The trade deadline has come and gone, and MLB’s awards races still haven’t begun to crystallize yet. Who will be named the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year in each league? We still don’t know.
- Mookie Betts
- Mike Trout
- Jose Ramirez
- Francisco Lindor
- Alex Bregman
So, what happened here? Mookie Betts lost his damn mind. In 93 games this season, Betts is slashing .342/.428/.658 with 26 homers and 21 steals. Mike Trout is having another fantastic Mike Trout season, hitting .309/.459/.624 with 30 homers and 21 steals. Betts is having a better year defensively than Trout, leads baseball in batting average (in case that’s your sort of thing), and is third in baseball in fWAR (behind Trout and Jose Ramirez, who each have around 60 more plate appearances).
The key here for me is (deep breath) team performance. The Red Sox are dominating baseball with a 79-34 record, 9.5 games up on the Yankees in the AL East. Trout’s Angels are 55-58, fourth in the AL West, 16 games behind the Houston Astros. If the Angels were a contender, maybe Trout’s edge in fWAR would give him the nod. But when two players are having such similar, great years, and one player’s team is crushing the rest of the league, you have to give the advantage to the player on the significantly better team.
In the hunt: Matt Chapman, JD Martinez
- Nolan Arenado
- Javier Baez
- Freddie Freeman
- Christian Yelich
- Paul Goldschmidt
There isn’t really a good choice for National League MVP, as Freddie Freeman has cooled off a bit in recent weeks and lost his edge. Right now, I’m leaning towards Nolan Arenado, second in the NL in fWAR (with Matt Carpenter on top of the league, collecting 4.9 fWAR to Arenado’s 4.6), tied for the league lead in homers (29, with Carpenter), third in RBI (Javier Baez leads the league with 89), and fifth in average (20 points behind NL leader Christian Yelich). Throw in his typically fantastic defense at third base, and you’re looking at a guy currently at the top of the heap in the NL for the right reasons (his overall performance as a whole) and not the wrong reasons (all of those fancy RBI).
Baez could be a guy who storms the gates and wins the award if he stays hot over the final two months of the season. He’s having a worse offensive season than Arenado nearly across the board (lower average, OBP, SLG, fewer runs scored, fewer homers, fewer walks, more strikeouts, lower fWAR), but has the edge in RBI and has stolen 19 bases to Arenado’s two. It’s a situation where streakiness and narrative can overwhelm the facts of a comparison between two players, and if the Cubs win the NL Central while the Rockies fall short in the NL playoff race, Baez’s case could gain more followers. The same is true for guys like Freeman, Yelich, and Paul Goldschmidt, who are all playing for contenders and are having great years, but are currently hampered by the narrative monster.
Also, if the Cardinals somehow win 90 games and/or make the playoffs, the white hot Carpenter is going to get a lot of attention after a poor start to the season. He’s having a phenomenal season.
In the hunt: Jesus Aguilar, Matt Carpenter
AL Cy Young
- Trevor Bauer
- Chris Sale
- Justin Verlander
Chris Sale leads the American League in ERA, strikeotus, and fWAR, but he’s currently on the DL, and while he should be back sooner rather than later, I’d rather be safe than sorry. Trevor Bauer of the Indians than his teammate, perennial AL Cy Young contender Corey Kluber, and not many expected that. Bauer is third in the league in innings pitched, fourth in ERA, second in fWAR, and fourth in strikeouts.
Justin Verlander has a great argument over Bauer, leading him in innings, ERA, and strikeouts, but the innings and strikeouts leads will likely evaporate on Monday night – Bauer makes his 24th start of the season, tying Verlander for the AL’s top mark. It’s an incredibly tight race right now, but unless Sale misses more time than expected and avoids his traditional late season collapse, the award will be his to lose.
In the hunt: Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino
NL Cy Young
- Max Scherzer
- Jacob deGrom
- Aaron Nola
Jacob deGrom is having the best season of any pitcher in the National League. He has a 1.85 ERA (the best mark in baseball), ranks third in both strikeouts and innings pitched, and has been one of few bright spots in 2018 for the Mets.
But…he plays for the Mets, who are terrible. deGrom is just 5-7 on the season, which is absolutely not his fault (his last win this season came on June 18th. Since then, he has a 2.47 ERA in seven starts, striking out 53 and walking nine. His record is 0-5). I would have no issues giving deGrom the nod if he was able to reach a double digit win total and a record of .500 or better, but right now, that isn’t happening.
Thus, my nod still goes to Max Scherzer, who isn’t chopped liver. He’s second in the NL in ERA behind deGrom and leads the league in both innings and strikeouts. Scherzer is also 15-5 on the season, giving him the NL’s highest win total by a hefty margin. Outside of deGrom, keep an eye on Phillies ace Aaron Nola (who is pretty close to Scherzer, but inferior, in all categories except strikeouts) and the Diamondbacks duo of Patrick Corbin (cursed with a deGrom-esque win/loss record) and Zack Greinke to challenge Scherzer for the NL’s top pitcher honors.
In the hunt: Patrick Corbin, Zack Greinke
AL Rookie of the Year
- Gleyber Torres
- Miguel Andujar
- Shohei Ohtani
Gleyber Torres is actually fourth in fWAR among all AL rookies, behind Shohei Ohtani’s combined pitching and hitting stats and the Rays duo of Jake Bauer and Joey Wendle. But Torres is second among AL rookies in both wOBA and wRC+, a hair behind Ohtani in each, and leads AL rookies in homers and RBI. It’s not a massive edge, but it’s an edge.
The fact of the matter is that the AL race is still wide open. Only three AL rookies have at least 300 plate appearances (though a pair of Rangers can join them in their next game), only four have played in as many as 80 games, only one is hitting .300 (Lourdes Gurriel, in just 38 games). If Torres goes on a hot streak, he can wrap this up. If he struggles, it’s anyone’s ballgame.
In the hunt: Jake Bauers, Joey Wendle
NL Rookie of the Year
- Juan Soto
- Brian Anderson
- Jack Flaherty
Juan Soto is hitting .310/.424/.556 in 66 games with 13 home runs. If he has been up in the majors all year, this wouldn’t even be an argument. But yet, he hasn’t been, and thus, he’s not the slam drunk choice…yet. Soto ranks second among NL rookies in fWAR behind Brian Anderson of the Marlins, second in homers behind Christian Villanueva of the Padres, but is far and away the leader in OPS, with an edge of nearly 150 points over Jesse Winker of the Reds. He also ranks second in runs and fifth in RBI, despite clocking in at just eighth in plate appearances.
I also want to give a nod to a couple of rookie NL pitchers having great years. Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals has a 3.27 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings, and Phillies closer Seranthony Dominguez has 12 saves and a 2.03 ERA to go along with 52 strikeouts in 40 innings. Maybe in lesser years, they could both be top candidates for the award. This year, however, they fall behind Soto in the pecking order.
In the hunt: Ronald Acuna, Seranthony Dominguez