Dark-Horse Candidates Emerging for Major 2013 MLB Awards
Raise your hand if you picked Chris Davis to finish anywhere near the top five in the voting for American League MVP heading into the 2013 season.
Mr. and Mrs. Davis, you can put your hands down.
Every year, fans and pundits make their predictions before the MLB season gets underway as to which teams are going to play in the World Series and which players are going to take home the biggest individual awards that the game has to offer.
Yet, every year, there's at least one team and a handful of players who do their best to make those predictions look foolish—especially when it comes to the major awards (MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year).
This year is no different.
While some of those races are seemingly between a short list of players (Davis and Miguel Cabrera for AL MVP, for example), there's still a lot of baseball that has yet to be played.
If we've learned anything from following America's pastime over the years, it's that anything can—and usually does—happen, throwing a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans and the most well-thought-out predictions and causing those "favorites" to fall short of winning any awards at all.
So let's take a look at a handful of players who are quietly having excellent seasons and who could figure more prominently in the award voting at the end of the season.
*All statistics are current through games of July 26 and, with the exception of wRC+ and QS, are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
*QS (Quality Starts) courtesy of ESPN.
NL Rookie of the Year: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
While he plays in one of the game's biggest markets, Los Angeles, you hardly ever hear anyone talk about Hyun-Jin Ryu outside the City of Angels.
Ryu, 26, might not have gaudy strikeout totals or a blistering fastball, but he is a pitcher, not a thrower—and he delivers results. Nearly 75 percent of his starts on the season grade out as quality ones, more than any other rookie pitcher in the National League:
His peripheral stats aren't as impressive as his first-year counterparts, but Ryu has one significant advantage over all of them: The Dodgers aren't looking to limit the wear and tear on his arm this season.
Over his seven-year career in Korea, Ryu averaged 181.2 innings per season, twice eclipsing the 200-inning mark.
While the rest of the rookie hurlers on the senior circuit are either having their workloads limited by the team (Fernandez) or dealing with an arm that is tossing more innings than it ever has, Ryu's workload won't be any different from what it's been since he was 19 years old.
That said, Ryu not only has other pitchers to worry about, but a handful of position players as well, none looming larger than his teammate Yasiel Puig, who has to be considered one of the favorites to take home the hardware at the end of the season.
Last Dodger to Win NL Rookie of the Year: Todd Hollandsworth (1996)
AL Rookie of the Year: David Lough, Kansas City Royals
It'd be easy to look at David Lough's power numbers and immediately discount him from the Rookie of the Year race in the American League, but to do so would be foolish on our parts.
The 27-year-old can hit, and as long as he continues to get consistent playing time in Kansas City's outfield, there's no reason he couldn't be a serious contender for the award by the time the season comes to an end.
While Lough didn't join the Royals until mid-May, he's already eclipsed the production of players like Texas' Leonys Martin and Chicago's Conor Gillaspie, a pair of rookies who have been with their respective clubs since the beginning of the season:
|David Lough||.304||.774||110||18 (4)||21|
|Leonys Martin||.284||.755||102||19 (5)||17|
|Conor Gillaspie||.254||.718||85||20 (9)||25|
|Wil Myers||.325||.845||134||11 (5)||22|
|Nick Franklin||.273||.803||123||20 (8)||28|
Lough is going to face a stiff challenge from the likes of Tampa Bay's Wil Myers (the overwhelming favorite to win the award) and Seattle's Nick Franklin, who didn't make his 2013 debut until just over a week after Lough did.
While the odds are stacked against him, Lough is having an excellent rookie campaign, and if the ball bounces the right way, he could sneak in and snatch Rookie of the Year honors for himself.
Last Royal to Win AL Rookie of the Year: Angel Berroa (2003)
NL Cy Young Award: Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves
If it seems like there's always at least one pitcher from the Atlanta Braves who lands in the top 10 of the National League Cy Young Award voting every year, it's because it's true. You have to go back to the 2008 season to find a ballot that didn't include at least one vote for a member of Atlanta's pitching staff.
That trend isn't going to stop in 2013, with both Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor locks to appear on at least one ballot.
