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Full MLB Award Predictions at the 3-Quarter Mark of the 2013 Season

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 14, 2013

Full MLB Award Predictions at the 3-Quarter Mark of the 2013 Season

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    There are fewer than seven weeks remaining in the MLB season, which means we are rapidly running out of time to make end-of-season-award predictions for you to vehemently disagree with.

    Matt Harvey leads all pitchers in wins above replacement, but there's someone else more deserving of this year's NL Cy Young Award.

    Is it possible that someone other than Wil Myers could go home with the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award? (Short answer: Yes.)

    Does anyone really deserve to win the NL MVP?

    As we hit the three-quarter mark of the season, we've identified the favorite, the biggest challenger and the dark horse for each major award.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of Fangraphs.com and accurate through the start of play on Wednesday, Aug. 14.

American League Comeback Player of the Year

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    The Favorite

    John Lackey (3.69 FIP, 8.32 K/9, 4.24 K/BB, 14 QS, 21 GS, 2.5 WAR)

    Lackey missed all of 2012 after having Tommy John surgery. That came one year after effectively missing the entire 2011 season by posting a 6.41 ERA in 160 innings of work.

    Not only has he bounced back to peak form, but this has arguably been the best season of his entire career.

    His ground ball ratio, K/BB ratio and xFIP are all career bests by a pretty considerable margin. Though he has lost his last four decisions, he has been the most reliable pitcher in a rotation marred by an injury to Clay Buchholz, the ineffectiveness of Jon Lester and the continued existence of Ryan Dempster.

     

    Biggest Challenger

    Jacoby Ellsbury (111 G, .300/.360/.432, 7 HR, 44 SB, 4.7 WAR)

    Despite playing in nearly half of Boston's games last season, Ellsbury didn't look anything like his old self. Whether you believe he's the 2011 guy who hit 32 home runs or the 2009 guy who stole 70 bases, it's safe to say that none of us were expecting a grand total of four home runs and 14 stolen bases.

    This year, he's back on track for a stolen-base crown and isn't that far away from leading the league in hits, either. I'd say that's a pretty strong comeback.

     

    Dark Horse

    Ervin Santana (3.77 FIP, 7.08 K/9, 3.39 K/BB, 17 QS, 23 GS, 2.5 WAR)

    Not only was 2012 a rough season for Santana, but he had the worst WAR among all qualified starting pitchers. Thus far in 2013, he has looked much more like the 2008 version of himself.

    Between his bounce-back and the continued relevance of the Royals into late August, Santana is at the center of one of this year's biggest surprise stories.

National League Comeback Player of the Year

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    The Favorite

    Troy Tulowitzki (89 G, .303/.377/.551, 20 HR, 1 SB, 4.0 WAR)

    Given the number of injuries he has dealt with during his career, it's kind of shocking that he doesn't already have at least one of these awards.

    After three straight seasons of being relatively healthy and averaging about 30 home runs and a .305 batting average, Tulowitzki played in just 47 games in 2012.

    Though he has already missed 32 games this season, there's a reasonable chance he could still finish the year with 30 home runs, and his batting average is back above .300.

     

    Biggest Challenger

    Carl Crawford (81 G, .292/.344/.419, 5 HR, 11 SB, 2.4 WAR)

    There's no questioning that Crawford was a star during the latter half of the last decade, but I'm not so sure he qualifies as having made a comeback.

    His batting average is better than it was over the past two seasons, but he's barely stealing any bases (compared to his usual rate) and has struggled to stay on the field.

     

    Dark Horse

    Marlon Byrd (105 G, .279/.329/.499, 17 HR, 2 SB, 2.8 WAR)

    The question here is whether Byrd was ever actually a star to begin with.

    In Baseball-Reference's definition of the award, it's said to have been "created for a player who was once a star, but had to come back from either injury or ineffectiveness to reclaim his status." In the very next sentence, they qualify that "the criteria for the award are not well defined," so there's that.

    The highest single-season WAR in Byrd's career was 4.1, and he only played in more than 122 games in three of his previous 11 seasons. He was hardly a star before and he's hardly a star now. He's essentially a modern-day Pete Incavigliapacing for about 25 home runs with a strikeout in 27 percent of his plate appearances.

    If they gave out an "I can't believe that person finished in the top 10 percent in WAR at his position" award, Byrd would be the front-runner. But he probably doesn't have any part in this comeback-player discussion with Tulowitzki and Crawford.

