Midseason Predictions for Every Major 2013 MLB Award Winner
As the Major League Baseball season moves into the second half, it is time to start amending preseason predictions and thinking about where we are headed down the stretch.
Teams and players have now had three months' worth of games, enough to generate a decent-size sample that will provide answers to lingering questions we had before the season started and help fully understand early surprises left us wondering what was happening.
Moving into the final stretch of (approximately) 81 games for each team, we are going to try to figure out how things will play out in the ultra-competitive awards races.
This could be seen as a companion piece to something I wrote last week about the award winners for the first half, but this time, we will be predicting who will get the hardware at the end of the year instead of what would happen if things ended today.
These predictions will be based on how I would likely end up voting, not how I think the BBWAA will end up voting, because the two are seldom the same thing.
Note: All stats used courtesy of Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.
American League Comeback Player of the Year
Predicted Winner: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
This might be the easiest award to predict for two reasons. One, with the possible exception of Evan Longoria, there are not a lot of other strong candidates in the field for Comeback Player of the Year.
Of course, that also depends on your definition of comeback. If you think it should include a player bouncing back from a bad year, then that could open up the field. But even if you do that, it will still be hard to overlook Mariano Rivera.
After tearing an ACL in May 2012 at the age of 42, Rivera could have called it a career after that and no one would have thought any less of him. Instead, at the ripe age of 43, the Yankee closer is having yet another fantastic season with a 29-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 1.44 ERA and 28 saves.
While not a major award, I can see the voters overwhelmingly putting Rivera's name in here as a way to honor him in his final season, since it looks increasingly likely he won't have an opportunity to save another playoff game.
National League Comeback Player of the Year
Predicted Winner: Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies
You could put together a strong list of Comeback Player of the Year candidates just from the Phillies, with Domonic Brown and Chase Utley at the top of it. But given the fickle nature of Utley's body, it is hard to think he will play enough to warrant an ample amount of support.
Brown, on the other hand, has not only come back from obscurity as a prospect bust, but also battled a knee issue last year that limited him to just 56 games in the big leagues and 121 total when you add in the minors.
This year has proved that Brown can at least be a quality big leaguer, as the 25-year-old has already hit 22 home runs with a solid .280/.324/.553 slash line in 84 games. If he maintains that current pace, it would not be a shock to see 35 home runs by season's end.
American League Manager of the Year
|1. Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels|
|2. Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles|
|3. Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians|
I am going out on a limb with this one, but the Angels are starting to make a nice run in the American League West after an absolutely horrid start and are currently just four games under .500. There were rumors about Mike Scioscia's future, with some even suggesting he could be the first manager fired this season.
Even though the politics of Manager of the Year are such that wins and losses matter more than actual managerial tactics, there is something to be said for keeping a team afloat when its big free-agent signing last year (Albert Pujols) can barely walk and its big one this year (Josh Hamilton) is hitting .225/.286/.391 right now.
Having Mike Trout certainly helps alleviate a lot of problems the Angels have, but Scioscia should get credit for putting his best hitter second in the lineup when a lot of skippers still insist on keeping them in the No. 3 spot and cost them some valuable at-bats.
Buck Showalter had a great argument to win this honor last year, but was edged out by Oakland's Bob Melvin. The Orioles' skipper has an incredible ability to manage a bullpen, even though the group this year hasn't been nearly as good as it was in 2012. It also makes his job more difficult when you consider they have just two starters who have broken the 100-inning mark at this point.
Terry Francona was a great manager in Boston, but didn't get the credit because the payroll and talent level were such that he couldn't garner a ton of support for this award. He has had some hiccups with the Indians this season, but his personality is clearly having a positive effect on a franchise that has endured hard times in the last five years. Detroit is still the best team in that division and likely going to the playoffs, but there could be a very interesting race brewing with the Indians right in the middle of it.
National League Manager of the Year
|1. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates|
|2. Bud Black, San Diego Padres|
|3. Walt Weiss, Colorado Rockies|
There is a poor crop of managers to choose from in the National League this year, at least from most voters' perspective. Clint Hurdle does get the No. 1 spot almost by default, even though I find him to be a poor tactical manager. The Pirates are winning this year because of fluky production by most everyone in the bullpen and an improved starting rotation, not because Hurdle has found the magic elixir.
