Baseball is fun.
In the midst of arguing over steroid suspensions, potential corporate “espionage” and various other nefarious issues, watching (and, in my case, covering) the game has never been more enjoyable. The 2015 season continues to provide an endless amount of positive story lines on the field, ranging from the red-hot nature of a few elite clubs to some special individual production from players like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and the rising stars of tomorrow.
In this space each week, our task is to take a glance at how the league’s individual award races are shaking out to this point, and we will do just that in advance of the upcoming All-Star break. Last week’s list can be found here, and given that only seven days have passed, there will always be similarities between the two rankings. There is, however, some shuffling to go through, and that is also to be expected given the every day nature of baseball itself.
Instead of further delaying the inevitable, we will begin with the National League rookies, alternating between NL and AL for the rookies, Cy Young, and MVP “voting” until we conclude with the
, ahem, AL MVP award. Let’s go.
Next: NL Rookie of the Year
NL Rookie of the Year
- Joc Pederson, OF Los Angeles Dodgers – Pederson continues to be a statistical marvel. It isn’t every day that you see a player boasting a .233 batting average with a .370 (!) on-base percentage, and beyond that unusual profile, he leads all qualified MLB rookies in wRC+ (145) with 20 home runs and a .502 slugging. The 16.4% walk rate almost can’t be sustainable, but if Pederson can off-set that with a bump in batting average, a dip in overall production can be avoided.
- Kris Bryant, 3B Chicago Cubs – The gap is closing. Pederson has been the runaway winner in this category for months, but Bryant is now nipping at his heels. In fact, Chicago’s golden boy now leads MLB rookies in fWAR (3.5), surpassing Pederson, and with a combination of power (12 HR), speed (8 SB) and quality defense to go along with surprising plate discipline, Bryant is the total package. He could legitimately turn this into a race over the next three months.
- Matt Duffy, 3B San Francisco Giants – The 24-year-old Duffy doesn’t have the pedigree of Pederson and Bryant, but he is still playing quite well. Duffy holds a very solid 126 wRC+ in 71 games (263 PA), and thanks to above-average defense at the hot corner, he lands solidly in third place among NL rookies. A low walk rate (4.9%) caps his ceiling a bit, but the Giants may have unearthed a gem in Duffy.
Next: AL Rookie of the Year
AL Rookie of the Year
- Steven Souza, OF Tampa Bay Rays – There are warts on his profile, but if Steven Souza maintains a 30-20 pace for an entire season, there is almost no chance that he fails to win Rookie of the Year honors. Through 79 games, Souza has 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases despite a 35% (!) strikeout rate, and thanks to a 10.4% walk rate, he has been able to maintain an OBP that falls within at least respectable parameters. Make no mistake, Souza’s statistical production can be picked apart, especially by advanced metrics, but raw numbers matter in a race like this, and the absence of a no-doubt candidate in opposition aids his case.
- Devon Travis, 2B Toronto Blue Jays – Travis was the early leader (by a wide margin) in this category, and now that he is back from injury, Toronto’s second baseman is firmly in the mix. Travis doesn’t boast one singularly defining skill, but he has a .292/.344/.494 slash line (131 wRC+) in 46 games, and that is good for the AL lead in fWAR (1.7) among AL position players. He’s pretty good.
- Carlos Correa, SS Houston Astros – I’m breaking all sorts of rules by recognizing a player who has appeared in only 26 games, but Correa has been off the charts. In fact, he is second only to Travis in cumulative fWAR (1.5) at this point, with 7 home runs to go with a 152 wRC+ in 117 plate appearances. It isn’t only offense with Correa, either, as he is already a top-flight defender, and in simple terms, he profiles as the next great MLB shortstop.
Next: NL Cy Young
NL Cy Young
- Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals – Scherzer remains firmly in the driver’s seat, and if there was an MLB-wide award for pitching, he would win it. Hilariously, Scherzer is actually among the top five players in baseball in fWAR (4.7) and he has been head and shoulders better than any other pitcher with a combination of a 1.82 ERA and an obscene strikeout-to-walk ratio over 10. We’re frankly running out of superlatives to describe Scherzer, but he’s going to run away and hide if he can maintain anything approaching his current pace.
- Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers – Some of the advanced metrics continue to point to regression for Greinke in the near future, but at some point, we must acknowledge that he holds a 1.48 ERA in July. A minuscule 3.8% home run to fly ball rate explains away that ERA a bit, but even a 2.77 FIP is impressive, and Greinke leads MLB in ERA among starting pitchers. That qualifies you for Cy Young consideration.
