The annual awards were voted on by local members of Seattle's chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Even at first glance, the choices seem logical and expected. And upon deeper examination, each was more than deserving. On Friday, the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented its annual awards for the 2017 Mariners season as voted on by the local membership.
- Player of the Year: Nelson Cruz
- Pitcher of the Year: James Paxton
- Unsung Hero: Nick Vincent
Cruz was an easy choice as player of the year. Despite dealing with a myriad of leg issues and an upper back injury, he’s played in 146 games — more than any other player on the team. He’s hitting .286 with a .914 on-base plus slugging percentage, 27 doubles, 35 homers and a league-leading 112 RBI.
“You have to trust what you are doing and see some results,” he said of his consistency. “Every day, I just try to improve and get better.”
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Not bad for a guy that turned 36 this season. Seattle signed Cruz to a four-year, $57 million contract before the 2015 season and he’s been a bargain considering his production. He’s the fourth player age 33 or older to hit 35 or more home runs in four straight seasons. He could reach the 40-homer plateau for the fourth straight season.
“To do what he’s doing and defying the odds or all the studies that say where the decline hits the certain age of a big league player, there are outliers and he’s one of the outliers,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s not easy. It’s by design. It’s his approach, his film study, his game preparation, it’s the whole ball of wax. And you put on top of that the type of teammate he is and what he does in the clubhouse and it’s the entire package. He’s really, really one of my favorites. Everybody has got their guys. I’ve just known him longer than anybody else.”
Cruz was a feared home run hitter when he was with the Rangers earlier in his career, but he’s worked to become a complete hitter in these later years. It’s not something Servais thought would happen when they were both together in Texas.
“No chance,” Servais admitted. “But he has evolved. That’s getting smart and an awareness of the strike zone and what people are trying to do to him and being able to make adjustments. The talent lines up with the aptitude. And when the talent lines up with the aptitude and you are really good person and a really good teammate, good things are going to happen.”
Paxton was easily the Mariners’ best starting pitcher this season when he was able to take the mound. In 22 starts, he posted a 12-5 record with a 3.03 ERA. In 124 2/3 innings pitched, he struck out 142 batters with 37 walks.
“It’s been good when it’s been good,” he said. “When I’ve been healthy and out there, it’s been great. Obviously, when I’m not out there, I’m not helping the team.”
Paxton had two separate stints on the disabled list. He suffered a forearm strain that kept him on the DL from May 5 to May 30. And then a pectoral strain put him on the DL again from Aug. 11 to Sept. 14.
“The goal for me is to stay healthy and get those 33 or 34 starts in a season,” he said. “So that’s what I’m going to be focusing on this offseason is finding a way to stay healthy for an entire season because that’s what we need out of me.”
Like many middle relievers, Vincent didn’t garner high levels attention. But up until the last few weeks, he had been the Mariners most effective reliever this season. The right-hander has made a career-high 66 appearances and thrown a career-high 62 2/3 innings, posting a 3-3 record and a 2.87 ERA. He hopes to reach 70 appearances by the end of the season. He’s second in MLB in holds with 27. Of his 66 appearances, 55 have been scoreless. From May 14 to Sept. 4, Vincent appeared in 44 games and allowed just six earned runs in 40 innings pitched for a 1.35 ERA.
“For a long time he was probably the MVP of our team with where our starting pitching was,” Servais said. “When we got in close games, and had a chance to win them, we were winning them. And a lot of that had to do with Nick Vincent.”
The award is given to the player that contributes on the field without fanfare, but also how he handles himself off the field with non-field staff members, teammates, fans and media. On the rare occasions he did struggle or lose games or leads, Vincent was always in front of his locker waiting to be accountable for his mistakes. It’s something he helped instill in a bullpen with many young pitchers.
“It’s an honor,” Vincent said. “It’s the life of a reliever. We go out there and keep the game where it’s at. People don’t think about that. Everything is based off offense these days. I’d rather be in that spot. I’d rather be the guy that does his job and does it without a bunch of media. It’s better that way.”
Vincent and his wife, Jackie, are expecting their first child — a girl — in late October.
“I don’t know what I’m in for, but I’m sure it’s going to be tiring,” he said. “I’m excited and she’s excited. I’m glad it’s in the offseason not during the season.