MLB Awards: Handicapping the 2012 MVP and Cy Young Races
There’s still a month left to be played in the 2012 Major League Baseball season, and the MVP and Cy Young races are all up for grabs in both leagues.
There’s not a clear-cut winner for any, which means performances down the stretch will largely make or break an individual’s chances of bringing home one of the game’s most coveted awards.
As of now, you could make a case for up to six or eight pitchers in each league to win the Cy Young Award. The MVP races are narrower, but it’s still a two- or three-way fight in the last several weeks.
National League MVP (No. 5): Yadier Molina
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Yadier Molina has always been a great player, but he’s never developed into the offensive star he is this year.
Molina has taken his offense to a whole new level, though. After hitting six home runs with a .671 OPS in 2010, Molina hit 14 home runs with a .814 OPS last year, and he’s up to 17 home runs already in 2012 with a .871 OPS.
Molina has a career-high 11 stolen bases, he’s coming off his fourth consecutive NL All-Star appearance and he plays top-notch defense behind the plate.
National League MVP (No. 4): David Wright
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David Wright sure picked a good time to have such a great season, as he’s set to hit free agency this offseason.
Wright is batting at a .317 clip and he’s one of just three National League players with at least a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage this season. Playing at Citi Field actually hurts Wright, as he’s putting up an OPS of .965 in road games—111 points higher than home games.
He has cooled off since his tremendous start to the season (he was hitting .351 at the break and is batting just .257 since), but he’s got such a key role on the Mets as an offensive star and good defensive player at the hot corner, too.
National League MVP (No. 3): Buster Posey
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There are two pretty obvious picks to finish first and second in the league-MVP-award voting, but after that, the competition drops off.
Buster Posey gets the edge over Yadier Molina and David Wright, though—he’s the lone offensive weapon for the San Francisco Giants now that Melky Cabrera has been busted for steroids and Hunter Pence has been a flop since the team brought him over from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Posey is hitting .329 with 19 home runs and 83 RBI. He’s third in the league in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage (.405), fifth in slugging percentage (.530), fifth in OPS (.935) and second in adjusted OPS (166)—and he’s a catcher.
National League MVP (No. 2): Andrew McCutchen
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I personally do not think a team should have to make the playoffs for one of its players to win the MVP award. What Andrew McCutchen has done for the Pittsburgh Pirates is ridiculous.
He went from being a very good five-tool player who hit .255 or so to being an elite top-10 or top-five player in the game. McCutchen is batting .344 with 24 home runs and 80 RBI, plus 16 stolen bases that make him a top player.
McCutchen has a .972 OPS that ranks second in the National League to only the league’s reigning MVP, and he also plays a very important defensive position.
National League MVP (No. 1): Ryan Braun
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Even if Ryan Braun does emerge as the obvious choice for MVP when it’s time for the voting process, I wonder how many sportswriters will think twice about voting for him after his positive steroid test last year, shortly after he won the MVP award.
I’m not saying I think Braun is still juicing, but I think voters will sort of hold a grudge against him for testing positive for PEDs.
Braun does have the numbers to support an MVP case, though, as he has 37 home runs, 22 stolen bases and a .996 OPS that leads all National League hitters.
Braun is batting a solid-enough .310 with a .607 slugging percentage that also ranks first in the league, and he has contributed 7.0 WAR to the Milwaukee Brewers this year, per FanGraphs, a total that also rates first in the senior circuit.
American League MVP (No. 5): Adrian Beltre
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Despite the fact that he’s 33 years old and in his 15th major-league season, Adrian Beltre is playing like he’s in his prime.
Beltre signed a way-too-high five-year, $80 million deal prior to 2011, but he’s actually fulfilling that for the second straight year. Beltre is batting .318 with 27 home runs and 84 RBI, and his .897 OPS is the eighth-best total in the American League.
Beltre plays defense about as well as any third baseman in the game, and his 5.0 total WAR is the fourth-best in the American League.
American League MVP (No. 4): Robinson Cano
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I haven’t heard a lot about Robinson Cano this year, but he’s by far the best second baseman in the major leagues, and he’s probably a top-five or -six overall player.
Cano is hitting .303 with 28 home runs, and he’s just short of his single-season best .914 OPS at .911. The New York Yankees still haven't signed Cano to a long-term contract, but he’s in line for a deal worth well over $100 million.
If he really tears it up down the stretch, Cano has a shot at winning the MVP, but he would really need to play out of his mind.
