MLB Award Races: Mike Trout, Other Leaders and Sleepers Who Could Steal Titles
With MLB teams struggling to earn postseason berths as the year draws to a dramatic finish, talk among fans has turned from which teams will take each division to who will win the end-of-season awards.
Much speculation has centered around Mike Trout, the Angels outfielder who just turned old enough to drink in the middle of this season. He is hitting .330 with 25 homers and 44 steals. Offensively, it’s one of the best rookie years of all time, and there is no question that Trout will take home Rookie of the Year honors in the AL.
But what about the other races? Who’s going to win the MVPs, the Cy Young Awards and the NL Rookie of the Year?
A ranking of the current race leaders and the dark-horse candidates who might steal the nod at the last minute follows.
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In addition to the leading the Rookie of the Year race, Mike Trout has spent much of the season as the front-runner for the AL MVP nod.
In fact, the LA Times recently ran an article detailing the career of Fred Lynn, the first of only two MLB players to date ever to win both the MVP award and the Rookie of the Year in the same season. (The other is Ichiro Suzuki, as detailed here.)
There’s no doubt that Trout is putting up great numbers. He leads the majors in steals and Wins Above Replacement, and he is tied for first in the AL in batting average and second in OPS.
In fact, there are only two players who possess any prospect of catching Trout.
The first, a long shot, is 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton. He leads the majors with 38 home runs (having finally caught up to power-hitting strikeout king Adam Dunn), and being the best player on a dominant Rangers team, he has an outside chance.
But it would be an uphill battle for Hamilton, especially in light of the numbers put up by the man most likely to swoop in and snatch the award away: Miguel Cabrera.
With little fanfare, Cabrera has surged of late and has taken the reins on the race to be the most productive hitter in the majors. His 116 RBIs are tied for the best in baseball. His .991 OPS is best in the AL and tied for the best in the majors with Ryan Braun. And his .330 average puts him a tie with Trout.
If Miggs can hold on to at least two of his leads in batting average, RBIs and OPS, there’s a good chance it will be Cabrera, and not Trout, going home with the MVP hardware this October.
AL Cy Young Award
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The front-runner in the AL Cy Young race has to be reigning-winner Justin Verlander. Coming off a year in which he won both the Cy Young and the league MVP award, Verlander has pitched the Tigers into contention in the AL Central, and this five-time All-Star has done it with style.
Arguments for his dominance lie in the numbers: He leads the AL in innings pitched, complete games, strikeouts and fewest hits allowed per nine innings. He’s a workhorse. To top it all off, he’s kept his ERA to a measly 2.73, third-lowest in the league, and his WHIP at only 1.03, second best in the AL.
Of course, despite Verlander’s dominance, there are three pitchers who might knock him off his pedestal. The first is David Price, whose 17 wins are tops in the AL and whose 2.54 ERA puts him second in the league.
The next is Felix Hernandez. King Felix won the Cy Young in 2010 with a win-loss record barely over .500 because he led the league in ERA while playing for the hapless Mariners. Hernandez finds himself in the same spot this year, and he pitched a memorable perfect game earlier this summer to boot, so he’s got a real shot.
Finally, there’s Jered Weaver. Weaver leads the AL in WHIP with a stunningly low 1.029, and what’s more, at 16-4, he firmly possesses the best win-loss record. It’s always hard to argue with wins, and if Weaver can pitch his way to 20 or more before the season ends and is alone atop that plateau, he has a real chance of claiming the AL Cy Young for 2012.
NL Rookie of the Year
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This season began with everyone talking about teenage phenom Bryce Harper, the right fielder for the surprisingly successful Washington Nationals. But despite earning an All-Star nod, Harper has cooled off as the season has progressed, and he no longer seems to be a candidate to win Rookie of the Year.
The consensus leader of the pack for the NL award now appears to be Todd Frazier. Frazier (.289 BA, .878 OPS) is an everyday starter in one of the corner infield slots for the red-hot Cincinnati Reds, and he’s unequivocally done an excellent job filling in for injured star Joey Votto.
The Reds have gone 34-16 in the 50 games ex-MVP Votto has missed this season, and Frazier is one clear reason for the team's continued success.
That said, Frazier is anything but a lock to win the award, and that’s thanks to the performance of rookie southpaw Wade Miley.
The bearded left-hander has quietly become the ace of the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation.
His 14-9 win-loss record and ERA of 2.90 would be good enough to enter him into the Cy Young Award conversation in some seasons, and though that may be out of reach this year, Miley has a good chance of snatching the Rookie of the Year award out from under Todd Frazier’s nose.
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All season long, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen seemed to be the front-runner for the NL MVP award. With his bat, dreads and smile, McCutchen led the Cinderella-story Pirates through May, June and July; and it looked like he had the award all wrapped up.
But while McCutchen is certainly still leading the race for the crown, his hold on the scepter is slipping. The Pirates have fallen out of contention. And a new slugger in the NL Central outfield is emerging. Or, rather, an old one has emerged from the shadows: Ryan Braun.
McCutchen still leads the NL in hits, batting average and the WAR metric. But Braun is right behind McCutchen in WAR, and he also holds the league leads in homers, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS. What’s more, the now-assuredly PED-free Braun is putting up power numbers even better than he managed in his NL MVP-winning 2011 campaign.
If the season ended today, McCutchen would likely still end up with the MVP award. But in the last month of the season, anything can happen. And if the ball bounces his way, Braun might just become the first player to win back-to-back MVP awards since Barry Bonds.
NL Cy Young Award
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Everybody’s talking about R.A. Dickey, for a few good reasons. He’s having a great year and he’s got an incredible story. This 37-year-old is pitching better than he ever has in his life to date, and with the media exposure from his book and the shocking revelations of his childhood abuse, Dickey has become a media darling.
And, oh yeah, he’s crushing it on the mound. His 18-4 win-loss record is the best in the league. His WHIP of 1.03 is second-best in the league, as is his 2.64 ERA. And he’s tied for second in the NL in strikeouts with 195. No doubt about it: R.A. Dickey has the inside track on the 2012 Cy Young Award.
That said, there are a number of pitchers who could steal the award in the final days of the year. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has a record of just 12-8, but his 201 strikeouts and 1.02 WHIP are both best in the NL. With a few final strong starts and perhaps a surprise Dodgers playoff berth, Kershaw has a shot.
Fireballer Stephen Strasburg had an outside chance, but his run has admittedly been severely hamstrung by the decision of Nationals management to shut down the injury-prone youngster on Sept. 12.
Kyle Lohse could nab the award, too. His 14-2 record for the Cardinals is certainly impressive. However, he’s been the beneficiary of quite a bit of luck, and he’s not the dominant pitcher that the other candidates are. Witness his low strikeout totals.
Given the other pitchers' shortcomings, the man closest to Dickey in the NL Cy Young race may actually be the Reds’ Johnny Cueto.
A Dominican fireballer in his fifth year in the bigs, Cueto leads NL pitchers in ERA and WAR. Though Cueto has largely flown under the radar, if he reaches 20 wins and Dickey doesn't, there’s certainly a chance that fans might find Cueto, and not Dickey, atop the Cy Young podium come October.