The season is winding down and soon the Cy Young and MVP awards will be tallied. The 60-game season has produced a few surprises, but as with every season, there are the usual familiar faces who are gunning for the awards.
MVP in the American League
1) Luke Voit
Voit, who was selected in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, struggled in St. Louis before being dealt to the Bronx in exchange for a reliever. After a highly successful 2018 season, Voit cooled off a bit, but has come roaring back in 2020. Currently, Voit leads the league in home runs and slugging percentage. However, his defensive skills at first base are suspect, so his high level of offensive production will have to continue in order to receive enough MVP votes.
2) Mike Trout
No discussion of an MVP race would be complete without the always impressive Mike Trout. The Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder has won the award three times, and has finished second three times. Trout is currently tied with four other players for the lead in home runs. However, his WAR rating is nowhere near the top, perhaps owing to his low batting average of .276. Trout will likely rebound and finish with a batting average that is closer to his career average.
3) Brandon Lowe
So far this season, Lowe has succeeded far beyond the expectations of a second baseman. Typically, second basemen do not display frequent flashes of power, and yet Lowe has accumulated a total of 10 home runs, which places him among the league leaders. In addition, he is currently sixth in WAR for American League players, and that statistic will likely improve as he raises his batting average.
4) D.J. LaMaheiu
Luke Voit may have company in a contest of who can be the most valuable Yankee. Before he joined the Yankees in 2019, LaMaheiu was known as a light-hitting infielder who struggled to post adequate power numbers. Since then, under the tutelage of the Yankees’ hitting coach, he nearly doubled his typical home run total. The one statistic that may propel LeMahieu towards earning the MVP trophy is his excellent ability to make contact. In the past 80 years, only one player has finished the season with an average above .400. LaMaheiu may very well accomplish this feat, as his batting average currently stands at .392. LaMaheiu’s skills extend beyond the plate, as well. The 31-year-old has won the Gold Glove Award three times and commits very few errors. Ultimately, the key to winning the MVP award may be his ability to stay healthy.
5) Nelson Cruz
Rounding out the list is veteran Nelson Cruz, who at 39 years old is having perhaps his best season. The six-time All Star is leading the American League in OPS and has accumulated a league-leading 13 home runs. However, despite his batting skills, he remains a liability in the outfield.
Cy Young in the American League
1) Shane Beiber
Beiber entered the league at age 23 and was considered a disappointment. However, his stats have slowly improved, and now at age 25 he is leading the league in ERA, wins, and strikeouts. This places him in conversation for the pitching Triple Crown. This distinction is more common than the hitting Triple Crown, but it hasn’t been accomplished since 2011. Of course, due to the shortened season, the sample size for Beiber’s accomplishments is small. He will in all likelihood have a few below-average starts during the rest of the season.
2) Dallas Keuchel
Keuchel’s journey in the majors was marred by inconsistency in his earlier years, but he finally achieved a Cy Young award in 2015 at the age of 27. He is now a seasoned veteran, and has a salary that reflects his performance on the mound. The two-time All-Star, who is now with the Chicago White Sox, is third in the league with a 2.42 ERA. However, his WAR rating is only average, due to the fact that he is not a strikeout pitcher.
3) Lance Lynn
Lynn is currently in his ninth major league season and has played for four teams. He has been a reliable workhorse in the past seven seasons, but now in 2020 has progressed into an elite pitcher. He is currently second in the American League in ERA, but his team has not taken advantage of his pitching, and he only has four wins. In addition, his walk total is the highest among any of the Cy Young contenders.
4) Kenta Maeda
The Japanese import signed with the Minnesota Twins prior to the start of the 2019 season, and this year he has progressed from an average pitcher into a #1 starter. Control of the strike zone is key to Maeda’s game, and his low walk total is the reason why he is in discussion for the Cy Young award. It is possible, however, that he will regress somewhat as the season winds to a close.
5) Zack Greinke
Greinke has come a long way since the disastrous beginning to his career. As a young prospect, Greinke led the league in losses in his second season, with some describing him as a bust. However, Greinke persevered, and has provided consistent, steady production over the course of his 15-year career. Now with Houston, Greinke is near the league lead in ERA, but has a shockingly low win total. This is mainly due to Houston’s ineffective bullpen, which often blows the leads that Greinke establishes early in the game. Because of his age, it is likely that this is his last shot at another Cy Young award.
MVP in the National League
1) Fernando Tatis Jr.