American League MVP (No. 3): Josh Hamilton
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For the first part of this season, Josh Hamilton was well on his way to winning the league MVP award. Then, he really cooled off, although he’s picked it back up recently.
April 6 – May 16: .404/.458/.838, 1.296 OPS in 155 PA, 18 HR, 45 RBI, 32 R
May 17 – July 29: .204/.285/.408, .693 OPS in 242 PA, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 26 R
July 30 – Sep 1: .312/.365/.584, .949 OPS in 137 PA, 8 HR, 29 RBI, 28 R
So after being the best player in baseball for the first six weeks, Hamilton was one of the game’s worst for a 10-week span. Since then, he’s performed exactly as one would expect of Hamilton: .312 batting average, .584 slugging percentage and a home-run rate that translates to about 35 in a full season.
Hamilton’s season numbers are still very, very good: .290/.356/.582 with 37 home runs and a league-leading 113 RBI, and he’s helped the Texas Rangers stay in first place in the AL West all season.
Hamilton has been striking out at a significantly higher rate than ever before (23.8 percent this season compared to 17.3 percent last year, 16.6 percent in 2010 and 17.9 percent in his breakout season of 2008), and he’s not playing as well defensively—and when you factor in his inconsistencies, it drops him to a still very respectable third place in the MVP contest.
American League MVP (No. 2): Miguel Cabrera
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Miguel Cabrera has registered MVP votes every season of his career and he’s finished in the top five on five separate occasions. This year will definitely be at least his sixth time in the top five, and he could finally win it.
Cabrera has an outside chance at the Triple Crown—he’s currently second with a .331 batting average, fifth with 33 home runs and second with 111 RBI. His .986 OPS leads the league, and he’s been especially hot as of late—hitting .373 with eight home runs and 26 RBI, plus a .667 slugging percentage and 1.111 OPS since Aug. 1.
If he can will the Detroit Tigers into the playoffs—and especially if they steal a spot from Mike Trout’s Angels—it’s going to be tough to keep the MVP from going to Cabrera.
American League (MVP No. 1): Mike Trout
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I wrote an article several weeks ago breaking down the seasons of Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, concluding that Trout deserves the MVP award by a slim margin.
Trout’s season has been well-documented—he was a late April call-up who made an immediate impact as a five-tool superstar player on a team that was expected to challenge for a World Series title but was vastly underachieving.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim started 6-14, but they’ve gone 65-48 since then, although they’re still in some need of some help to make the playoffs.
Trout is hitting .333 with 25 home runs and 42 stolen bases. He’s leading the American League in runs scored, stolen bases, batting average and adjusted OPS, and his 7.7 WAR is a full 1.8 wins higher than any other player in the American League. Trout can play any position in the outfield very well, and he’s made his fair share of highlights in robbing players of home runs.
The fact that he played most of the season at 20 years old and is still technically a rookie will certainly help his case—after all, how can you not love a player who should be a junior in college but is dominating the major leagues?
National League Cy Young (No. 5): Aroldis Chapman
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It’s notoriously difficult to rank relief pitchers in the Cy Young race because they only pitch 60-to-70 innings per season. Then again, they routinely pitch in highly stressful situations, and they can easily make or break a team’s season.
This season, Aroldis Chapman slightly edges out Craig Kimbrel for the fifth spot in the NL Cy Young race, as he’s appeared in more contests and has thrown more innings. Chapman has a 1.25 ERA, an 0.71 WHIP and 34 saves in 38 chances, all numbers that would typically be the best season by any relief pitcher in the game easily.
He has struck out 115 batters in 65 innings—an average of 16 per nine innings—and he has only walked 16, which is an unbelievable strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Chapman is giving up less than one hit every two innings, which could end up setting the single-season record for fewest hits allowed per nine innings, and he’s helped the Cincinnati Reds all but run away with the NL Central division.
National League Cy Young (No. 4): Stephen Strasburg
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If Stephen Strasburg really is shut down prior to the end of the season, this will obviously affect his Cy Young finish. But for now, he’s my pick for the fourth-best pitcher in the National League in 2012, and he’s going to be a regular for this award in the future.
Strasburg—in his first full season as a starter (although it may not end up being a full season)—has been flat-out dominant. He is 15-6 with a 2.94 ERA following Sunday’s six-inning, two-hit shutout performance that included nine strikeouts.
