MLB Awards Season Arrives Early

Even in a star-studded, historically-potent lineup, Mookie Betts' 2016 performance stands out as the best.Even in a star-studded, historically-potent lineup, Mookie Betts' 2016 performance stands out as the best.

Don’t worry, I’ll revisit these again in two weeks time, but because I just can’t wait, here are my preliminary predictions/own awards for the 2016 MLB season. Even though we have roughly two weeks left, it’s probably not too early to have a strong sense of who will be taking home hardware in mid-November when the BBWAA awards are officially announced:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Most Valuable Player – Mookie Betts, Red Sox

As much as I want to pick Jose Altuve, I don’t think he’ll win the award and frankly, given his lethargic September, I don’t think I’d give it to him. It may seem like you can pick a Red Sox player’s name out of a hat and not go wrong, but the truth is, Betts is the cream of the crop. Not only in his historically-potent lineup, but in the Junior Circuit, as well. Altuve is hitting a meager .224 with two homers and five RBIs in 17 September games. Betts has slowed a tad at .268 and just one homer, but his overall body of work should net him an MVP trophy at just 24 (he’ll turn that age on October 7). He trails only Mike Trout in the AL in WAR (8.7) and though he doesn’t top the charts in any of the big categories, he is a fixture in the most of them of any player. Betts is hitting .314 (6th in AL) with 31 home runs, 108 RBIs (4th), 198 hits (2nd), 24 stolen bases (6th), 40 doubles (T-2nd), 113 runs scored (T-2nd), and .898 OPS (9th). Altuve is on pace for a batting title at .337, while leading the league in hits (199) and tying for second in doubles (40). But with the Astros very likely to miss the postseason, Betts’ amazing year cannot be ignored.

Rookie of the Year – Nomar Mazara, Rangers

It is so incredibly tempting to take Gary Sanchez here, but how can you really give this prestigious of an honor to a guy that didn’t play his second game of the year until August 3? Sanchez’s 16 home runs in just 159 at-bats is an amazing feat, but Mazara has been steady as she goes in 137 games for Texas, leading AL rookies in home runs (19), RBIs (60, tied with Max Kepler), and hits (132). Figuring in at least one more blast in 2016, topping 20 home runs at just 21 years of age is too lofty to overlook. Mazara becomes the second player named Nomar to win the award, as he gets the nod over Sanchez, as well as Tigers’ pitcher Michael Fulmer. Despite leading AL rookies in wins (10) and posting very strong overall numbers (10-7, 3.03 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.4 H/9 IP), he has struggled of late, posting a 6.28 ERA over his last five starts since an August 14 shutout at Texas.

Cy Young – Rick Porcello, Red Sox

Quick – who leads the American League in ERA? No, it’s not Porcello, nor is it Chris Sale, or even Corey Kluber. It is actually Masahiro Tanaka, the only AL pitcher under 3 at 2.97. But Porcello’s incredible season will net him Cy Young honors, as he leads the league in wins (21), WHIP (0.98), and BB/K ratio (6.00). He has walked just one batter over his last six starts, and has pitched at least five innings in every single one of his 31 starts this year. He has also pitched at least seven innings in 11 straight starts. This seems like a no-brainer, actually.

Manager of the Year – Terry Francona, Indians

This isn’t an overwhelmingly convincing field of skipper performances in 2016, but Francona has squeezed every ounce of success and more out of his Indians club. While Buck Showalter and Joe Girardi each make solid cases, Francona’s bunch is cruising to its first AL Central title in nine years despite several huge injuries. As if losing star outfielder Michael Brantley for the season in May wasn’t enough, the Tribe now must push forward without two of its top three starters in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Cleveland’s once-middling offense is, somewhat inexplicably, second in the AL in runs scored (729). The team also survived a shaky bullpen prior to the trade-deadline acquisition of Andrew Miller, and has racked up 34 come-from-behind wins and 10 walk-off victories. Even if the Indians falter in the playoffs again, Francona deserves the award for the second time in four seasons.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Most Valuable Player – Daniel Murphy, Nationals

No way I’m voting for Kris Bryant. I’m still not sold that his offensive game is complete, despite the eye-popping numbers. If we’re talking about a guy having a great season and truly being his team’s most valuable asset, look no further than Murphy. His scorching 2015 postseason was clearly no fluke, as the first-year National leads the Senior Circuit in slugging percentage (.597), OPS (.989), and doubles (47). He also ranks second in batting average at .348, trailing Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu by just one point. In a year in which Bryce Harper’s numbers have sagged considerably after his 2015 MVP campaign, and Stephen Strasburg’s fragility and the team’s shaky bullpen have fans worried about another early postseason exit, Murphy has been everything the team could have asked for and more. Bryant is a bona fide star, but he may not even be more valuable to the Cubs than Anthony Rizzo or several of their starting pitchers. Nolan Arenado is having another stellar season, but his greatness will get marred by the fact that the Rockies are going nowhere and he plays half of his games at Coors Field.

Rookie of the Year – Corey Seager, Dodgers

The only suspense involving Seager and the NL Rookie of the Year award is whether the decision will be a unanimous one. For a good chunk of the season, Seager did have strong competition from two other NL shortstops, but the injury bug that bit both Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz turned this into a runaway. Seager could conceivably even get a few non-first-place MVP votes given his numbers. The 22-year-old is batting .313 with 25 home runs, 69 RBIs, an .894 OPS, and earned an All-Star berth. Story had quite a season going, hitting .272 with 27 homers and 72 RBIs, but Seager’s overall monster year makes him as easy a choice as any for this awards season.

Cy Young – Kyle Hendricks, Cubs

Don’t worry Cubs fans, there is still hardware headed to the north side. Though some people think Clayton Kershaw still deserves it despite a nearly-three-month absence, Hendricks is the clear-cut winner in my opinion. He has a healthy lead in both the NL and Majors in ERA (2.06), and his 0.96 WHIP is second in the NL to Max Scherzer. The 26-year-old is allowing an incredibly meager 6.5 hits per nine innings, but it’s the splits that truly set his season apart. Hendricks is 8-2 with a 1.46 ERA in 12 post-All Star break starts. And to think – this guy is the Cubs’ No. 4 starter? Wow.

Manager of the Year – Terry Collins, Mets

Yes, I’m straying away from both Joe Maddon and Dave Roberts here to take Collins, who was equally deserving of the award last year as well. Much of the love coming Roberts’ way will revolve around the fact that his team both survived and thrived in Kershaw’s absence, while Maddon’s Cubs have exceeded expectations that were already quite lofty. But through all of it, here are Collins’ Mets, leading the crowded NL Wild Card race despite a ton of significant injuries. The team’s prized, young rotation has been almost completely decimated, with only Noah Syndergaard currently healthy. Though Steven Matz may return shortly, he has been in and out of action. Matt Harvey was done for early on, and now Jacob deGrom has officially been shut down. Additionally, the team lost its one of its top home run hitters in Neil Walker to back surgery, and has gotten a measly 77 combined games from David Wright and Lucas Duda. Factor in that deadline-acquisition Jay Bruce has done virtually nothing since arriving in the Big Apple (and Collins recently benched him due to his struggles), and it’s a wonder how the Mets are even at .500, let alone atop the Wild Card standings. Provided they squeak into the Wild Card game on October 5, it’s time Collins gets his due that eluded him in 2015.

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