Dark-Horse Contenders for Every Major 2013 MLB Award

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2013

Dark-Horse Contenders for Every Major 2013 MLB Award

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    As the postseason races heat up around baseball here in the final month, so too do the award races, with candidates looking to put the finishing touches on their bids to take home some hardware at the end of the year.

    Every major award has a handful of guys who look poised to finish at or near the top of the balloting. But there are also some dark-horse candidates who are making a strong push and flying under the radar while doing it.

    What follows is a look at the dark-horse candidates for each major MLB award. While not every dark horse has a legitimate chance of winning the award, each one does have a chance to finish higher than expected in the voting when all is said and done.


    *Note: All WAR numbers and advanced fielding metrics courtesy of FanGraphs.

AL Manager of the Year

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    NameTeam's '12 RecordTeam's '13 Record
    John Farrell, BOS      69-93 (.426)     86-57 (.601)
    Joe Girardi, NYY      95-67 (.586)     75-66 (.532)
    Ron Washington, TEX     93-69 (.574)     80-60 (.571)


    The AL Manager of the Year race is still wide open, but Boston Red Sox skipper John Farrell looks like the favorite. He led Boston to an impressive turnaround this year after the team's worst season since 1960.

    That said, both Joe Girardi and Ron Washington have also done a great job navigating through a myriad of injuries and keeping their teams together despite turmoil off and on the field.


    Dark-Horse Candidate

    Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals

    The Royals made the big decision this offseason to trade top prospect Wil Myers to the Rays, adding James Shields and Wade Davis in an effort to bolster their pitching staff and make a run at the postseason.

    A 72-90 (.444) team last year, the Royals were a disappointing 43-49 at the All-Star break. But they have gone 30-19 since to keep themselves in the hunt for a wild-card spot. Even if they don't reach the postseason, it's been an impressive turnaround for the Royals, and Yost has been terrific in his fourth season as their manager.

NL Manager of the Year

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    NameTeam's '12 RecordTeam's '13 Record
    Fredi Gonzalez, ATL     94-68 (.580)     85-55 (.607)
    Clint Hurdle, PIT     79-83 (.488)     81-59 (.579)
    Mike Matheny, STL     88-74 (.543)     81-60 (.574)
    Don Mattingly, LAD     86-76 (.531)     83-57 (.593)


    It looks to be a two-horse race right now for NL Manager of the Year. Clint Hurdle has finally gotten the Pittsburgh Pirates over the hump after 20 straight losing seasons, while Don Mattingly has helped the Dodgers bounce back from a slow start and has kept his job after looking destined to be fired the first month of the year.

    Not far below those two guys, and still very much in the running, are Fredi Gonzalez and Mike Matheny. Both have had to deal with an abundance of injuries this season, but they've managed to keep their teams among the best in baseball.


    Dark-Horse Candidate

    Walt Weiss, Colorado Rockies

    The Rockies are not headed for the postseason, but for much of the first half, they were the game's surprise team. And they have been significantly improved over last year.

    After going 64-98 (.395) last season, the Rockies have already surpassed that win total at 66-76. While a healthy pitching staff has been part of the reason for the turnaround, Weiss has no doubt been a steadying presence at the helm.

AL Rookie of the Year

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    SP Chris Archer, TB18 GS, 8-6, 3.14 ERA, 75 K, 106 IP  1.0
    SS Jose Iglesias, DET 94 G, .319/.366/.399, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 37 R 1.8
    RF Wil Myers, TB65 G, .286/.347/.472, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 34 R 1.9


    The AL Rookie of the Year picture is much less cluttered than the NL one, but it's also much shorter on talent. No one from the above-mentioned trio would even finish in the top five in National League voting, and the guys listed as dark-horse candidates in the NL would likely be front-runners in the AL.


    Dark-Horse Candidates

    RP Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

     65/0  5-1  2.45  77  62.1  1.0

    The Indians bullpen has been inconsistent all year, as its 3.82 ERA as a group ranks 21st in all of baseball. But 24-year-old Cody Allen has been a reliable late-inning arm all season.

    Allen may wind up as the closer of the future in Cleveland, and he certainly has the swing-and-miss stuff to thrive in the role.


    SP Martin Perez, Texas Rangers

     15/15  9-3  3.41  63  95  1.4

    Injuries have hit the Rangers' pitching staff hard this season, but the rotation has fallen into place here in the second half, and Martin Perez has been a big reason why. He may have as good a chance as any of the dark horses named in this article of taking home some hardware.

    Having gone 6-0 with a 2.76 ERA in his last six starts, he's pushing to join the ranks of the front-runners, even though few are talking about him as a legitimate candidate.