- A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates – The competition is fierce for the third spot, and if you argued for Clayton Kershaw, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom or Jake Arrieta, I wouldn’t stop you. However, Burnett continues to plug along at the age of 38, posting a 1.99 ERA in 17 starts. Much like Greinke, the underlying peripherals suggest that he can’t maintain this level, but the Pirates are good and Burnett is at the center of it all, forming a devastating tandem with the aforementioned Cole and Francisco Liriano.
Next: AL Cy Young
AL Cy Young
- Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros – Keuchel leads the American League in both innings (130.1) and wins (11), making a picturesque candidacy for the traditional fan. Beyond that, however, he boasts an impressive 2.14 ERA across 18 starts, and big-time command (2.21 BB/9) allows him to function without high-end strikeout potential. Keuchel is a reasonable bet for regression given a .252 BABIP allowed, but a high groundball rate is encouraging, and he continues to lead what has been a strong season for the Astros.
- Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays – Archer is the total package. He has the blistering ERA (2.18), the strikeout rate (10.97 K/9), the command (2.18 BB/9) and even the team success (9-5 record). The talented right-hander continues to fly under the radar in some circles given Tampa Bay’s relative obscurity and his lack of name recognition, but it’s only a matter of time until the public knows Chris Archer quite well.
- Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox – The left-hander is a strikeout machine. Sale’s strikeout rate (11.78 K/9) leaps off the page as the AL leader in the category, and he has only walked 1.76 batters per 9 innings to balance out that dominance. As a result, Sale actually leads the AL in fWAR (3.7) among starters, and if not for some bad luck in ERA (2.80), he would probably be the leader in the clubhouse right now.
Next: NL MVP
- Bryce Harper, OF Washington Nationals – Harper leads the National League in OBP (.471), slugging (.714), wOBA (.491) and wRC+ (220), and there are numerous additional categories in which the 22-year-old (yes, he’s still 22) ranks among the top 5 players in baseball. Simply put, Bryce Harper has been the best player on earth this season. That isn’t to say that it will continue at this level, as he has already slowed down a touch from earlier in the year, but in the same breath, his MVP candidacy has been well established at this point.
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B Arizona Diamondbacks – It’s almost unfair that Goldschmidt has to be the runner-up at this point, but that is the price for being in the same league as Bryce Harper. His combination of power (20 HR) and speed (15 SB) is rare in a first baseman, and with a slash line of .348/.466/.622 (189 wRC+), it is impossible to disparage what he has been able to do. Arizona’s lack of team success is going to sting Goldschmidt with some voters, but he should be around all season.
- Max Scherzer, SP Washington Nationals – Yes, I’m making the leap with Scherzer. He is a rare breed in that his statistical profile aligns with an MVP chase as a starting pitcher (3rd in NL fWAR), and for good measure, the Nationals are almost assuredly going to run away with the division title in the NL East. Of course, it hurts Scherzer’s brand to be associated with the leader in Bryce Harper, but he is the perfect combination of dominance and consistency that MVP voters would look for in a pitcher.
Next: AL MVP
- Mike Trout, OF Los Angeles Angels – The AL race isn’t nearly as clean cut as the NL version, but we continue to ride for Mike Trout in this space. Trout trails only the injured Miguel Cabrera in wRC+ (169) while landing in the top-5 in home runs (21), OBP (.393), slugging (.575) and fWAR (4.6). Trout’s defense continues to be underrated by defensive metrics, causing his WAR to slip a bit from previous levels, but he remains the best player in the AL and that is a nice tiebreaker against players with similar profiles.
- Manny Machado, 3B Baltimore Orioles – Did you realize that Manny Machado just turned 23 years old? Well, Baltimore’s young stud is still developing, but he has a legitimate chance to go 30-30 this season, and with his defense, look out. Machado currently has 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 358 plate appearances, and it isn’t just raw numbers, as he boasts a stellar .301/.360/.531 slash line (146 wRC+). Defensively, he is neck-and-neck with Josh Donaldson for “best in the business” at his position, and Machado is simply a rising star.
- Josh Donaldson, 3B Toronto Blue Jays – Donaldson and Machado have identical wRC+ numbers, leaving the door open for debate offensively, and with the glove, they are both elite. In this instance, I’m making speed the tiebreaker, where Machado easily “wins”, but Donaldson has a bit more power and is more established from a consistency perspective. You can’t go wrong here, and if you flip-flopped the two, no argument could be made in opposition.