It’s Labor Day. Rosters have expanded and the weather is cooling down. These are all signs that the regular season is approaching its end. There are roughly 25 games left for each team to make a final push for the playoffs (or whatever the Tigers and Orioles are pushing for).
Individually, a few players will present their final cases for the six major awards: MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year in each league. With about a month to go, here’s where the awards chases stand.
This has been a two-man race all season between Dodgers’ slugger Cody Bellinger and Brewers’ reigning MVP Christian Yelich. Both should approach 8.0 fWAR and 50 home runs by season’s end. Offensively, they’re nearly identical, which we’ll discuss in a moment. Yelich has an edge in base running and Bellinger has an edge on defense.
However, a third contestant has surged into the race. Nationals’ impending free agent Anthony Rendon slashed .394/.450/.712 in August, and now his overall numbers nearly match Bellinger’s and Yelich’s.
NL MVP Candidates
Soft factors like perception and national media narratives play a larger role in MVP voting than they ought, so it will be difficult for Rendon to get the attention Bellinger/Yelich have had all year. Another debatable factor that voters weigh is team success, which clearly favors Bellinger. As of right now, it’s his award to lose, but either Yelich or Rendon could surge past him.
Some people would walk through the Grand Canyon refreshing Twitter on their phones. Some people would miss an eclipse because it’s 15 minutes past bedtime. Some people would visit Egypt, but forego the pyramids for fear of sand in their shoes. These are the same kinds of people who consider anyone other than Mike Trout for MVP.
Calling Trout a generational talent undersells him. He’s once-in-a-lifetime, and he’s enjoying one of his best seasons. His 8.5 fWAR is 2.3 higher than Alex Bregman and Xander Bogaerts, currently tied for second place. In other words, he’s been as valuable as the next most valuable player combined with Trey Mancini. We will hear no arguments for anyone but Trout for MVP on these pages.
NL Cy Young
If Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer hadn’t gotten injured and missed a month, this wouldn’t be a close race. Even though he lost five starts— and hasn’t lasted five innings since returning— he still leads the NL with 5.8 fWAR. He’s also on top in several rate stats, including ERA+, FIP, SO/9, and SO/BB. Black ink can win this award, and he’ll need to maintain his leads to capture his fourth CY.
Baseball Prospectus has Scherzer’s teammate Stephen Strasburg as the top pitcher in baseball, crediting him with a 2.14 DRA and 6.8 WARP. Last year’s winner Jacob deGrom of the Mets is very much in the mix as well with 6.4 WARP. Dodgers’ ace Walker Buehler and Patrick Corbin— yes, another National— deserve mention as well. With a shutdown final month, any of these pitchers could claim the hardware.
Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu will likely garner first place votes, and may even win the award. He currently boasts the best ERA in the majors (2.35). Often, that’s all it takes for a CY. However, the advanced stats don’t love him quite as much, and he’s surrendered 18 runs in his last 14 2⁄3 innings. If his ship continues to take on water in September, he will sink out of this race.
AL Cy Young
As we all predicted back in March, the top three contenders for the AL CY are Astros teammates Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, as well as... uh, Lance Lynn. In fact, the Rangers left-hander leads the league with 6.0 fWAR. He’s unlikely to win because his 3.77 ERA belies his stellar advanced metrics, and also because no one is giving the CY to Lance Freaking Lynn for crying out loud. Still, he’s done an incredible job avoiding the home run bug that has bitten everyone else.
The conventional stats matter to voters for this award, where Verlander has an edge over Cole in ERA, 2.56 to 2.85. Throwing a no-hitter on Sunday also helps his case considerably. Cole could push for 300 strikeouts, but after JV’s dominance on Sunday, he’s likely the frontrunner. Cole, however, would surely like to shop a Cy around in free agency this winter.
NL Rookie of the Year
This really wasn’t supposed to be a difficult conversation. Braves sensation Mike Soroka’s 2.44 ERA is second in the league. Even though his 19.1 percent strikeout rate is unimpressive, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. His 3.8 fWAR is more than double any other NL rookie pitcher. That should be more than enough to win the RoY...
...Except this year, Soroka might not get a single first place vote. The batting and home run titles both might go to rookies. Pirates outfielder Brian Reynolds’ .332 average is just a few points behind Rendon’s .335. Mets first baseman Peter Alonso is tied with Bellinger with 42 home runs. He already smashed the Mets’ single season record, and he could break Aaron Judge’s rookie record of 52.
Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. was probably on his way to collecting the RoY with his stellar all-around play before an injury ended his season. Reds slugger Aristides Aquino hits approximately 17 homers every day, but didn’t get started until August. It’s been a fantastic overall season for NL rookies, but Alonso looks like the leader. Still, an ERA title by Soroka or a batting title by Reynolds could complicate the matter.
AL Rookie of the Year
Perhaps the likeliest candidate to win any award unanimously this season is Yordan Álvarez. The Astros slugger didn’t debut until June 9, and doesn’t really have a defensive position. No matter— he’s been the absolute best hitter in baseball since reaching the majors. Yes, that includes Trout, blasphemous though it may seem.
MLB wRC+ Leaders (min. 200 PA)
With 23 home runs in Triple-A and 21 in MLB, Álvarez and Kevin Cron are tied for the most dingers in affiliated baseball this season. Even if he’s a designated hitter, anyone who mashes like David Ortiz for four months is a near lock for the ROY.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.