He has whiffed 195 batters in just 156.1 innings pitched, he’s holding opposing hitters to a .225 batting average, and there is absolutely no way the Washington Nationals would be winning the NL East by this much without him.
National League Cy Young (No. 3): Clayton Kershaw
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Clayton Kershaw has a decent chance to win his second straight NL Cy Young Award, considering there’s no clear favorite to take home the trophy.
He’s 12-8 with a 2.85 ERA in 28 starts, and he has 192 strikeouts in 192.2 innings while walking just 47 batters. Kershaw has thrown seven straight quality starts since he was shelled for eight runs against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 24, and you can all but mark him down for seven-to-eight strikeouts and two or fewer walks per outing.
National League Cy Young (No. 2): Johnny Cueto
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Johnny Cueto has finally taken the step to stardom in 2012, as he’s been arguably the best pitcher in the National League this season. Cueto is 17-6, leading the National League in wins and earned run average (2.48), and he’s allowed just nine home runs in 27 starts.
Cueto has thrown a quality start in each of his last five outings, and he’s been extremely consistent as of late—exactly two earned runs allowed in his last three starts.
National League Cy Young (No. 1): R.A. Dickey
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I think R.A. Dickey may get the edge over Johnny Cueto because he’s a tremendous story—Dickey is a former failed pitcher with the Texas Rangers who reinvented himself with the New York Mets as a knuckleball pitcher.
Dickey is 17-4 with a 2.63 ERA, leading the league in winning percentage, and he’s putting up nearly a strikeout per inning, a feat unheard of for a knuckleball pitcher. Dickey has thrown five complete games and three shutouts this season—including a five-hit shutout in his last start—and he is even displaying remarkable control for a knuckleball pitcher, having walked just 44 batters in 27 starts.
American League Cy Young (No. 5): Jered Weaver
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Jered Weaver was 15-1 with a 2.13 ERA following a four-hit, no-walk shutout of the Oakland Athletics back on Aug. 6, but since then, he’s really faded.
Weaver lost again Sunday, dropping his record to 16-4 and pushing his ERA up to 2.86. I still think he will be in the hunt because he is a household name and an .800 winning percentage is magnificent. Weaver is holding hitters to a .216 batting average, he’s thrown four complete games and his 1.03 WHIP leads the American League.
American League Cy Young (No. 4): Chris Sale
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Chris Sale didn't fare too well Sunday, as he gave up four runs over six innings in a loss to Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.
Sale is 15-6 with a 2.93 ERA in a breakout campaign after two highly successful seasons in the bullpen. He is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, including a game of 15 earlier in the year. He has faded a little recently as well (lost three of his last four, given up four or more earned runs in five of his last eight starts).
A strong September would put him right back into the hunt for the Cy Young Award.
American League Cy Young (No. 3): David Price
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There’s really not much that separates David Price from Chris Sale, but Price has a slightly better record (17-5 to 15-6) and slightly better ERA (2.54 to 2.93).
Price has given up exactly zero runs in four of his last nine starts. That’s phenomenal, and he has a chance to separate himself from the rest of the pack in September if he keeps that up.
American League Cy Young (No. 2): Justin Verlander
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Giving up eight earned runs on 12 hits and three walks to the Kansas City Royals last Tuesday certainly won’t help Justin Verlander’s case for the 2012 Cy Young Award.
What that did was balloon his ERA a full 30 points up to 2.80. He also has only one decision in his last five starts and just two wins in his last eight starts, which puts him at just 13 wins for the season.
What Verlander does have, though, is a ridiculous amount of strikeouts—209 in 204.1 innings, and he has at least a dozen on three different occasions. Verlander still leads the American League in complete games with six, he’s third in ERA (2.73) and he’s third in WHIP (1.04).
Always in the discussion of "best pitcher in baseball," Verlander has a very good chance at coming away with the Cy Young Award.
American League Cy Young (No. 1): Felix Hernandez
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This would give Felix Hernandez two Cy Young Awards in three seasons, which would set himself up nicely for a $150-plus-million deal after 2014, when he becomes a free agent.
Hernandez is 13-6 with a league-leading 2.51 ERA, and he’s been a true workhorse for the Seattle Mariners this season. He’s currently first in the American League with 28 games started, accumulating 204 innings pitched, 806 batters faced and five complete games. Hernandez is giving up a league-best 0.5 home runs per nine innings and has a 3.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranks as his new personal best.
And when you factor in the perfect game he threw earlier this season, I think Hernandez is pretty easily the best bet.