With the first full week of baseball in the books, it seems like a good time to dish out some educated guesses, and look at this year’s crop of award-worthy talent.
Note: Italics denotes first-time recipient
1. Carlos Correa, SS (Houston Astros)
2. Mike Trout, CF (Los Angeles Angels)
3. Robinson Cano, 2B (Seattle Mariners)
In spring training, we saw Robinson Cano turn back the clock, (reminiscent of his 2012-self), hitting 7 homers and slugging .825. So far, he has continued that into the regular season. In 6 games, Cano has hit 4 homers and driven in 7 runs. That’s just the kind of production the Seattle Mariners will need all season if they want to snag a Wild Card spot behind prospective division winners, the Houston Astros. Helping bring playoff baseball back to Seattle will likely garner Cano enough MVP votes to finish in the top-3, as long as he continues to put up numbers like these.
Seeming to fall to the same fate as Clayton Kershaw in Cy Young races, Mike Trout and his consistent brilliance may yet again be overshadowed in MVP voting. It may not be fair, but there are more attractive storylines out there. That is, unless the Angels sneak into the playoffs. It’s tough to see that happening, but the reality of the situation is that a playoff appearance or something historic like a Triple Crown is what it will probably take for Trout to win MVP. This year, a new sensation is sweeping the AL: Carlos Correa.
Correa has been unbelievable so far in his young career, and that is nearly an understatement, as he just continues to hit… and hit… and hit. Right in the middle of the seemingly playoff bound Astros lineup, Correa has a chance to put up monster numbers. Consider the fact that Correa both plays shortstop, and has perennial MVP written all over him. I’d expect voters to be swayed by Correa’s overall game (and sophomore status), and give him an edge over Trout and any other competitors.
Other candidates: 3B Josh Donaldson (Toronto Blue Jays), 1B Miguel Cabrera, (Detroit Tigers), 3B Manny Machado, (Baltimore Orioles)
1. Bryce Harper, RF (Washington Nationals)
2. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (Chicago Cubs)
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Losing A.J. Pollock really hurts the Diamondbacks’ playoff chances, and subsequently, a typical gold-standard Paul Goldschmidt campaign will go without MVP honors. The lineup in front of him just isn’t the same without Pollock, and though replacement Jean Segura is on fire, nobody thinks he can fully replace Pollock’s presence. Another 3rd place finish for Arizona behind the Dodgers and Giants could really put Goldschmidt in a tough spot in MVP voting.
In contrast, the Cubs lineup is a bit deeper. Like the Diamondbacks, they lost a key piece early (Kyle Schwarber), but they have a solid chance to lead the NL in runs scored, with Anthony Rizzo leading an impressive supporting cast, including slugging 3B Kris Bryant, and new addition RF Jason Heyward.
Rizzo has really landed himself on the map over the past two seasons, and he has already built on that. Rizzo has 10 RBIs to go with 2 home runs, and a fantastic ~21% walk rate. Rizzo has proven he is one of the best power hitters in the NL, and a patient approach rates him as one of the best overall, so he’ll only need Harper to slip beneath Bonds-like numbers to win his first MVP, but that seem less likely.
Last season, Bryce Harper became the youngest unanimous MVP ever, and this season, he’s primed to extend that title to “Youngest Back-to-Back MVP” ever. Harper’s good eye and patience allow his vicious swing to translate into game power that rivals, or possibly surpasses, that of Giancarlo Stanton. Like Trout (and everyone else), Harper could also lose ground in MVP voting if his team misses the playoffs, but the Nationals are stacked with top-end talent and could finally deliver on World Series hopes.
Harper’s 197 wRC+ last year was a mark Bond’s “only” topped 5 times in his 22-year career. With a couple home runs already in the books and just one strikeout through 23 PA, Harper looks ready to put up more incredible numbers on his way to another MVP.
Other candidates: C Buster Posey, (San Francisco Giants), RF Yasiel Puig, (Los Angeles Dodgers)
AL Cy Young
1. Chris Sale, LHP (Chicago White Sox)
2. David Price, LHP (Boston Red Sox)
3. Felix Hernandez, RHP (Seattle Mariners)
More of the same faces will crop up in this year’s AL Cy Young race. Felix Hernandez scuffled last year as he lost command of his fastball/sinker too often. Hernandez’s changeup is regarded as one of the best single pitches in the league, but it isn’t as effective when he can’t consistently set it up with some hard stuff.
Hernandez also sports a great curveball, (one of the best in the league), and he has increasingly relied on it over the past 3 years. Hernandez has said that he wanted to give hitters something different to look for besides his changeup. If he can tame his fastball, which has sat around 90mph, a slight dip from last year, Felix could win his 2nd Cy Young award, but he faces some stiff competition.