Bud Black is actually a very good strategist and the Padres are rewarding him by playing much better than anyone anticipated. They still struggle to score runs because of their ballpark, but overall, they rank 15th in that category this year. The starting pitching has been terrible, 24th in baseball with a 4.52 ERA and just 330 strikeouts in 479.2 innings.
A controversial choice when he was hired by the Rockies since he had no experience as a manager, Walt Weiss is doing as well as anyone in that job. They still lack a direction or vision for the future, but there is some talent that has been able to stay healthy and keep them afloat in a mediocre National League West.
American League Rookie of the Year
|1. Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays|
|2. Nick Franklin, Seattle Mariners|
|3. Oswaldo Arcia, Minnesota Twins|
The current crop of AL Rookie of the Year candidates leaves a lot to be desired, though it could look a lot better by the time October rolls around.
Wil Myers is still the most talented player in the group right now, and, despite playing in just 16 games, he is already halfway to the AL rookie leader in home runs (three players tied with six). He is starting to look more comfortable and has a respectable line-drive rate (20.8 percent) that could go up as he learns to read pitchers. I can see a line around .265/.320/.460 with 15 home runs by season's end.
Nick Franklin might already be at the head of the rookie class thanks to a .287/.351/.459 showing in 33 games. His defense at second base has been solid, as the 22-year-old has saved one run thus far. Expect some offensive regression, especially in the power department, that will push him slightly down the ballot.
Oswaldo Arcia is the only rookie with enough power to keep pace with Myers, but he doesn't have the all-around game that either Myers or Franklin does and will therefore be forced to have an offensive performance above and beyond what they do.
National League Rookie of the Year
|1. Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals|
|2. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers|
|3. Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins|
I have a feeling that we are going to end up splitting hairs on the top three candidates for NL Rookie of the Year by the time the season is over.
Yasiel Puig would probably win the award if the vote were held today because of all the buzz he has created in one month, but I still maintain that Shelby Miller should be the favorite because we just don't have enough of a sample size to give an honor like this to Puig.
(The All-Star Game is another situation entirely, which is all about marketing stars and the game to an audience, so that is where you can throw sample size out and put Puig on the NL roster.)
Even though it hasn't happened yet, Puig is going to regress as the season moves on. His .506 BABIP is wholly unsustainable; his line-drive percentage is just 21.4 percent, so he isn't exactly driving the ball every time he makes contact; and his groundball rate is 50 percent and flyball rate just 28.6 percent.
So when that regression comes, how significant will it be? That is why I have a hard time putting him in the top spot at the end of the year.
Miller is currently on pace to strikeout 200 in 184.2 innings with just 154 hits allowed and 43 walks. His fielding independent ERA of 2.90 is just 0.1 above his actual ERA (2.80), suggesting that he is succeeding thanks in large part to the things that a pitcher has direct control over.
Jose Fernandez has an excellent case to win the award as well. The 20-year-old boasts a fantastic 2.72 ERA with a 3.00 FIP and 94 strikeouts in 92.2 innings. He has also allowed three fewer home runs (6) than Miller (9) at this point.
I am more concerned about Fernandez wearing down as the season moves on than Miller because he is two years younger and had just one year of professional experience in the minors. It also hurts his cause that the Marlins front office has said he will only throw between 150 and 170 innings, meaning his season could be over by mid-August.
American League Cy Young Award
|1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners|
|2. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers|
|3. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers|
|4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox|
|5. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers|
If it is possible for a pitcher who signed a $135.5 million contract extension in the offseason to fly under the radar, Felix Hernandez is pulling it off remarkably well.
While there is talk of Max Scherzer's unbeaten record—which makes me die a little inside—Justin Verlander's struggles and the incredible strikeout pace Yu Darvish is on, Hernandez is just doing his thing and not getting the credit for it because he pitches on the West Coast.
Hernandez has actually been significantly better this year than when he won the Cy Young in 2010. His FIP three years ago was 3.04; this year it is 2.69. His xFIP was 3.14 in 2010; it is currently 2.60. He struck out 8.36 hitters and walked 2.52 per nine innings in 2010; this year, that rate is at 9.46 and 1.75. King Felix also ranks third in the AL with 123.2 innings pitched.