American League Rookie of the Year

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    The Favorite

    Wil Myers (45 G, .318/.368/.497, 8 HR, 5 SB, 1.9 WAR)

    Since calling up Myers on June 18, the Rays have the best record in the American League.

    He isn't completely the reason for that improvement, but he's pretty darn close. Over the past month, no one on the team is even close to producing at the same level as Myers.

    Myers has only played in 45 games, which is roughly equal to the number of games left in Tampa Bay's season. Because of his small sample size, a 15-to-20-game cold spell could open the door for someone else to steal the AL ROY, but he's the overwhelming favorite at this point in time.

     

    Biggest Challenger

    Jose Iglesias (74 G, .321/.366/.401, 2 HR, 3 SB, 1.3 WAR)

    Frankly, it's a little amazing that anyone else is even in the discussion.

    On May 21, we were emailed with a request to only use players currently in MLB for ROY projectionsbecause even though nearly two months of the season had been played, we were all projecting still-in-the-minors Myers to win the award. Aaron Hicks, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brad Peacock, Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch had all been so disappointing to that point in the season that the race was completely wide open.

    Out of nowhere, Iglesias burst onto the scene by finishing the first half of the season with a .367 batting average. His bat hasn't been anywhere near as hot in the second half, but how much will his world-renowned glove play into the consideration of the voters?

     

    Dark Horse

    David Lough (67 G, .298/.317/.430, 4 HR, 4 SB, 2.0 WAR)

    Wouldn't it be ironic if Lough won the award instead of Myers? 

    If nothing else, he deserves a hearty pat on the back for not making Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore look completely foolish for trading Myers. As a bonus, he gave the Royals the opportunity to finally get rid of Jeff Francoeur.

National League Rookie of the Year

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    The Favorite

    Yasiel Puig (62 G, .373/.436/.589, 11 HR, 7 SB, 3.0 WAR)

    Whether he wins the award or not, you can pretty much guarantee there will be a ton of arguments on both sides of the fence.

    Two things that can't be argued, though, are that the Dodgers are 45-18 since calling up Puig on June 3, and Puig has the highest batting average among all players with at least 250 plate appearances.

     

    Biggest Challenger

    Jose Fernandez (2.77 FIP, 9.60 K/9, 3.10 K/BB, 15 QS, 23 GS, 3.2 WAR)

    Fernandez is a microcosm of why I concern myself so much with the walk rate of starting pitchers.

    In the 15 starts in which he has allowed at least two walks, Fernandez has an ERA of 3.61, a WHIP of 1.30 and a K/9 of 8.4. Those are respectable numbers, but nothing compared to when he isn't handing out free bases.

    In his seven starts with zero or one walks, he has a 0.75 ERA, a WHIP of 0.58 and a K/9 of 12.0.

    When he's on, there's no one better. The fact that two of those hot starts have come in his past three outings might be overinflating his value in my recent memory.

    If not for the looming innings cap, he would be the front-runner for the award right now. Regardless of where you would rank Puig in comparison to Fernandez at the moment, Puig will likely win the award since he'll be playing until the end of September for a playoff team while Fernandez sits and watches the Marlins lose their 100th game.

     

    Dark Horse

    Shelby Miller (3.09 FIP, 9.79 K/9, 3.77 K/BB, 9 QS, 22 GS, 2.3 WAR) or Julio Teheran (3.71 FIP, 7.99 K/9, 4.10 K/BB, 14 QS, 23 GS, 1.8 WAR)

    At the end of May, Miller had a 2.02 ERA and was practically already having his name etched into the NL ROY trophy. He's been struggling to last deep into games since then and has seen his ERA inflate to a still-respectable 2.89. If he can get back to being a top-of-the-rotation pitcher over the final six weeks for a playoff team, he could still win the race.

    Teheran, on the other hand, was nothing special at the end of May, but has a 2.59 ERA in 80 innings pitched since then. The end result is an ERA within 0.2 points of Miller and an argument that he has become the ace for the best team in the National League.

    It's difficult to distinguish between Miller and Teheran right now, but either could very easily go on a hot streak over the next month and bypass both Fernandez and Puig.

American League Cy Young

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    The Favorite

    Max Scherzer (2.69 FIP, 9.91 K/9, 4.76 K/BB, 19 QS, 24 GS, 5.0 WAR)

    For some reason, people have taken the "wins are meaningless" argument way too far when dealing with Scherzer. That rationale should be applied to pitchers like Chris Tillman, Matt Moore and Bartolo Colon, who have somehow won more than a dozen games each despite posting an xFIP of 4.20 or worse.

