in 78.1 innings pitched. He also struck out 72 hitters, proving that he could make hitters miss despite not possessing a 96 MPH fastball.
The amazing numbers continue for Street. He allowed opposing hitters to hit only .174 and limited them to a 532 OPS. He also allowed only three homeruns and blew only two saves as a closer (the A’s eventually won both games in extra-innings, including one game where Street stayed on to throw three innings and earn the win). Street set the A’s rookie record with 23 saves and only Mariano Rivera had a lower ERA amongst AL relievers. Everyone knows what Rivera has meant to the New York Yankees over the past decade. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Huston Street regarded with the same sort of respect in the years ahead.