Darvish has clearly taken the leap from very good as a rookie to elite this year. His strikeout rate of 11.99 is the best in baseball. In fact, the gap between him and No. 2 Max Scherzer (10.72) is greater than the gap between Scherzer and the No. 5 pitcher in the AL (Hernandez).
Scherzer will get more votes than he should because of his win-loss record, but he is always a strong candidate entering the second half. He is second in the AL with 10.72 strikeouts per nine innings, ranks fifth in the league in innings pitched and is third in xFIP (2.82) behind Hernandez (2.60) and Darvish (2.65).
Chris Sale is another pitcher lost in the shuffle because the White Sox are terrible. The 24-year-old lefty keeps getting better, lowering his home run rate, ERA, FIP and xFIP from his breakout 2012 campaign. His 114 strikeouts rank fifth in the league, and he has allowed just 103 baserunners in 106.1 innings of work.
Verlander is a wild card in this scenario. He is struggling to throw strikes at the same rate he used to, walking 3.34 per nine innings of work (which would be his highest total since 2008) and the velocity has dipped significantly from 94.7 on his fastball last year to 93.7 this year.
Despite those complaints, Verlander is still tied for fifth in the league with 114 strikeouts and ranks fourth in home run rate (0.69). His .344 BABIP suggests some bad luck thanks to a dreadful Tigers defense, so there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the second half.
National League Cy Young Award
|1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers|
|2. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals|
|3. Matt Harvey, New York Mets|
|4. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies|
|5. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds|
The top three in the National League right now are all incredibly close and could be put in any order without a real argument from me.
Clayton Kershaw gets the top spot because of the way that his game has evolved, as he now is a much more efficient pitcher than ever before, while still being able to get the strikeout when he needs it.
Basically, that is my way of saying if I had to trust one of the top three pitchers to maintain his level of performance the rest of the year, it would be Kershaw. He has thrown nearly five more innings than anyone else in the league, allowed just 88 hits and 33 walks and racked up 126 strikeouts.
Even though the FanGraphs metrics don't like Kershaw as much as Matt Harvey or Adam Wainwright, I knock Harvey for having six starts against Washington, Los Angeles and Miami—the three worst scoring offenses in the National League.
Wainwright is on an incredible pace to finish with a 225-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The National League Central does help inflate some of his numbers, though, with the Cubs, Brewers and Pirates all in the bottom half of baseball in on-base percentage.
Kershaw gets a boost from a big ballpark and not a lot of home-run hitters in the National League West, but leading the league in innings with a sub-2.00 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning is enough to give him the edge.
Cliff Lee and Homer Bailey are also close in the battle for the fourth spot. Bailey's ERA is a little high at 3.57, but because he keeps the ball in the park and has significantly increased his strikeout rate, it would not be a shock to see that number come down. His xFIP of 2.97 is actually lower than Kershaw's (3.12).
Lee continues to be the most consistent pitcher in baseball over the last five years. He is striking out 8.26 per nine innings, walking just 1.51 per nine innings with a 2.59 ERA, 2.58 FIP and 3.09 xFIP in 125.1 innings of work.
American League Most Valuable Player
|1. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers|
|2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels|
|3. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays|
|4. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles|
|5. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners|
No, this is not a case of deja vu all over again. Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout brought forth one of the great MVP debates in history last season, and it could easily happen again, though right now Cabrera is the leader in the clubhouse and Trout will have to play catch-up.
It is a testament to how off-the-charts great Cabrera has been offensively this year that he is still my pick for MVP, because his defense, which was dreadful last year, has actually gotten worse this year. He has cost the Tigers nine runs at third base and his UZR of -9.6 is last among AL position players.
But for all the bad he brings with the glove, Cabrera is so far ahead of everyone else offensively, it is scary. He leads the AL with a .364 average, 33 points ahead of Chris Davis. His on-base percentage of .454 is first by 47 points over David Ortiz. The gap between Cabrera and Ortiz is greater than the gap between Ortiz and Prince Fielder, whose .362 on-base percentage is 20th in the AL.
Cabrera's weighted on base average (wOBA) is .470, tops in the AL. As good as Chris Davis has been in the first half, his overall numbers don't come close to touching what Cabrera has done. Cabrera has increased his walk rate by nearly four percent this year, suggesting he might be able to sustain this performance all year.