    Yes, Scherzer has benefited from a ridiculous amount of run support, but he has also been one of the most dominant pitchers all season.

    Only Yu Darvish and Anibal Sanchez have a higher K/9 than Scherzer. Only four other pitchers, including David Price and Felix Hernandez, have a higher K/BB than Scherzer. And his ERA, FIP and xFIP all rank in the top six in the AL.

    Hernandez may have a slightly higher WAR, but it's hard to ignore a 17-1 record, no matter how much you despise wins.

     

    Biggest Challenger

    Felix Hernandez (2.49 FIP, 9.22 K/9, 5.39 K/BB, 19 QS, 25 GS, 5.2 WAR)

    It only seems fitting that King Felix should once again be at the center of a heated Cy Young debate.

    Hernandez is tied for the league lead in quality starts, leads the league in ERA, leads the league in innings pitched and trails only Anibal Sanchez in FIP. But for all his trouble, he doesn't even crack top five in the league in wins.

    Back in 2010, Hernandez won the AL Cy Young with only 13 wins on the season, beating out CC Sabathia and David Price, who had 40 wins between them. If he can maintain his lead in the aforementioned categories, he could take home another piece of hardware this season.

     

    Dark Horse

    Yu Darvish (3.06 FIP, 12.12 K/9, 4.06 K/BB, 16 QS, 23 GS, 4.1 WAR)

    In the last seven seasons, there have been eight instances of a pitcher recording 240 or more strikeouts with one team. Seven of those eight instances resulted in a Cy Young Award, with Justin Verlander only missing out on the honor in 2009 with 269 strikeouts because Zack Greinke had 242 strikeouts and a 2.16 ERA in the same season in the same league.

    Despite missing a couple of starts while on the disabled list in July, Darvish already has 207 strikeouts this season and could very realistically be the first AL pitcher to reach 270 in a season since Pedro Martinez had 284 in 2000.

    Unfortunately for Darvish, both Hernandez (178) and Scherzer (181) are within range of that magical 240 number, and would probably get there with a better ERA. It should be a very interesting three-horse race to the finish.

National League Cy Young

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    The Favorite

    Clayton Kershaw (2.43 FIP, 8.59 K/9, 4.46 K/BB, 21 QS, 25 GS, 5.0 WAR)

    *See reasoning in next section.

     

    Biggest Challenger

    Matt Harvey (2.02 FIP, 9.83 K/9, 5.84 K/BB, 18 QS, 24 GS, 5.7 WAR)

    Choosing between the favorite and the biggest challenger for the NL Cy Young was by far the most difficult decision of all of these predictions. Both Kershaw and Harvey have been lights out all season.

    In the end, I let four things dictate my decision.

    First, Kershaw has more quality starts than Harvey. In fact, he has more quality starts than anyone. Kershaw also has 16 starts in which he went at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs. Harvey "only" has 14 of those starts.

    Second, Harvey has had the luxury of facing some terrible opponents. Of his 23 starts, four have come against Miami, three each against Philadelphia and Washington, and he has had one start each against the low-scoring Yankees, Twins, Cubs, Brewers, White Sox, Padres and Giants. All in all, 17 of his starts have been against teams who rank in the bottom 12 in runs scored on the season. Meanwhile, only three of his starts (St. Louis, Atlanta, Colorado) have come against teams in the top 10.

    Kershaw hasn't exactly dealt with a murderers' row, either, but at least 11 of his 25 starts have come against teams in the upper half of the aforementioned runs scored leaderboard.

    I'm not using that "strength of schedule" aspect to argue that Harvey hasn't been amazing, but rather that perhaps Kershaw has been just that much more amazing because he has dealt with tougher competition.

    That brings me to the third distinguishing feature, which is the fact that Kershaw is pitching in a pennant chase while Harvey is just helping his team not finish in last place. It's one thing to take the mound every fifth day with the knowledge that a bad outing could damage your pristine ERA. It's another thing altogether to know your team needs your best every time out in order to make the playoffs or secure home-field advantage.

    Fourth, and perhaps most daunting for Harvey, is the eternal fear of an innings limit. New York hasn't come out and said it'll be shutting Harvey down or even taking any steps to proactively limit his workload, but you have to think it's coming in some capacity, right?

