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A more reasonably timed look at the MLB awards races

As the second half starts today, let’s look back on the baseball that has been played so far

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets - Game Two Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

A few months ago, I took a way-too-early look at the Cy Young and MVP races. Boy, have things changed since then. Now that we are officially on the other side of the All-Star break, let’s take a more reasonable timed look at who is still in the running for some of the highest honors in the game?

National League Cy Young

Jacob deGrom: 1.08 ERA, 1.23 FIP, 4.8 fWAR

We already know that deGrom is just on another planet. While he already has the Cy Young hardware two times over, he is on pace for his best season yet, at least on a rate basis. deGrom not only paces both leagues in fWAR, but he is also pitching at career bests in everything from ERA, FIP, strikeout rate, walk rate, and average fastball velocity, which is now at 99.1 mph. He spent a little time on the injured list this season, but that has not stopped him from being the clear favorite

Zack Wheeler: 2.26 ERA, 2.25 FIP, 4.5 fWAR

In a normal year, Wheeler would be the favorite. The Phillies righty has always had the tools to be one of the premier starters in baseball, but this year it appears he is finally putting it together, posting a strikeout rate in the 30’s for the first time in his career. This marks the fourth consecutive year where Wheeler has quietly been a solidly above-average hurler, but 2021 is the first year he has been among the game’s elite. In addition to being great, Wheeler has been durable as well, as he leads the National League in innings pitched.

Kevin Gausman: 1.73 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 3.4 fWAR

Gausman’s career arc has been a fascinating one. Like Wheeler, Gausman was a high first-round draft pick. Also like Wheeler, Gausman was a frustrating case of a pitcher with elite tools who was only good. This year though, Gausman has been the best version of himself. His 3.31 xFIP and 7.5 percent home run to fly ball rate signal that there is some room for regression, but Gausman is missing enough bats that he may be able to control it.

National League MVP

Jacob deGrom

A pitcher? What? Yes. Let’s normalize pitchers in the MVP discussion. Besides, Jacob deGrom has been that good. Also, he has a 114 wRC+, so there’s that.

Fernando Tatis, Jr.: 168 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR

Tatis, Jr. is both one of the best players in the game while also having one of the best personalities in the game. As an everyday shortstop, Tatis, Jr. is pacing the National League in home runs, slugging percentage, isolated power, and wRC+. If the MVP voting block is against pitchers winning the award, the Tatis, Jr. is the clear favorite.

Trea Turner: 138 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR

When Trea Turner is on the field, we know he is a star. This year, he has been extremely healthy and extremely good, posting just south of 4.0 fWAR in just 85 games. He is on pace for a 30-30 season as well, as he currently owns a one hundredth percentile sprint speed.

American League Cy Young

Carlos Rodón: 2.31 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 3.6 fWAR

In a rotation that includes names like Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dallas Keuchel, and Dylan Cease, who could have predicted that the 2020 nontender Rodón would be their best pitcher to this point? Further, who could have predicted that he would be the best pitcher in the entire American League? But that is exactly what he has done. Currently, Rodón is posting career bests in every meaningful category, all the while throwing harder than he ever has, averaging nearly 96 mph on his fastball.

Nate Eovaldi: 3.66 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 3.4 fWAR

If we were going by Baseball-Reference WAR, Eovaldi would not be on this list, as his 2.5 mark is still good, but doesn’t crack the top 10 in the American League. Alas, we are FanGraphs WAR stans here at Beyond the Box Score, so Eovaldi makes this list. Eovaldi’s god off to a rough start when he signed a four-year deal with the Red Sox after contributing to their 2018 world series run, but has been very good since. This year, he is pitching his best baseball yet.

Gerrit Cole: 2.68 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 3.3 fWAR

The last time I put this together, Cole was head and shoulders above the next best pitcher, and at the time was pitching to a line that wasn’t too far off from what deGrom’s looks like now. Cole has regressed since then, timing coincidentally with the ban on sticky substances. To be fair, Cole probably still is the best pitcher in the American League, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he is the one who comes away with the hardware for the first time in his career.

American League MVP

Shohei Ohtani: 180 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR (position player); 3.49 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 1.5 fWAR (pitching)

If it weren’t for his blow-up start in New York, Ohtani, like deGrom, would have been on the list for both awards. Luckily there is still plenty of time for him to work his way back into that conversation, but for now, his elite bat plus the value he brings to the mound are enough for him to be the front runner for this award. Currently, Ohtani leads both leagues in home runs, while also amassing 67 innings as a pitcher.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.: 189 wRC+, 4.6 fWAR

After two underwhelming seasons, Guerrero, Jr. has exceeded expectations and then some. His 189 wRC+ has come down to earth a little bit over the past month, but still tops the major leagues. The patience at the plate that made him an elite prospect has finally translated, as Guerrero, Jr. is walking at a 13.9 percent clip. Because of this, he is also leading the majors in on-base percentage with a .430 mark.

Xander Bogaerts: 149 wRC+, 3.9 fWAR

Bogaerts put up an MVP caliber season in 2019 when he posted a 141 wRC+ and accumulated 6.8 fWAR. This year, he is on pace for an even better season, after signing a six-year, $120 million extension in the offseason.


Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay and freelance contributor to FiveThirtyEight. He has also been featured in The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.