Now that the regular season is finally in the books, time to bestow baseball‘s biggest individual prizes. It took one extra day to sort out the playoff bracket, but these debates have been underway for weeks.
Christian Yelich seems a cinch for NL MVP, but is it Mookie Betts or Boston teammate J.D. Martinez in the American League?
Jacob deGrom or Max Scherzer for the NL Cy Young Award?
Shohei Ohtani or Miguel Andujar for AL Rookie of the Year?
Martinez has been a monster at the plate in his first season with the Red Sox after signing a $110 million, five-year contract. He launched 43 home runs and led the majors with 130 RBIs. He compiled a 1.031 OPS and hit .330, finishing second to Betts (.346) in the batting race.
All big reasons why Boston had the best record in baseball at 108-54.
Hitting at the top of the order, Betts had 32 homers, 80 RBIs, 129 runs and a whopping 1.078 OPS.
But on defense and the bases, it’s no comparison. Martinez started 57 games in the outfield but 93 at designated hitter. Betts, a sensational defender, started 115 games in right field and 13 in center. Plus, he stole 30 bases in 36 attempts.
All those elite skills. That’s why he led the majors in wins above replacement with 10.9 (per baseball-reference.com).
“I’d vote for Betts,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “The impact that he has defensively is what sets him over the top for me. I told people, he’s the best right fielder I’ve ever seen. He makes plays that people in the stands don’t realize are not routine. Throws well. Steals a base when he needs to. He’s special.”
Angels star Mike Trout merits his annual look, along with Houston third baseman Alex Bregman, Cleveland infielder Jose Ramirez and Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
But in the end, Betts is the clear winner after being runner-up to Trout two years ago.
Voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is conducted before the postseason opener Tuesday night, and results will be announced in November.
Here are our selections for the other top awards:
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP: With a huge second half, Yelich practically carried Milwaukee to an NL Central championship and the best record in the league during his first season with the team. He came within a wisp of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in the National League since Joe “Ducky” Medwick in 1937. Yelich won the batting title with a .326 average and had 36 homers to go with 110 RBIs, 118 runs, 22 steals in 26 tries and a 1.000 OPS that led the league by a wide margin. He came through with three hits and an RBI as the Brewers beat the Cubs 3-1 on Monday in a one-game tiebreaker for the division crown at Wrigley Field.
That’s how MVP awards are won, and this election won’t be close. Could be unanimous.
“Down the stretch, he’s been willing that team it seems like. One night it’s the cycle, one night it’s a homer late, another night he walks five times. I think it’s Yelly,” said Don Mattingly, manager of the Miami Marlins team that traded Yelich last offseason.
AL CY YOUNG: Young lefty Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays wins with a 21-5 record and league-leading 1.89 ERA in 180 2/3 innings. But it should be a tighter vote than projected. The guy getting overlooked a bit is Houston ace Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52), who had a lower WHIP than Snell in 214 innings. Verlander struck out a league-high 290 hitters and walked only 37. Incredible.
NY CY YOUNG: At one point late in the season, this was a close and compelling three-way race between deGrom, Scherzer and Aaron Nola. And then deGrom left everyone in the dust, finishing with a major league-low 1.70 ERA in 217 innings. His pedestrian 10-9 record for a struggling New York Mets team that provided little support? Pretty irrelevant.
Nola tailed off a bit with Philadelphia and went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA and 224 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings. Scherzer, winner of two consecutive NL Cy Young Awards with Washington and the 2013 AL prize for Detroit, was 18-7 with a 2.53 ERA in 220 2/3 innings. He struck out 300 batters, 31 more than deGrom, but also gave up 13 more home runs.
“I would say it’s still pretty close,” Mattingly said. “I’m probably like everybody else, because I’m kind of like, what Jacob’s doing is incredible, you know? Max, too, but Max has done it so many times. So I think deGrom wins it.”
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Maybe the toughest award to dissect, because one of the top candidates was a two-way player for a while. How much of a boost does Ohtani get for the 10 starts he made on the mound before his elbow injury put pitching on hold? The Japanese star went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. Not to mention he batted .285 with 22 homers, 61 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and a whopping .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a designated hitter. Pretty much unprecedented.
Meanwhile, the steady Andujar hit .297 with 27 homers, 92 RBIs and an .855 OPS in 149 games as the everyday third baseman for a Yankees team that made the playoffs. Hard to compare.
Ohtani wasn’t on the field all that much, but hey, it’s not an MVP award. Picking him seems more fun.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Another close call. The impressive numbers for 20-year-old Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and 19-year-old Washington slugger Juan Soto are remarkably similar. Acuna earns a slight edge for his speed and defense. “For me, just seeing Acuna straight up, I think he had a bigger impact on that club,” Mattingly said.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: So difficult to choose between Oakland’s Bob Melvin and Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash. They both did a masterful job despite a low payroll and little starting pitching. Melvin piloted the Athletics (97-65) to a surprise playoff berth, while the Rays somehow went 90-72 in a division that included the Red Sox and Yankees. Take a look at the two rosters, though. And while the A’s were adding help at the trade deadline, Tampa Bay was selling off veterans. So by the slimmest of margins, it’s Cash.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Craig Counsell was our pick from a competitive field last year, even though Milwaukee fell short of the playoffs. He received three first-place votes but came in fourth. An often-overlooked Counsell gets the nod this time after the Brewers won their final eight regular-season games to finish 96-67 and overtake the favored Cubs in the NL Central. A close second is Brian Snitker, the 62-year-old skipper who did a wonderful job in guiding the Baby Braves to a surprise NL East title.
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