(Since it will come up, Davis just misses the list because I see some regression coming because he has already struck out 92 times in 305 at-bats. But the vast improvements he has made in walking and making contact could prove me wrong.)
Trout remains the best all-around player in baseball. No one adds more value with the bat, on the bases and in the field than the Angels' outfielder. He is quickly climbing back into the MVP conversation, but still has work to do to catch Cabrera.
Plus, while a very gifted defensive player, for whatever reason the metrics don't like Trout this year. He has cost the Angels 13 runs with the glove, though his UZR suggests he still has average range. Perhaps this is just a one-year anomaly, since they say you don't get a really strong gauge on a player's defensive prowess until after three years.
Evan Longoria fell off the MVP radar coming into this season because of an injury-plagued 2012, but I think if there is one player who can catch Cabrera in the MVP race this year, it will be the Rays' third baseman.
For starters, with the exception of Manny Machado, there hasn't been a better defensive third baseman in baseball. He has saved five runs and has a UZR of 10.7 already this season.
With the bat, Longoria is having his best season. He is currently fourth in weighted runs created plus (150) and seventh in wOBA (.385). If that offensive performance holds, combined with the defense he provides, this is a top-two-to-three MVP candidate, easily.
Machado is on a record doubles pace this season and is the best defensive player in baseball not named Andrelton Simmons at the moment. He has put himself right in the Trout/Bryce Harper conversation with a .320/.350/.484 line as a 20-year-old in his first full season.
I do worry that Machado's .372 BABIP is unsustainable, but at the same time, when you are as good with the glove as he is and potentially could hit 60 doubles with a .290/.330/.470 line, that will keep you in the MVP conversation.
Felix Hernandez will absolutely warrant some MVP votes if his current pace holds up, as will Yu Darvish if one or two other position players regress in the second half of the season.
National League Most Valuable Player
|1. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates|
|2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals|
|3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers|
|4. David Wright, New York Mets|
|5. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds|
The National League MVP race is a jumbled mess right now. There are a ton of options to choose from, which makes it exciting, but it is not as clear-cut as the AL right now.
Andrew McCutchen could have won the award last year and would have gotten more support if the Pirates hadn't faded down the stretch, but this seems to be the season where the stars are aligning for the voting populace to notice how great he is.
While not hitting for as much power as he did in 2012, McCutchen is adding value in other areas like baserunning and defense. He is also getting on base at a .371 clip with a .472 slugging percentage, so it's not like he is stinking up the joint on offense.
After years of mixed results without real explanation, the defensive metrics finally realize that McCutchen is a star in center field. He has saved 11 runs already and has a UZR of 6.4, both of which are career highs.
Yadier Molina continues to get better on offense, hitting .352/.394/.500 right now, while remaining the gold standard for defensive catchers in baseball. He is the best pitch-framer and game-caller in the sport, and he has also thrown out 45 percent of base-stealers (13-of-29).
Even with some offensive regression coming, if Molina ends up in the .320/.360/.460 range with premium defense at arguably the most important position on the field, he will belong in the conversation.
We already touched on Clayton Kershaw's numbers, so I will just say that in a season without a clear frontrunner for MVP in the NL, a hot streak in the second half could do for him what it did for Justin Verlander in 2011.
David Wright remains a man among boys as far as Mets position players are concerned. He is the best third baseman in the National League, getting on base at a nearly identical clip to where he did in 2012 (.393 to .391) and hitting for a lot more power with 13 home runs, 18 doubles and five triples already. His baserunning skills don't get nearly the credit they should, and not just the stolen bases, but the ability to go first to third.
All of those offensive skills and Wright is still among the best defensive players in the NL with five runs saved.
I regret putting Joey Votto as low as I did because I can see him skyrocketing up the ballot in the second half. The Reds' first baseman is third in the NL in wOBA (.403), second in wRC+ (158) and first in on-base percentage (.432). He has also gotten his power stroke back after having leg problems last season, hitting 23 extra-base hits (13 doubles, 10 homers) since the start of May.
If you want to debate my awards predictions, or anything else baseball, feel free to hit me on Twitter with questions or comments.