Oh, October baseball and MLB Awards Season. Don’t try and snow me that the 2019 NFL season differs in excitement from any of the previous, like, 10 seasons. I’ll save you the suspense right now – the Patriots are going to be in the Super Bowl, the Dolphins are going 1-15 at best, the Redskins will be bad as long as Dan Snyder owns them, and concussions will at worst remain the same if they don’t spike. The real excitement is crowning this year’s MLB champion, and then finding out who takes home the individual hardware a few weeks later.
Let’s dive in further and I’ll give you my ballot for each significant award:
American League Rookie of the Year
3. John Means, Orioles
2. Eloy Jimenez, White Sox
1. Yordan Alvarez, Astros
When Alvarez took the league by storm this summer, this award looked like a runaway. But give Jimenez the nod for one helluva September, as he is third in the Majors in hits in the month of September. He also leads Alvarez in homers, 30-27, and has played 119 games to just 82 for Alvarez.
The separator here is Alvarez’s big advantage in batting average (.325 to .267) and OPS (1.099 to .825). Some will scoff at Alvarez’s smaller sample size, plus the fact that he has the benefit of tons of protection in one of baseball’s best lineups, but it’s hard to ignore the crazy hot stretches he had during the summer. Alvarez also has more extra base hits (52 to 49) in 37 fewer games.
Means was Baltimore’s lone All-Star, and even though that was essentially a charity selection, he has had a tremendous rookie campaign for a historically-bad pitching staff. Means leads all rookies in wins (11) and ERA (3.54) while making 26 starts (30 appearances total) and facing fearsome lineups in the American League East.
National League Rookie of the Year
3. Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres
2. Mike Soroka, Braves
1. Peter Alonso, Mets
This was shaping up to be quite a race until Tatis was shut down with an injury in mid-August. Alonso has 51 home runs as a rookie, which might as well be the equivalent of 3,000 hits as it relates to getting a player into the Hall of Fame. Surpassing Aaron Judge’s record of 52 in 2017 is very much within reach this final week, and Alonso has bounced back from a post-All Star game slump to help the Mets stay afloat for much of September.
Tatis was having a stellar campaign, batting .317 with 22 homers, 53 RBI, and 16 stolen bases in 84 games. He actually has a better OPS than Alonso (.969 to .940), but alas, his season was cut down in its prime.
Soroka should be the runner-up because of how good and how valuable he has been for the NL East-winning Braves. At 13-4 with a 2.60 ERA, Soroka not only leads all MLB rookies in wins and ERA (he trails only 2019 Cy Young candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu and 2018 Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom in ERA), he is also in the top 10 in the National League in those two categories, as well as WHIP.
American League Manager of the Year
3. Aaron Boone, Yankees
2. Kevin Cash, Rays
1. Rocco Baldelli, Twins
One beef I have with this award is how formulaic it has become. Essentially, it is always just given to the manager who leads the lowest-budget or least-expected team to the playoffs. Admittedly, it is hard to quantify managerial success, probably more so than any other of the major four pro sports. But it stands to reason that Baldelli is the frontrunner.
Not that this is a problem, because Baldelli has squeezed every ounce of success and then some out of a Twins team that has tasted October only once since 2010. They are fun to watch, setting — along with just about every other MLB team, it seems — the new home run standard, and possibly winning 100 games despite some question marks on their pitching staff.
I kind of hate putting Boone on this list because it feels like any Joe Blow could manage the Yankees with that kind of talent, but you do have to give some credit to him for navigating an unprecedented amount of injuries to key players this year. That said, more credit is merited for Cash for proving that last year’s 90-win season for the Rays was no fluke, deftly moving pieces around like no one else and getting close to 100 wins and a possible postseason berth for a franchise that hasn’t been since 2013.