David Price has made a transition into a more complete pitcher recently, turning in an impressive 21.9 fWAR over the last four seasons. He has kept his BB/9 below 2 in three consecutive seasons, striking out more than a batter per inning in the past two. The AL East is an offense-heavy division, but Price shouldn’t have trouble keeping up.
It really is just about time Chris Sale wins a Cy Young. His funky motion is especially tough for LHB to pick up, and delivering mid-to-high 90s heat with a wipeout slider from the left-side seems impossible to beat, unless you play for the Twins (who mysteriously crush Sale over his career). Sale does struggle at times, leaving pitches around the zone. Though this has hurt his ERA in the past, it’s about the only thing stopping him from being the most dominant pitcher in the AL.
Other candidates: Chris Archer, (Tampa Bay Rays), Corey Kluber, (Cleveland Indians), Jake Odorizzi, (Tampa Bay Rays)
NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP (Los Angeles Dodgers)
2. Noah Syndergaard, RHP (New York Mets)
3. Jake Arrieta, RHP (Chicago Cubs)
There just isn’t any denying Kershaw should be predicted to among the top 3 pitchers in the game in any given season. Kershaw already has flashed this hopefully consistent changeup that he picked up from former Dodgers’ great, Eric Gagne. Once again, Clayton Kershaw should be the best pitcher in the league; and he’ll get recognized for it this time.
Noah Syndergaard was dominant more often than not in his rookie campaign, and has unleashed a few wicked new sliders this year, but he is still less refined than Kershaw, despite his low walk rate. I have no doubt that he’ll be brilliant, but his growing pains will put him firmly behind Kershaw.
Meanwhile, after admitting to some fatigue in the postseason, Jake Arrieta is looking fantastic to start the season. He hasn’t gotten quite as many strikeouts as we’re used to seeing, but from watching him pitch, there doesn’t look to be a reason that will persist.
Other candidates: Max Scherzer, (Nationals), Jacob deGrom, (New York Mets)
AL Rookie of the Year
1. Byung-Ho Park, 1B (Minnesota Twins)
Though the Astros’ rookie first baseman Tyler White was just named AL Player of the Week, the Rookie of the Year award might just go to another 1B/DH in Minnesota. He may end up fighting for votes with a teammate or two (Buxton and Berrios), but Byung-Ho Park is a KBO veteran and has a quick, compact power stroke that looks like it could hold up well in the MLB once, Park’s eye adjusts.
Pitchers are of a much higher quality on average here, and Park’s 50+% K% thus far reflects his continuing adjustments. The strikeouts have contributed to Minnesota’s dreadful start, but if things click for Park sooner rather than later, he should make a strong case for AL ROY.
Other candidates: 1B Tyler White, (Houston Astros), CF Byron Buxton, (Minnesota Twins), SP Jose Berrios, (Minnesota Twins)
NL Rookie of the Year
1. Corey Seager, SS (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Yes, the story of the season so far has been Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, but we’re only one week in, and there are a lot of games left to play. Strikeouts have gotten the better of him before in the minors, and AAA pitchers cut Story’s BB% in half after his promotion from AA last year. Though the power display has been incredible, Story’s flaws will seep into his game and slow him down.
The Dodgers’ Corey Seager is a much better overall talent, and though he isn’t off to the same historic start as Story, his ability to drive the ball all around the park, as well as out of it on occasion, with at least average defense makes him a safer pick, not to mention the Hollywood spotlight and star-studded supporting cast.
Other candidates: SS Trevor Story – Colorado Rockies, SP Steven Matz – New York Mets, SP Kenta Maeda – Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards
|American League||Gold Glove||Silver Slugger|
|C||Yan Gomes||Brian McCann|
|1B||Eric Hosmer||Chris Davis|
|2B||Ian Kinsler||Robinson Cano|
|3B||Manny Machado||Josh Donaldson|
|SS||Andrelton Simmons||Carlos Correa|
|OF||Kevin Kiermaier||Mike Trout|
|OF||Carlos Gomez||Jose Bautista|
|OF||Kevin Pillar||Colby Rasmus|
Yan Gomes lost out on a Gold Glove in 2014, but he still rates as one of the better catchers in the American League. He has a lot of big names and reputations like Russell Martin and Salvador Perez to overcome, but he’s right on their tails if they start to slip. And for what it’s worth, Gomes has already put up 1.3 defensive runs above average in 35 innings at catcher this season.
Though Andrelton Simmons made a leap over to the west coast and the American League, his defensive skills are still among the best across the board. Troy Tulowitzki and Didi Gregorius, as well as youngster Francisco Lindor, could give him a run for his money, however.
Batting cleanup for the Houston Astros is certainly a favorable spot for Colby Rasmus, likely the longest shot of all my picks. He’s always had good power, and with a dynamic top of the lineup, including Carlos Correa right in front of him, Rasmus could see his RBI tally reach a new high. His average could hurt him, but Rasmus is certainly an above average hitter, all things considered.
NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards
|National League||Gold Glove||Silver Slugger|
|C||Yadier Molina||Buster Posey|
|1B||Freddie Freeman||Anthony Rizzo|
|2B||Dee Gordon||Ben Zobrist|
|3B||Matt Duffy||Nolan Arenado|
|SS||Nick Ahmed||Trevor Story|
|OF||Jason Heyward||Bryce Harper|
|OF||Billy Hamilton||Yasiel Puig|
|OF||Starling Marte||Giancarlo Stanton|
San Francisco’s Matt Duffy was a big story last year after he took over for Casey McGehee, but his defensive deserved just as much attention as his bat, as he was 2nd to only Adrian Beltre in UZR. Reigning award winner Nolan Arenado is vying for a second consecutive Gold Glove, but he and Duffy likely make up the NL’s top defensive-tier of third basemen.
With 2016’s crop of NL shortstops a bit lacking, I’m picking Trevor Story to stake a claim to be the league’s best hitting shortstop. He’s launched 7 home runs already in just 6 games, and while he can’t keep that pace up, Story seems likely to outdo competitors Brandon Crawford and Corey Seager in most offensive categories, especially with Coors Field inflating his raw stats at home.
For a similar reason, I’m taking Nick Ahmed to bring home the Gold Glove this year. He isn’t much with the bat, but FanGraphs pegged him 5th in defensive runs saved in 2015, a clear 10 runs above 6th place Jean Segura. Andrelton Simmons switched leagues, so Ahmed will have to outplay Crawford, Addison Russell, and Adeiny Hechavarria mainly, but with the spotlight on the Diamondbacks to begin the season, Ahmed’s wizardy may get a chance to shine.
AL Manager of the Year
Scott Servais, (Seattle Mariners)
After an incredibly disappointing season, the Mariners retooled both on-field and as an organization. New GM Jerry Dipoto brought in many of his own guys to replace the Jack Zduriencik regime, and among the new additions was first-time manager, Scott Servais. Unlike recent years, the Mariners have a pretty flexible roster in 2016, giving Servais many day-to-day options. In the beginning of the season, it’s good to see some consistency in the lineup, but as the season wears on, Servais’ decisions only become more challenging.
While the bullpen was overhauled over the offseason, the injury bug has already bit hard, and veterans Steve Cishek and Joel Peralta don’t look stellar so far, (though that have done OK over a handful of innings).
Dipoto did a good job of “raising the floor” of the major league roster, but depth will be a key issue that Servais will have to manage. Missing the playoffs would be another tough blow, but finishing in just the 2nd Wild Card spot should be enough to warrant selecting Servais here.
NL Manager of the Year
Dave Roberts, (Los Angeles Dodgers)
In his first year in Dodger blue, Dave Roberts will take home some hardware. The strength of his candidacy will depend on the performance of his team, but the consistency of stars like Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Adrian Gonzalez, as well as the depth on the roster, will help cover for some miscues.
We are only a week into the season, but it’s been mostly smooth sailing for Roberts. A notable instance of his principles was revealed when he pulled rookie Ross Stripling during his major league debut after 7.1 no-hit innings.
With the injuries the Dodgers’ pitching staff has endured recently, it is admirable that Roberts would cut short a chance for history to preserve the health of a young player coming off Tommy John surgery. We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out, but with the playoffs in sight in his first season, Dave Roberts looks like the front-runner.
AL Comeback Player of the Year
Hanley Ramirez, 1B (Boston Red Sox)
Ramirez, after signing with the Boston Red Sox prior to 2015, turned in a really poor season. He got off to a really great start in April, but a strain of his left shoulder in May put a damper on Ramirez’s production. After taking a line drive off his left hand in June, Ramirez complained of not having the same grip on his bat, and a sore right shoulder around August hindered any semblance of a comeback.
Thus far, Ramirez has looked healthy and fairly comfortable at first base, and a hot spring has carried into the regular season. After putting up -1.8 fWAR in 2015, it won’t take much for him to statistically have the biggest turnaround, so he is an obvious candidate here.
NL Comeback Player of the Year
Yasiel Puig , OF (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Given that he was limited to just 79 games last year, Yasiel Puig is in good shape to make a big rebound. Puig is off to a really great start in 2016, one reminiscent of his first call up. Interestingly, Puig looks to be really giving it his all in contrast to the criticism of his hustle in his early years. It’s the combination of health, determination, and, above all else, talent, that should revitalize Puig’s reputation and earn him the title of NL Comeback Player of the Year.
There was no shortage of players to pick from for each award, so it will be interesting to see how things shake out. Great players seem to crop up out of nowhere, and I don’t see why 2016 should be any different. We have already witnessed history courtesy of Trevor Story, but there is certainly more in store for those who stay tuned.
With just the first weekend in the books, it’s about that time when teams and players find their first streaks of the season – what comes beyond that? I don’t know. But we’ll soon find out.
Statistics provided by: FanGraphs.com
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