With just days left in MLB’s shortened, condensed season, awards races are all over the place. We broke down which MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year decisions are mostly settled, and who to watch in the derbies that remain over the season’s final weekend.
AL CY YOUNG
Shane Bieber is going to win the AL Cy Young.
The Cleveland Indians ace is leading MLB in ERA (1.74) and wins (8), for whatever they are worth. Great, fine, makes sense. More notably: Bieber is utterly destroying the world in strikeouts. Entering Wednesday’s start, his 112 strikeouts are 16 more than second place Jacob deGrom (who is pretty good himself).
His strikeout percentage — he’s sitting down 40.6 percent of the batters who step in to the box by K — would be an all-time record for qualified starters. Yes, it’s a much shorter season and it takes much less to qualify. But combined with the pristine run prevention and outsized role in his team’s success, this is a coronation.
Bieber will win this Cy Young, and with any luck, will get a chance to keep up this form in a full season and log numbers that history can compare more evenly with the Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Clayton Kershaw campaigns that this one could rival.
Really, the only intrigue left for the 2020 Bieber campaign is whether he also wins MVP.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
In a way, this is a race that was decided by timing and circumstance. Specifically, the timing of Eric Hosmer’s stomach ailment. That’s how San Diego Padres infielder Jake Cronenworth got his shot just a couple days into this compact season.
Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason in the Tommy Pham trade, Cronenworth was interesting at the time because of some two-way player intrigue. While the bat and the defensive ability to play the middle infield were always the main draws, the Rays had tried him as an opener and reliever at Triple-A in 2019, to the tune of a 2.45 ERA in 7 ⅓ innings.
The 2020 season’s expanded rosters meant he wasn’t needed on the mound, but when Hosmer went down, Cronenworth was thrust into the lineup at first base — a position he had not played in the minors. His first seven major-league starts came at first, and he hit .333 that week with two homers and two triples. By the time Hosmer returned, Cronenworth had sufficiently demanded playing time.
His power has not stuck around quite like that initial burst, and his September has been lackluster, but he is running a .303/.370/.516 season line, a 143 OPS+. Throw in good and versatile defense, and he’s sporting the best WAR of any NL rookie despite strong surges from Marlins starter Sixto Sanchez and Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm.
The highly touted, flame-throwing Sanchez has arrived in Miami looking every bit like the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto trade — posting a 2.75 ERA in six crucial starts and winning plaudits from Pedro Martinez. Bohm, meanwhile, is elevating the Phillies offense, but his defense has been lacking and dings his overall value.
With a big moment in the postseason race, one of them could still overtake Cronenworth. Most likely, though, his role in San Diego’s emergence helps his recognition and narrative. The award is likely his. - Zach Crizer
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
In an impressive all-around field, center fielders Kyle Lewis of the Seattle Mariners and Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox have emerged as the frontrunners.
Lewis, 25, came out swinging, hitting .373/.440/.567 over his first 17 games. He's since cooled off, but still maintains a very solid .272/.376/.461 batting line to go along with 11 home runs. Unfortunately, Lewis doesn't get a lot of attention playing in Seattle. But when you're hitting that well and making plays like this, everyone needs to know your name and your game.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 15, 2020
Robert, 23, has also lived up to some serious hype. His combination of power (11 home runs) and speed (eight stolen bases) has added another dimension to an already loaded White Sox lineup. His .225/.297/.444 slash line won't blow you away, but you're never not wowed watching him play. Especially on defense, where he practically covers the entire outfield.
At this point, Lewis has 1.6 WAR compared to Robert’s 1.4, according to Baseball-Reference. At FanGraphs, the WAR leaderboard has Lewis at 1.9 and Robert at 1.6. That’s how close this race is.
It will be interesting to see if the writers put more weight into Lewis’ better all-around season individually, or on Robert’s contributions for a team that could still finish with the AL’s best record. It’s also possible the last five days will decide a clear winner.
Others who could get votes: Oakland Athletics left-hander Jesus Luzardo has built a compelling case as well. He’s posted a 3.86 ERA with 59 strikeouts over 55 innings. Likewise, Houston Astros right-hander Cristian Javier has impressed with a 3.33 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 48 innings. Don’t sleep on Los Angeles Angels first baseman Jared Walsh. He’s relegated Albert Pujols to a part-time role by hitting .312 with eight home runs.
