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The 2012 'pound-for-pound' awards

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer
Houston's Jose Altuve is just honored to be nominated. (Getty Images)

In boxing -- remember boxing? -- a frequent debate-kindling topic is who's the best "pound-for-pound" fighter in the world. So why not, now that baseball-less winter is descending upon us, apply this tidy conversation-starter to the greatest of all sports? Why not indeed!

To do this, we'll be leaning heavily on the play index available at God's own Baseball-Reference.com, which allows us to sort search results by listed weights. Sure, playing weights can be dubious things on occasion, but it's usually the high end of the girth spectrum that's to be doubted. We're talking about the little guys.

As of 2006, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the 50th-percentile U.S. adult male checked in at 188.8 pounds (PDF). Obviously, professional athletes tend to be heavier (and better proportioned) than we of the doughy, slouching remainder. So in order to ramp up our standards, we'll insist that our "pound-for-pound" candidates weight fewer than 180 pounds.

Sure, I could do something like determine the award based on "WAR per pound of body weight" or something like that, but that would open the process up to more sturdily constructed types. And this is no country for large men ...

For position players, we'll sort qualifying candidates by OPS+, which is simply OPS (OBP added to slugging percentage) adjusted to reflect the tendencies of a player's home park. We'll christen this hardware "The Zoilo Versalles Award" in honor of the Cuban-born shortstop who won the 1965 AL MVP despite, it would seem, a listed weight of 165 pounds. Now, your candidates ...

PlayerWeightOPS+SB/CSPositionPlate Appearances
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox16511220/62B623
Jose Altuve, Astros17010233/112B630
Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees1709529/7RF, LF663
Ben Revere, Twins1708940/9OF553
Jamey Carroll, Twins175869/5INF537
Jemile Weeks, A's1607116/52B511

Not on the list? Alexi Amarista of the Angels and Padres, Jose Constanza of the Braves and Henry Rodriguez of the Reds: They each weighed 150 pounds and tied for the privilege of lightest position player in the majors in 2012 but fell short of a qualifying number of plate appearances.

Anyhow, I see no reason to deviate from the OPS+ rankings. Pedroia, because of his above-average production, skilled fielding at the keystone and svelte build, is your 2012 AL Zoilo Versalles Award winner. In the NL, only one man satisfied all criteria, and that man was the decidedly wee Jose Altuve (he of the 1.0 Altuves). Needless to say, Mr. Altuve is your 2012 NL Zoilo Versalles Award winner. The awards banquet will consist of a single ladle of mac-and-cheese and a sippy cup of juice.

To the pitchers!

This fetching trophy, made of LEGOs, will be named for Bobby Shantz, the 139-pound hurler who won 119 games across 16 seasons and -- true fact -- traveled from city to city on a Lionel model train.

We'll rank the candidates according to ERA+, which is ERA adjusted to reflect home park and league (unlike unadjusted ERA, the higher the figure, the better the performance). Once again, we're limiting candidacy to those who weigh fewer than 180 pounds. This time, though, we we'll drop the playing-time requirement to 40 IP or more so as to allow relievers to have their say. As I see it, we've got, again, six serious candidates (while, at 160 pounds, Jesse Chavez of the Blue Jays and A's and D.J. Mitchell of the Yankees were the lightest pitchers to appear in the majors in 2012, they do not otherwise pass muster) ...

PitcherWeightERA+Innings
Jerry Blevins, A's17516165 1/3
Brayan Villarreal, Tigers17016154 2/3
Luis Ayala, Orioles17516075
Miguel Gonzalez, Orioles170130105 1/3
Tim Collins, Royals16512269 2/3
Tim Hudson, Braves175110179

In the senior circuit, I do not hesitate to give the Bobby Shantz Award for 2012 to Tim Hudson, who, despite his diminutive build, shouldered a starter's workload and typically excelled in doing so. In the AL, the Shantz-y goes to ... Brayan Villarreal. Others had more innings, but he's the best combo of excellence (66 whiffs in those 54 2/3 innings) and body weight (a nifty 12 stone and two).

So hearty congratulations to Messrs. Pedroia and Altuve for claiming the Zoilo Versalles Award, and a no less hearty congratulations to Messrs. Hudson and Villareal for winning the Bobby Shantz Award. You, good sirs, are the best "pound-for-pound" ballplayers in the world.

In conclusion, Adam Dunn will now see how far he can throw each of the honorees.

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