3. Brian Snitker, Braves
2. Mike Shildt, Cardinals
1. Craig Counsell, Brewers
It’s finally time for Counsell to get his due recognition. Leading the Brewers to the NL’s best record a year ago wasn’t enough, but a scalding-hot finish and subsequent playoff berth in the absence of Christian Yelich in 2019 should do the trick. Counsell has also navigated some other key injuries, especially in the bullpen with Corey Knebel.
Shildt helped steer the Cardinals back to the playoffs after a three-year absence, as the team turned it around after a very sluggish first half. Snitker gets a vote here over Dave Martinez because I still think the Nationals, on paper, should be just as good as they are if not better, and the Braves are dealing with legitimate expectations for the first time in this new era of Atlanta baseball.
American League Cy Young
3. Charlie Morton, Rays
2. Gerrit Cole, Astros
1. Justin Verlander, Astros
Somewhere, the Red Sox are thinking to themselves, “wow, we took out a team that had all three of these guys in five games last October.” That’s right, because all three likely finalists were teammates in 2018, with Morton departing for Tampa Bay in free agency this past offseason.
Morton’s inclusion at number three is debatable, as All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber has comparable numbers, but Morton’s successes have carried much more weight for a Rays team that does not have a traditional five- or even four-man rotation. But the real debate starts at the top.
Can you go wrong picking either Astros ace? I don’t think you can (although Kate Upton would probably disagree, even if in a lesser manner than in 2016). Verlander (20-6, 2.53 ERA) gets the nod over Cole (19-5, 2.52 ERA) in my opinion because not only does he have a no-hitter under his belt in 2019, he holds the edge over his teammate in wins, innings pitched (217.0 to 207.1), hits per 9 IP (5.52 to 5.99), batting average against (.172 to .186), and WHIP (0.81 to 0.89), while trailing by a single point in the ERA department. Cole’s biggest argument for this award would be his massive lead in strikeouts (316 to 288), so it will be interesting to see how much weight that carries for voters in this era of all-or-nothing hitters.
National League Cy Young
3. Jack Flaherty, Cardinals
2. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
1. Jacob deGrom, Mets
This was by far the most difficult ballot to cast, because I think you can make a case for at least five NL pitchers to win the award, so it stinks to omit a couple of names even from the top three. But that’s how level the playing field is in the Senior Circuit.
Flaherty’s numbers in August and September have been absolutely mind-boggling, reminiscent of Jake Arrieta’s run in 2015. The 23-year-old is 6-2 with a 0.97 ERA since the start of August, allowing just seven earned runs in 75 innings, allowing a paltry 34 hits while whiffing 94 batters. His overall WHIP is 0.99, trailing only deGrom by two points.
Ryu looked like a runaway for this award the way his season started, but a very rough August (1-3, 7.48 ERA in four starts) set him back big time. He’s rebounded nicely in September, but his overall numbers have been slightly eclipsed by deGrom, the 2018 winner.
Although Ryu holds a very slight edge in wins (13 to 11) and ERA (2.41 to 2.43), deGrom is tops in other critical departments. He is second in the league in innings pitched to only Madison Bumgarner, who is not in consideration, with 204. He leads the NL in strikeouts (255) and WHIP (0.97), while also ranking fourth in H/9 IP (6.79) and K/BB ratio (5.80).
As difficult as it was, I had to omit Nationals teammates Max Scherzer, who missed nearly a month with a back strain, and Stephen Strasburg, who is tied for the NL lead with 17 wins. Scherzer (243) and Strasburg (241) are second and third, respectively, in the NL in strikeouts, with Scherzer posting a ridiculous, league-leading 12.69 K/9 IP ratio. Still, the time off for Scherzer hurts his case, as does Strasburg’s 11th-ranked ERA of 3.37.
American League MVP
3. Alex Bregman, Astros
2. D.J. LeMahieu, Yankees
1. Mike Trout, Angels
Another tough one to pick, if only because of Trout’s injury that wiped out just about all of September. But I feel like, if nothing else, Trout should not only be commended for being the shining star on a bad team, but rewarded for having to see his talents basically wasted during these lean years in Anaheim.
