A Rundown of the Awards Races

The Major League season ends in about five weeks, which means that voting members of the BBWAA will have to submit their awards ballots during that same time period. While there isn’t any award that is going to be as divisive as last year’s AL MVP — thankfully — race, there are some interesting decisions to be made this year. So, let’s do a quick rundown of where we stand now, and who the leading contenders are as we head down the stretch.

AL MVP

This is Miguel Cabrera‘s award to lose, and it will be kind of shocking if he does. He’s having one of the great offensive seasons in the history of baseball, his team is in first place, and he excels at the things that the writers have historically placed a lot of value on. Barring a collapse in September, Cabrera is a very heavy favorite to win his second straight AL MVP, and this time, there’s not likely to be a significant outcry from the sabermetric community.

However, I wouldn’t say this thing is completely over yet, as Chris Davis could potentially take the vote away from Cabrera with a monstrous final month that pushes the Orioles into the postseason. While Cabrera has a huge lead over Chris Davis in WAR, Davis actually leads the big leagues in WPA, which means he’s going to get a significant “clutch” bonus from voters who have seen those big clutch hits on the highlight reel. In high leverage situations, Davis has destroyed Cabrera with a .515 to .351 advantage in wOBA, and while voters won’t use those exact numbers, there is a context-specific argument to be made in favor of Chris Davis’ season.

If this continues over the next month, and Davis hits a few more big spot homers while Cabrera’s production mostly comes earlier in games or in situations where the lead isn’t changing hands, there will be voters on Davis’ side. If he finishes ahead in both HRs and RBIs, he’s going to get a not insignificant portion of the electorate to make the “where would the Orioles be without him” argument. So, yeah, this one isn’t over yet.

Mike Trout, of course, has no chance. His team is terrible, and he’s not that far ahead of Cabrera this year, so there simply won’t be a huge groundswell of support for him even if he leads the league in WAR for the second straight year. He’ll probably finish third on a lot of ballots, but the lack of first place votes might even end up pushing him out of the top three in the final tally.

The NL MVP

Unlike the AL, this is a bit more of a horse race, with a lot of contenders of various size and shape. Paul Goldschmidt is the traditional candidate, except his team probably won’t make the playoffs. Andrew McCutchen is probably the classic “SABR” candidate, in that he’s a star who is good at everything rather than great at any one thing, and fits the up-the-middle-hitter mold that statistical types tend to prefer. Joey Votto is the best hitter on a team likely to make the postseason, but the lack of RBIs will keep him from getting serious consideration from the voters. Yadier Molina is a fascinating option due to his combination of offense and elite defense, but nine homers and 58 RBIs as we head towards September makes him a longshot.

So, with no clear frontrunner among the position players, the leader in the pack may be a pitcher. By RA9-WAR, Kershaw’s +7.3 is more than a win ahead of any NL position player, and he’s the best player on a team headed for the postseason. Kershaw’s FIP doesn’t support the runs allowed, but he’s pretty well established as a guy who beats his FIP at this point, so no one’s likely to decide that the credit for his run prevention should go to the Dodgers defense instead of Kershaw himself.

When Justin Verlander won the AL MVP in 2011, he had an RA9-WAR of +9.2. Kershaw might end up a little shy of that, primarily because he won’t throw as many innings as Verlander did, but the run prevention is so good and no other position player has made an impenetrable case, so I think we’re likely to see a pitcher win the MVP for the second time in three years. Barring a September fade, Kershaw seems to be the strongest candidate, even if voters don’t really like giving the award to a pitcher. This year, the pitcher is so good that he’s made himself the easy choice.

The AL Cy Young

This one is probably not as close as it should be, thanks to Max Scherzer‘s 18-1 record. By RA9-WAR, Hiroki Kuroda, Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, and Scherzer are all within half a win of each other, with Scherzer actually behind those three in the tally. He beats Kuroda and Darvish in FIP, but even there, he’s behind Felix. This should be a four way sprint to the finish, with the last few weeks of the season determining the winner.

However, this is Scherzer’s award to lose. Voters might not put all of the stock on win-loss record anymore, but I don’t see the electorate ignoring it entirely, and I would imagine there will be a lot of voters who decide that anything even close to a tie goes to the guy with the huge advantage in wins. You can make a case for any of the three non-Scherzer candidates, but unless one of them has a monster September and Scherzer gets hung with a few losses, he’s very likely going to come out on top at the end.

The NL Cy Young

This one’s over. Kershaw could get injured tomorrow, not take the hill again for the rest of the year, and he’d still win easily. Matt Harvey might get a vote or two, but this one’s not going to be close. Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and there isn’t really much of a case for anyone else.

The AL Rookie of the Year

This is maybe the saddest batch of contenders in recent history. Even the guy who is listed at #1 on our rookie leaderboard (Yan Gomes) isn’t actually a rookie, as he got too much service time in prior years to qualify. So, in the end, I think it probably comes down to a couple of Tampa Bay Rays who spent the first chunk of the year in the minors: Wil Myers and Chris Archer. Myers didn’t get called up until mid-June, but he’s been excellent since reaching Tampa, and if he finishes strong, he’ll likely win the award.