The son of a major leaguer who played for six different teams, Fernando Tatis Jr. has far surpassed the career production of his father. Tatis Jr. is only 21 years old and is playing in his second season, yet he is among the league leaders in home runs and RBI. Adding to this, Tatis Jr. has a propensity to walk frequently, which should add to his OPS metric. However, it remains to be seen whether the young slugger can continue his high production once teams become fully aware of his weaknesses.
2) Juan Soto
Like Fernando Tatis Jr., Soto is only 21 years old. In his first year in the majors in 2018, Soto finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Since then, his production has steadily improved. In 2020, the outfielder is leading the league in slugging percentage at .750. In addition, Soto is skilled at working the count in his favor and is among the league leaders in walks. However, his aggressiveness in hitting results in a high strikeout percentage at the plate.
3) Mike Yastrzemski
Yastrzemski, who is the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, has emerged as a Cinderella story this year. The Massachusetts native is 29 years old, yet he only began his professional MLB career last year. This year, he is near the league lead in WAR, while posting an OPS above 1.000. He is also a dependable workhorse, and has played more games this year than any other player. Whether or not his performance is a fluke remains to be seen.
4) Mookie Betts
The 2018 MVP has dominated the league so far, and leads the league in WAR. Betts was the subject of controversy several years ago when he was traded by the Boston Red Sox to his current team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the time, many commentators considered the trade to be lopsided in the Dodgers’ favor. Some thought his performance might drop, but Betts so far has quieted the naysayers. Betts excels in all facets of the game, and is a perennial candidate for both the Gold Glove award and the Silver Slugger award.
5) Manny Machado
The four-time all star is having his best season in 2020. He has posted career highs in both batting average and slugging percentage. Due to his solid defense, Machado ranks fourth in the National League in WAR. He is also tied for ninth with 11 home runs. However, this type of production is to be expected, since he is in the top 10 in terms of salary. An MVP award would fulfill the potential that the San Diego Padres’ ownership saw in him.
Cy Young in the National League
1) Yu Darvish
At 33 years old, Darvish is having his best season. He leads the league in both ERA and wins. The most impressive thing about Darvish’s season is his extremely low walk total. In addition, he has surrendered only two home runs throughout the course of the season. Darvish is nearing the age when a pitcher’s decline starts to happen, but the three-time all star will likely stay in high form if he avoids giving up home runs.
2) Jacob deGrom
If one considers his overall stats since he entered the league, deGrom could be seen as one of the greatest pitchers of all time. This season, he is third in the league in ERA and second in strikeouts. However, as is the case with most Mets’ pitchers, deGrom has not been fortunate enough to have adequate run support. He has won the Cy Young award the past two seasons, and it is likely that he will receive a third award once the votes are counted.
3) Max Fried
Fried has sought to repeat the success of the Atlanta Braves’ pitchers of the 1990s. So far, at the age of 26, he seems to have a promising career ahead of him. He currently leads the league in wins and is second in ERA. However, his walk total is troubling, and he will likely regress somewhat as the season comes to a close.
4) Zac Gallen
Like Fried, Gallen is a young pitcher who has hit his stride in 2020. Gallen’s 2019 season was marred by injuries, but he has remained healthy throughout the season, and he leads the league in innings pitched. However, despite his success he only has a single win. Cy Young voters normally include win totals when determining who should win the award, so unless he wins all of his remaining starts, he will probably finish third or fourth in total voting.
5) Trever Bauer
Bauer has underachieved throughout his career, with a career ERA over 4.00. His only dominant season was in 2018, but in 2020 he appears to have recaptured the ability to be a #1 starter. Bauer’s primary strength is his ability to go deep into ball games, and he leads the league in pitching shutouts. His young age should be an indication that he won’t regress in the final month of the season.
Final analysis: Unlike the 1990s and the early 2000s, the measurements for success in baseball go far beyond batting average, home runs, and RBI. Usually, the WAR statistic is what garners players recognition and awards. Sluggers like Luke Voit and Nelson Cruz may not even finish in the top 5 in MVP voting because of their slowness on the base paths and in the field. There is a chance however that their batting averages will boost their WAR, but the defensive wizards Mookie Betts and Mike Trout will remain the front runners. As far as pitching is concerned, low win totals will keep pitchers out of the conversation for the Cy Young Award. The hitters of the pitchers’ teams will have to perform better and contribute to win several games in a row. Finally, for both pitchers and hitters, the win totals of the players’ teams will factor into the votes for the awards. DJ LaMaheiu and Luke Voit of the Yankees will likely receive votes because their team has a winning record. However, a player like Mike Trout, who plays for a last-place team, will unfortunately be kept out of the conversation when the final votes are tallied. It seems that the old adage about winning being more important than individual performance applies even to player awards.
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