It’s that time of year – the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and there’s still snow blanketing the northeastern United States. Spring training in is wrapping up in Arizona and Florida and teams are trading in grapefruits and cactuses for the friendly confines of ballparks and back offices.
What does it all mean? Baseball is back! With that said, let’s get into an advanced look at the awards races. I love the MLB individual player awards.
In the NBA – the MVP is really the only award that matters. Backcourt and frontcourt players, alike, are in legitimate contention for the award but there are really only 7 or 8 guys that have a shot. Likewise, in the NFL the MVP carries the most weight and the OPOY and DPOY carry some weight. The NFL MVP is basically a quarterback award at this point. QBs are the most valuable guys on most teams, they touch the ball every play and it’s reflected in their salary as a percentage of the cap. Maybe I’ll write a future post about this but the NFL needs to tweak their awards to separate QB from others.
In the MLB you have MVPs and CY Youngs in both leagues, leading to 4 players receiving highly weighted honors. Only 4 guys win these awards but virtually every player and position group (maybe aside for relievers) is in serious contention. You only need to look back a few years to see that Jose Altuve (2nd Base) and Buster Posey (catcher) won MVPs alongside the Mike Trout’s and Nolan Arenado’s (Outfield and 3rd Base) of the league. See below for some predictions:
Mike Trout – The only thing that held Trout back from a top 2 finish in the 2017 MVP voting was the torn ligament that kept him out for a quarter of the season. In 114 games, Trout smacked 33 homers, scored 92 runs, knocked in 72 RBIs, and stole 22 bases. He did all this while putting up a .306/.442/.629 slash line. This fantastic ¾ of a season translated to a WAR of 6.7. If he put up those stats all year his WAR likely would have been higher than Altuve’s 8.3 WAR and I would wager the Angels would have overtaken the Twins for the 2nd AL wildcard spot. All of this is to say that Trout is the best player in baseball and I believe he will be capturing his 3rd MVP during his Age-27 season, officially entering his prime and building his case as one of the all-time greats
AL Cy Young
Chris Sale – Sale appeared to have the award in the bag last year before he faded towards the end of the season. Sale led the league in Innings, Strikeouts, and K/9. This, unfortunately, is not a sustainable combination as it implies Sale throws longer and harder than others. This will be the year Sale pushes it over the line and takes home the AL Cy Young. Alex Cora, eager to deliver a strong first season at the helm of the Red Sox, should manage Sale’s innings more closely to avoid an end of season collapse. With less strain on his arm, Sale will sail through his Age-29 season en route to some offseason hardware.
Nolan Arenado – I am not sure if Arenado will actually win the NL MVP, but I do know last year’s MVP will NOT repeat. While we were all focusing on the NFL playoffs, Derek Jeter traded Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees. Yes, former Yankee Derek Jeter traded the reigning NL MVP to the team he played for his whole career, and for 50 cents on the dollar, no less! Starlin Castro is a solid middle of the order guy (on this Marlins team) but the two prospects in the deal do not rate very highly. This is a far cry from the king’s ransom of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech that landed in Chicago last winter as part of the Chris Sale deal. Also, FYI, Derek Jeter kind of runs the Marlins now…
Back to Arenado: Nolan’s career is trending up. His WAR numbers over the last 4 years are 2.9, 4.7, 5.3, and 5.6. Those are some impressive numbers considering he hasn’t turned 26 yet. Arenado has room to grow despite scoring 100 runs, hitting 37 HRs, knocking in 130 RBIs, and hitting .306 last year. Playing half his games at Coors field, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Arenado bopped 50 or more dingers this year and earned MVP accolades.
NL Cy Young
Clayton Kershaw – Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw have combined to win 5 of the last 7 NL Cy Young awards. Since Scherzer’s won the last two I think Kershaw will have the extra motivation to bring it this year. Kershaw also got robbed by the advanced analytics crowd; sometimes, I think we over think things. Kershaw was the best pitcher on a team that won 104 games. He went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA, the second lowest ERA in the majors behind AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Still squarely in his prime at 30 years old, Kershaw brings the award home this year and further cements his legacy as one of the all-time greats. With his fourth win, Kershaw would join Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux as the only guys to win 4 CY Youngs. He would still be chasing Randy Johnson’s 5 and Roger Clemens’ 7, but all he can do is trot out to the mound and sling that yakker.
Stats from ESPN, Fangraphs, and Baseball-Reference