Former Tiger Justin Upton was the recipient of the annual Tiger of the Year award on Nov. 11. Even though was traded to the Los Angeles Angels at the waiver trade deadline on August 31 for pitching prospect Grayson Long (who spoke to Bless You Boys last week). Since the trade, Upton has even signed a contract extension with his new team.
So what are the criteria for the Tiger of the Year voting?
We don’t know! Little is written on the recipient selection process, so nobody is really sure whether the award is given based on offensive and defensive abilities or pitching prowess, charitability, a combination of these, or something else entirely. My guess is that it’s up to the individual voter’s discretion. What we do know is that the award is voted on by the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), which is made up various members of Detroit media. One member wasn’t thrilled with the decision. Lynn Henning of the Detroit News tweeted that the “selection is one huge credibility hit,” later adding that the award should have gone to a current Tiger.
Mikie Mahtook would have been my pick
I agree with Henning, though my vote would have gone to Mikie Mahtook.
Let me start out by making it clear I am not saying Mahtook is better at baseball than Upton. Not in the slightest. Upton can out-hit, out-play, out- almost anything Mahtook when it comes to what happens between the foul lines.
Mahtook isn’t better than Upton, and he isn’t even the most talented player still on the Detroit Tigers roster. My entire argument for him lies in the way he broke out in 2017, exceeded expectations entirely and became a fan favorite. I’m willing to bet that Mahtook wouldn’t have been on the list of players you would have expected to win Tiger of the Year if you thought about it back in spring training.
In December of 2016, FanGraphs published its annual ZiPS projections, which attempt to predict individual statistics players will have following season. Mahtook, then a Tampa Bay Ray, was expected to bat .228 and hit nine home runs with a BABIP of .304 in 461 plate appearances. Even those numbers seem inflated, considering he batted under .200 in his injury-laden 2016 season following a solid rookie year. Regardless, Mahtook wildly outperformed his projections. He batted .276 and hit 13 home runs with a BABIP of .324 in 379 plate appearances.
Additionally, Mahtook is a joy to watch. Back in June, Ashley told you why he’s your new favorite player, and even Kurt agreed that Mahtook is one of the most fun Tigers players. Later in the season, we learned that Mahtook and Michael Fulmer have an adorable ritual that involves nose-booping when one of them does something good in a game. And I didn’t even mention Mahtook’s overall happy-go-lucky attitude.
Between Mahtook’s positivity and the way he blew any feasible expectations out of the water in 2017, I believe he should have been the Tiger of the Year. He’s good for the clubhouse and the lineup alike, and that’s the very definition of a valuable player.