    Even if it's just giving him an extra day off here and there or calling it a season one week early, it would really hurt since we all know darn well that Kershaw isn't going to get shut down. In a race this close, the difference between 35 and 31 or 32 games started could be absolutely massive.

     

    Dark Horse

    Adam Wainwright (2.47 FIP, 7.98 K/9, 6.75 K/BB, 20 QS, 25 GS, 4.9 WAR)

    Oh by the way, Wainwright has had himself one heck of a season as well. Unfortunately, he has given up at least three earned runs in six of his last eight starts, which has caused him to lose some ground to both Kershaw and Harvey in WAR and ERA. He's still very much in the running, though.

National League MVP

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    The Favorite

    Andrew McCutchen (115 G, .314/.388/.513, 17 HR, 24 SB, 5.9 WAR)

    There have arguably been more impressive players in the National League.

    Carlos Gomez is having a career season at the plate (18 HR, 30 SB, .287 BA) and has been one of the best fielders in the entire league. Carlos Gonzalez (26 HR, 21 SB, .302 BA) has been unstoppable at the plate. Paul Goldschmidt (29 HR, 13 SB, .297 BA) has been equally difficult to get out.

    But no one has been more valuable to his team than McCutchen. He has been the face of the franchise that is continually shocking the world.

     

    Biggest Challenger

    David Wright (105 G, .309/.391/.512, 16 HR, 17 SB, 5.7 WAR)

    If the Mets were anywhere near any sort of playoff race, this would be a much closer contest. As it is, Wright and McCutchen have almost identical stats, but there's no question that McCutchen would get more votes since his team has nearly 20 more wins than Wright's team.

    Still, Wright will finish somewhere near the top, especially if the Pirates find some way to collapse again.

     

    Dark Horse

    Clayton Kershaw (2.43 FIP, 8.59 K/9, 4.46 K/BB, 21 QS, 25 GS, 5.0 WAR)

    Neither McCutchen nor Wright particularly jump off the page as MVP candidates. Great seasons, no doubt, but nothing compared to what we came to expect from MVPs while Albert Pujols was winning them.

    Because of that, how many voters who are struggling to choose between Kershaw and Matt Harvey for the NL Cy Young might split the difference by giving Harvey their first-place vote for the Cy Young and Kershaw their first-place vote for MVP?

    It's not exactly traditional for pitchers to win MVP awardsonly Justin Verlander in 2011 has pulled it off in the past 20 yearsbut that thought process at least makes sense, right? I don't believe Kershaw would actually win, but I would also be pretty shocked if he didn't finish in the top three.

American League MVP

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    The Favorite

    Miguel Cabrera (110 G, .362/.456/.683, 37 HR, 3 SB, 7.4 WAR)

    Let's flash forward to a very realistic future in which Cabrera wins the batting crown and hits 50 home runs for a Detroit team that finishes with the best record in the American League.

    How many home runs would Chris Davis have to hit in order to win the MVP ahead of Cabrera in that situation? 60? 65? What if the Orioles fail to make the playoffs? Didn't the voters kind of prove last season that it's much easier to vote for a great player if his team makes the playoffs?

    There's still a lot left to be determined in this race, but I think there's a better chance of Cabrera overtaking Davis in the home-run race and unanimously winning the MVP than there is of Davis winning it.

     

    Biggest Challenger

    Chris Davis (118 G, .299/.374/.682, 44 HR, 0 SB, 5.7 WAR)

    Despite the above negative comparison to Cabrera, he's still one of the only challengers to Cabrera right now. His batting average has dropped off considerably over the past two months, but he's still mashing baseballs and driving in runners left and right.

     

    Dark Horse

    Mike Trout (117 G, .329/.425/.574, 21 HR, 26 SB, 7.9 WAR)

    How the heck is the MLB leader in WAR a dark horse?

    Plain and simple, it's impossible to argue that the most valuable player in baseball is playing for a team that's more than 10 games below .500, especially when Cabrera and Davis are having the seasons that they're having.

    When Alex Rodriguez won the 2003 AL MVP while playing for the last-place Rangers, he was really the only viable option. Voters tried to find an excuse not to vote for him10 different players received first-place votesbut in the end, his 47 home runs and .298 batting average were head and shoulders above anything that a member of a playoff team recorded.

    Trout will probably finish the season with more wins above replacement than anyone else for a second consecutive season, but it won't be enough for him to win AL MVP unless both the Tigers and Orioles collapse and somehow miss the playoffs.

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