Let’s start with the others first, though. Bregman has become a bona fide star and I’d have much less of an issue with him winning this award than when he took home the 2018 All-Star Game MVP hardware (it should have been Jean Segura). A-Breg has played in 152 games in a year when the Astros’ lineup has seen most of its key players miss at least some time with injuries. His 40 home runs are tied for second in the AL and his 1.016 OPS ranks third, and he tops the Junior Circuit with 112 walks while striking out a mere 81 times during this MLB-wide strikeout epidemic.
The real race, in my opinion, is between LeMahieu and Trout. LeMahieu has been the most consistent, steady player in baseball this year, all the more shocking considering he signed with the Yankees despite not being guaranteed a starting role. He may fall short in his quest to become the first player in MLB history to win undisputed batting titles in both leagues, but he has a legitimate beef for this award even without eye-popping numbers. For a Yankees team with a historic rash of injuries in 2019, LeMahieu has played 142 games across three infield positions and ranks second in the AL in batting average (.328) while also reaching the top ten in hits (3rd, 194), runs scored (T-8th, 108), on-base percentage (10th, .376). He has been a table-setter all year for the AL’s highest-scoring team.
In the end, however, Trout will and should win this award for the third time in his Hall of Fame-caliber career. No matter what happens, Trout will finish in the top four of MVP voting for the eighth (!) consecutive season. Despite playing only 134 games after a foot injury ended his year early, Trout is still tied atop the AL in home runs (45) while pacing the Junior Circuit in OBP (.439), slugging (.645), and OPS (1.083). I’m not big on sabermetrics whatsoever, but pundits will also point to Trout’s AL-leading 8.3 Wins Above Replacement, trailing only cross-town counterpart Cody Bellinger among all MLB players. Trout is also doing this with minimal to zero lineup protection, while LeMahieu has been batting in front of Aaron Judge for a good portion of the season.
National League MVP
3. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
2. Christian Yelich, Brewers
1. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
If anyone has any issue with my ballot here, it should be the 2-3 spots rather than picking Rendon to take home the trophy. I think people will use Yelich missing most of September with a knee injury against him, and the fact that the Brewers’ massive playoff surge has happened without him. But you also can’t ignore just how much Bellinger’s numbers have fallen off since an other-worldly start to the 2019 season.
In the end, “Tony Two Bags” may need a better nickname, because he has been one of the NL’s elite position players in 2019. One of the quietest players in the big leagues is having the loudest season of his stellar career, helping turn around an ominous start for the Nets and guiding them to their fifth postseason berth in the last eight years. I’m going to ignore Bellinger’s MLB-leading WAR here and point out that the Dodgers have coasted for half of the season while Rendon has exploded in the second half for a team that didn’t appear to have realistic playoff hopes at the All-Star break.
Let’s start with the big numbers. Rendon (.322) is hitting 21 points higher than Bellinger. While Bellinger has the big home run edge (46 to 34), Rendon has driven in 124 runs to Bellinger’s 114 despite the fact that the Dodgers have a deeper lineup than the Nats. Their OPS numbers are similar (Bellinger 1.025, Rendon 1.013), but Rendon has more doubles (43 to 33) and hits (173 to 166).
By now you might be asking, well if you’re comparing Rendon to Bellinger here, why didn’t you pick Bellinger to finish second? Because once again, Yelich was the showstopper for the Brewers, even if he isn’t around for this September run. He has a sizable lead over everyone in OPS (1.100) while also leading the NL in OBP (.429) and slugging (.671). He is tied for the NL lead in batting average (.329) and is tied for third with 30 stolen bases. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Yelich taking home this award, but I fear the voters will hold his 130 games played against him, not to mention the team’s stunning success in his absence.
These are all going to be fantastic races, with no real runaways except for maybe NL Rookie of the Year. I wouldn’t have any issue with any of my picks being wrong, except maybe the Manager of the Year awards. Stay tuned for mid-November!