But being a starting pitcher, one who ranks among the league leaders in multiple categories, Minor has an advantage over his talented teammate:
|Category||Minor's Stats||NL Rank|
With veterans like Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright having phenomenal seasons and youngsters like Matt Harvey making their mark, Minor faces a steep hill if he's going to have a chance to take home the award at the end of the season.
But a top-five finish in the voting isn't out of the question, and should injury befall any of the other pitchers in the race, Minor has the ability to distance himself from the rest of the field by the end of the season.
Last Brave to Win the NL Cy Young Award: Tom Glavine (1998)
AL Cy Young Award: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
It'd be a fitting send-off for Mariano Rivera to walk off into the sunset with the American League Cy Young Award in his last season, wouldn't it?
Rivera has finished in the top five of the voting five times—four of those being second or third—and his numbers this season are nearly as strong as they were then:
When you factor in that Rivera is the oldest active player in the league (43), it makes his accomplishments all the more impressive.
While the award is far more likely to go to a starting pitcher than a reliever, we've never seen a player like Rivera not only go out on his own terms, but do so while still at the top of his game. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see him get significant support from voters at the end of the season, partly for his work in 2013 and partly as a "lifetime achievement award."
AL Cy Young Award: Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees
Like Mariano Rivera, 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda continues to prove that, in some cases, age really is just a number.
Despite pitching in front of one of the most anemic offenses in the American League (did you ever think we'd be able to say that about the Yankees?), Kuroda has been stellar, pitching to the second-lowest ERA and fifth-lowest WHIP in the league.
As a matter of fact, only one of the four front-runners for the award has received less help from his team's offense than Kuroda has this season:
He's allowed a total of two earned runs over his last 26 innings of work, a span that has seen him keep two of the game's most high-powered offenses, Baltimore and Texas, off of the scoreboard.
While Kuroda doesn't have the strikeout totals of his American League counterparts, the rest of his numbers are as good as, if not better than, those of the other top contenders for the award.
Last Yankee to Win the AL Cy Young Award: Roger Clemens (2001)
AL MVP: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
For years, the conversation surrounding second base in the American League has revolved around Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia, with a wide gap separating the pair from the rest of the field in the American League.
Jason Kipnis has closed that gap in a hurry and has proven that he belongs in the conversation right alongside the those two perennial MVP contenders.
You laugh, but it's true. Take a look at how his numbers stack up against his more established counterparts this season:
|Robinson Cano||.299||.897||139||41 (21)||70|
|Jason Kipnis||.296||.891||147||43 (15)||62|
|Dustin Pedroia||.303||.794||117||32 (6)||58|
That's impressive, and when you take into account Kipnis' abilities on the basepaths, successfully swiping 21 of 27 bags, the argument could be made that he is the best second baseman in not only the American League, but in all of baseball.
While it will take a disaster of epic proportions on the parts of Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis for anyone else to have a legitimate chance of winning the AL MVP Award this season, don't be surprised to see Kipnis' name right below that dynamic duo when the voting results become public.
He's that good, and he's only getting better.
Last Indian to Win AL MVP: Al Rosen (1953)
NL MVP: Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals
On a team with superstars like Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, it's easy to overlook St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig.
My pick to lead the Cardinals in RBI heading into the season, Craig has exceeded even the loftiest of expectations, as he's embroiled in a heated battle for the National League batting title.
Not only is he leading St. Louis in RBI with 79 (which ranks third in the NL), but he ranks among the league leaders in on-base percentage (10th), OPS (11th) and wRC+ (11th) as well.
To be fair, Craig's power numbers leave much to be desired, especially when compared to some of the other NL MVP candidates:
|Allen Craig||.331||.862||36 (10)||79||142|
|Jay Bruce||.276||.832||52 (21)||72||123|
|Paul Goldschmidt||.307||.941||47 (22)||83||153|
|Carlos Gonzalez||.297||.963||55 (26)||67||149|
|Buster Posey||.314||.906||43 (14)||59||155|
But the rest of his numbers hold up pretty well against the competition. And if he takes home the NL batting crown while continuing to produce runs at his current pace, he'll have a pretty strong case to be named MVP.
Last Cardinal to Win NL MVP: Albert Pujols (2009)