Archer, though, could give him a bit of a push. He’s going to end the year with over 100 innings pitched and his ERA currently sits under 3.00, which is a combination that will appeal to voters. The fact that his ERA is BABIP-driven and he plays for the alway-shifting Rays means that his case isn’t exactly rock solid, but he’ll provide an alternative to voters who might not like Myers case for some reason.

Either way, this one is very likely going to end up in Tampa.

The NL Rookie of the Year

This is where all the good rookies are. Unlike the AL, there are no shortage of terrific candidates, and you could make a strong case for a number of different premium rookies. The leader in the pack is probably Jose Fernandez, but recent reports suggest he’s going to get shut down in the first week of September due to an innings limit, which could open the door for Yasiel Puig, Julio Teheran, or Hyun-Jin Ryu to get the majority of the first place votes.

With so many good candidates, it’s unlikely that anyone wins decisively, and Fernandez not playing for most of September will hurt him. However, he’s half a run ahead of the other pitchers in ERA, and that might end up being enough of a gap even if he falls behind in innings pitched. Puig is probably the real threat, given his propensity for the spectacular, and a big finish down the stretch could earn him enough attention to pass Fernandez by the end of the year.

This is a case where there probably isn’t a wrong answer, though. All of these guys have been great, and they all have bright futures. There are no Bob Hamelins here.

The AL Manager of the Year

This is really the “guy in charge of the team that did better than the media thought they would” award, so this is probably John Farrell in a landslide. The Red Sox were basically an afterthought following last year’s problems, and so many words were spilled on their poor clubhouse culture and the off field problems that the players had with management. None of that has shown up this year, so Farrell will be given credit for fixing the problems, along with guiding Boston to the playoffs with a team full of undervalued players.

Bob Melvin might get some consideration too, challenging for the AL West title despite having a roster of cast-offs, but the A’s were good last year too, which will count against him. Which is silly, but that’s how this goes.

The NL Manager of the Year

Clint Hurdle, come on down! You’re going to finish the year with a winning record and likely a playoff berth, things the city of Pittsburgh hasn’t seen in decades, and you’re doing it with a team that wasn’t expected to be particularly great. Fredi Gonzalez and Don Mattingly have too much talent on their teams to win an award like this, so Hurdle is the clear choice. He won’t get every vote, but he might come close.

Oh, and for those wondering, here’s who I would pick at this stage:

AL MVP: Cabrera
NL MVP: Kershaw
AL CY: Hernandez
NL CY: Kershaw
AL ROY: Myers
NL ROY: Fernandez
AL MOY: Maddon
NL MOY: Hurdle



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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leeroy
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leeroy

“AL MOY: Madden”

As in John Madden?

Steve 1
Guest
Steve 1

Don’t be a twat.

leeroy
Guest
leeroy

sorry, thanks for the even less insightful feedback

Jake
Guest
Jake

In case that was actually a serious question, it’s Joe Maddon, Rays manager. Most agree he is far and away the best manager in baseball.

Hank
Guest
Hank

woah woah woah, really? that is something that most people agree on? i dunno about that. managerial stuff is really hard to quantify, and maddon is such a weird dude (see: python in clubhouse, etc.) that the qualitative stuff that people are often evaluated on is pretty divisive. meaning there’s just as many people who hate him as love him, and i don’t think there’s a lot of agreement on either side.

buddaley
Guest
buddaley

There is nothing “weird” about Joe Maddon. It is a term used, often by unimaginative or conventional thinkers, to represent someone who is inventive or thoughtful or unconventional.

Maddon brings a sense of fun to the game. He is playful and encourages his players to express their eccentricities without fear of humiliation. Whether there are deeper reasons for his unusual gimmicks really doesn’t matter. There may be, probably are, but they would not be weird even if they had no other purpose than to be amusing.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar

“Hate” Maddon? Name one person besides you, Hank.
And, in this case, the fact that Maddon is the best manager can be quantified. He has been far and away the leader in wins per salary dollar for 6 years now.

Luke Hochevar
Guest
Luke Hochevar

Maddon employs shifts that others have emulated, but not as successful as the Rays. Maddon also batted batted Carlos Pena leadoff, even though he is slower than dirt and had an average south of .220. However, Pena’s OBP was .350+. Any other managers in baseball doing that?

He plays splits and platoons better than anyone. Loney, K Johnson, Sean Rod, Joyce, and Ryan Roberts are all platoon players (Loney no longer is because of his success against lefties). The clubhouse stuff the players seem to enjoy. At least he enjoys it.

Inappropriate
Guest
Inappropriate

“See: python in clubhouse, etc.”

He would hardly be the first to do that. See: Adam “the big donkey” Dunn.

mch38
Member
mch38

“God dammit Leeroy” -World of Warcraft Nerd (2005)

Richard J
Guest
Richard J

I heard a baseball person on the radio say that if he were a free agent, he would look at Maddon’s exploits and just say no, that python was just too much…but when is Tampa Bay ever going to sign a free agent???

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