This might be the most crowded MVP field we’ve seen a long, long time. No less than six players could make truly legitimate cases to be the NL winner. And the most fascinating aspect is that recent winners like Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Kris Bryant are nowhere to be found.
Mookie Betts, who won the AL MVP with the Boston Red Sox in 2018, is the clear frontrunner. His Dodgers’ career is off to an incredible start. He's hit 16 home runs, to go along with a .301/.372/.587. According to Baseball-Reference, his all-around 3.2 WAR leads the entire league.
Down the coast, the San Diego Padres have two strong MVP candidates in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and third baseman Manny Machado. Individually, they are putting up huge numbers. Tatis is hitting .278/.369/.561 with 15 home runs, 41 RBIs and a league-leading 47 runs scored. Machado is hitting .314/.378/.605. His 16 home runs are tied for second in the NL with Betts. His 125 total bases lead the NL. Collectively, they have helped San Diego end a 14-year postseason drought.
The Atlanta Braves also have two strong contenders in Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. Freeman has been a standout all season. He's currently in line for a batting crown, hitting .347/.463/.643, and leads the NL by the standards of FanGraphs WAR. Acuña has battled injuries, but has been dominant when healthy. In 42 games, he's hit 13 home runs, scored 41 runs and racked up six stolen bases.
We also can't overlook Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. Though the Nats won't be returning to the postseason, Soto has further established himself as an elite player. He's leading the league in on-base percentage (.480) and OPS (1.164). He'll only turn 22 in October. - Mark Townsend
It’s gotten tougher, in baseball’s information age, to narrow down what makes an MVP. Doing it in 60 games when there’s no clear frontrunner? Good luck, voters! This one is really going to come down to figuring out what you truly value.
Is it Jose Abreu’s RBI count and batting average? Is it Jose Ramirez’s overall production without any specific standout stat? Is it Shane Bieber having an utterly dominant run on the mound? Or is it Mike Trout because he’s Mike Trout because there’s no clear leader and there’s nothing wrong with Mike Trout as a default.
Even the age-old “best player on the best team” thing doesn’t work this year — even if it wasn’t a bit of outdated thinking. The best player, by FanGraphs’ WAR, on the Tampa Bay Rays is … Brandon Lowe?!
Ramirez might be the pick that stands out to many, since he leads the AL in WAR. His 3.2 fWAR is quite a bit ahead of Abreu at 2.8, the next closest hitter. It makes Ramirez the WAR leader in all of MLB, even though he doesn’t lead the league in any particular category. He’s third in homers, third in RBIs, second in runs scored — even second in stolen bases.
Abreu may end up being a popular pick, too. While he hasn’t been as exciting as Luis Robert or Tim Anderson, he’s been a steady hand for the surprising White Sox. He leads MLB in RBIs and is third in batting average, two stats that new-age voters might poo-poo. But he also leads MLB in OPS and leads the AL in wRC+, a stat that measures offensive production relative to league average.
The big question mark is how voters size up Bieber. He certainly made a difference for a turbulent Indians rotation, but the fact that there’s another MVP candidate from his lineup might hurt the notion that Bieber put the entire team on his back.
NL CY YOUNG
What does it say about NL Cy Young voting that the guy who has a decent chance of winning is 4-4 this season? While we’re way past using pitcher wins as an arbiter of a successful season, this certainly does amplify the oddness that a 60-game season can bring.
The 4-4 pitcher is Trevor Bauer, who also has a 1.80 ERA, second-best in the NL. He has a great strikeout rate and has thrown two complete games (both of the seven-inning doubleheader variety).
While you can make a good case for Bauer, fact is you can make a good case for a handful of NL pitchers.
Yu Darvish is most valuable by FanGraphs WAR and is a big reason the Cubs have been better than expected.
Jacob deGrom, who already has a few of these awards, is the strikeout leader and has kept a beat-up Mets rotation afloat.
Corbin Burnes of the Brewers — no doubt the most surprising name here — actually has the best ERA in the NL at 1.77, but he’s made only eight starts compared to everyone else on this list making 10 or 11.
Max Fried has powered the Braves rotation amid what would seem like enough injuries to harpoon a contender. He also has a sub-2.00 ERA.
When considering pitching in 2020, one important thing might be the pitcher who gave his team a chance to win every single time out. Especially when there was so little room for error. In that sense, quality starts might provide some insight. There, Darvish leads with nine and Bauer and deGrom are right behind him with eight.
Out of all the races, this one will be the most unpredictable. - Mike Oz
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