The world cup is over, Wimbledon is done, the NBA and NHL playoffs ended long ago, and the big NBA free agency news has died down. It’s official – it’s baseball season. And now, heading into the midsummer classic, it’s also a logical time to revisit the leaders in the clubhouse for American sports’ most prestigious individual awards.
Very rarely will you have someone putting up a .359/.448/.691 slash line with 23 dingers, 51 RBIs, and 18 SBs before the All-Star break. It’s even more rare to have someone playing at Mookie Betts’ level without being the clear front-runner for the MVP. In fact, you can (pretty easily) make the case that Mookie is third in the AL MVP race behind Mike Trout and Jose Ramirez.
Ramirez is sitting pretty, tied atop the home run leaderboard with 29 dongs thus far. The Indians’ stout 3B has also has knocked in 70 RBIs and swiped 20 bags while boasting a .302/.401/.628 slash line. However, my leader in the clubhouse at the All-star break is Mike Trout. Trout is my leader, partially because he was my preseason pick, partially because he is having the best individual season, and partially because he is single-handedly carrying a below average Angels squad, decimated by injuries, to an above-.500 record at the break.
Trout Stats: 25 HRs, 50 RBIs, 15 SBs, .310/454/.606
I have all 3 contenders (Betts, Ramirez, Trout) grouped pretty close together but Trout gets the edge due to his massive advantage defensively and slight WAR superiority (6.8 vs Mookie’s 6.3 and Jose’s 6.6). Additionally, Trout puts up these kinds of numbers every year so he, in my eyes, is the most likely to continue this torrid pace into August and September.
Pick to win the AL MVP: Mike Trout
AL Cy Young
The AL Cy Young race is hotly contested and stacked with perennial contenders – Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, and Justin Verlander – and young guns – Luis Severino, Blake Snell, and Trevor Bauer – alike. All these guys have ERAs under 2.50 (except for Kluber), WHIPs under 1.10, and K/9s over 9.00 (except for Kluber, again, who has K’d 132 in 133.2 innings).
Taking a more more granular look at the field, four of them – Sale, Severino, Kluber, and Verlander – have separated themselves. Unfortunately, Kluber gets dinged here due to his 2.76 ERA and 8.89 K/9. I know this sounds funny since a 2.76 ERA with almost a strikeout an inning are Ace-like qualities but when the top three candidates have ERAs 2.31 and under, it stands out.
From among those three, Chris Sale is a head above the other two (pun intended). Sale has the lowest ERA and most Ks in the American league, as well as double-digit wins. While Severino, with his MLB-leading 14 wins, is the one best positioned to catch him, Sale leads in WAR (5.6 to 4.9) and has the experience to keep throwing gas in the second half.
Pick to win AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
Of the four major awards, the NL MVP race is the one that is totally up for grabs at the break. Jesus Aguilar leads the NL with 24 HRs, Javy Baez leads with 72 RBIs, Lorenzo Cain leads with a 4.4 WAR due in part to his standout defensive play, Freddie Freeman is second in the league with a .405 OBP, Ozzie Albies leads with 73 runs scored, and Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado are tied for 2nd with 23 HRs apiece. In short, this race is a mess.
Taking my shot in the dark, I’ll pick Nolan Arenado right now since his 23 HRs seem low for him at the break. Arenado has scored 63 runs, bopped 23 dongs and knocked in 68 RBIs while maintaining a very respectable .312/.395/.586 slash line. Freddie Freeman is a close second, and a strong candidate to overcome Arenado if he is able to break out of his midsummer slump in August and September.
NL MVP Pick: Nolan Arenado
NL CY Young
If Jacob deGrom got anything even resembling run support from the Mets lineup he’d be running away with the CY Young. Instead, The Metropolitans hitters are putting up a big fat zero for young Jacob so he only holds a 5-4 record despite a miniscule 1.68 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
The “field” so to speak main consists of big-stage-newcomer Aaron Nola and elder statesman Max Scherzer. The pair each won 12 games before the break with Nola sitting with an ERA/WHIP combo of 2.30/0.98 and Scherzer is at 2.41/0.90. If I had to bet on one of the two to hold the trophy at the end of the season I would take Scherzer due to his monster 12.16 K/9 in addition to some possible regression for Nola as his 2018 home run rate is half of his career average.
Luckily for me I don’t have to settle for Scherzer or Nola, and thus my pick is Jacob deGrom. DeGrom holds the highest WAR amongst MLB pitchers at 6.0, a figure which is, comically, greater than his actual win total (5). Additionally, deGrom’s 1.68 ERA is so far below the other two members of this NL East trio that it simply can’t be ignored.
NL Cy Young Pick: Jacob deGrom
Lucky for us, most of the awards races are very close at the All-Star break this season and anything can happen. Last season, Chris Sale seemed to have the AL Cy Young wrapped up at the break, but late season struggles and a strong second half from Corey Kluber yielded the Cleveland Indians ace the hardware. There is plenty of baseball yet to play!
Stats from ESPN and FanGraphs