    OF J.B. Shuck, Los Angeles Angels

     111 .290/.325/.368 108  2  37 50  0.1

    Signed to a minor league deal in the offseason, J.B. Shuck spent the first five seasons of his pro career in the Astros organization and had spent just 37 games at the major league level heading into this year.

    The 26-year-old has seen significant playing time this year, though, and he ranks second among all rookies with 108 hits on the year. Injuries have opened the door to playing time, and he may have to settle for a backup job next year, but his contribution has been as unexpected as any in baseball this year.


    *Note: Leonys Martin (TEX) and Yan Gomes (CLE) are not rookie eligible this season after spending too many days on the active roster last year.

NL Rookie of the Year

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    SP Jose Fernandez, MIA26 GS, 10-6, 2.33 ERA, 173 K, 158.2 IP  3.9
    SP Shelby Miller, STL 27 GS, 12-9, 3.19 ERA, 157 K, 149.2 IP  1.9
    RF Yasiel Puig, LAD82 G, .348/.408/.558, 14 HR, 32 RBI, 56 R 3.7
    SP Hyun-Jin Ryu, LAD26 GS, 13-5, 3.02 ERA, 139 K, 167 IP  2.7
    SP Julio Teheran, ATL 26 GS, 11-7, 3.01 ERA, 148 K, 161.1 IP  2.0


    At this point, any of the above five guys could walk away with NL Rookie of the Year honors. Jose Fernandez is the front-runner, but he'll be shut down soon. And with the other four guys all playing for teams in the thick of a postseason race, a strong finish could be enough to pass the 21-year-old right-hander.


    Dark-Horse Candidates

    3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies 

     116 .271/.304/.418 117  10  47 45  3.1

    Ranked as the No. 52 prospect in baseball entering the season, according to Baseball America, Nolan Arenado took over as the Rockies' everyday third baseman in late April.

    He has the upside to be an impact bat offensively, but he's just been average at the plate so far as a rookie. The real value he's brought is in the field, where his 22.0 UZR is second only to Manny Machado at the position and fourth in all of baseball. His 3.1 WAR ranks third among all NL rookies.


    SP Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds 

    22/17  7-3 2.80  119  103  1.5

    Tony Cingrani turned in a dominant 2012 season by going 10-4 with a 1.73 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in the minors, opening the season at the High-A level and finishing the year in the Reds bullpen.

    With no spot for him in the rotation, Cingrani opened the season in the minors. But he was called up in mid-April and has been fantastic all season in replacing injured ace Johnny Cueto in the rotation. He doesn't get the attention that his fellow NL rookie pitchers do, but he's been incredibly important to his team's success.


    SP Alex Wood, Atlanta Braves

     24/9 3-3 3.15  68  65.2  1.3

    Julio Teheran has been fantastic in the Braves rotation all season, but fellow rookie Alex Wood has been equally impressive since joining in late July, going 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA in seven starts as a starter.

    With Tim Hudson out for the season and Paul Maholm also battling injuries and inconsistency, Wood has given the Braves rotation a much-needed boost and could play a major role down the stretch and on into October.

AL Cy Young

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    SP Bartolo Colon, OAK26 GS, 14-6, 2.90 ERA, 87 K, 164.1 IP 3.0
    SP Yu Darvish, TEX27 GS, 12-7, 2.91 ERA, 240 K, 179.2 IP 4.3
    SP Felix Hernandez, SEA29 GS, 12-9, 3.01 ERA, 200 K, 194.1 IP 5.8
    SP Hiroki Kuroda, NYY28 GS, 11-10, 2.99 ERA, 130 K, 177.2 IP 3.5
    SP Max Scherzer, DET28 GS, 19-2, 2.88 ERA, 209 K, 190.1 IP 5.7


    The AL Cy Young picture is an interesting one, as it's hard to see past the 19-2 record that Max Scherzer has posted this season. But Felix Hernandez and Yu Darvish have both put together dominant seasons themselves and have their own strong cases for the award if the season were to end today. The other guys listed above may be a notch below those three guys, but they are solid candidates as well.


    Dark-Horse Candidates

    RP Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

     57/0 38-of-41  1.45  87  56  2.6

    Veterans Mariano Rivera (41 SV, 2.06 ERA) and Joe Nathan (38 SV, 1.48 ERA) are both having fantastic seasons, but the most dominant reliever in the American League has been Royals closer Greg Holland.

    In his first full season as closer after taking over for Jonathan Broxton at the deadline last year, the 27-year-old has not only saved 38 games, he also has a 0.88 WHIP and 14.0 K/9 to show just how dominant he's been.


    SP Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners

    30/30  12-6  2.97  169  196.2  3.5

    Hisashi Iwakuma quietly closed out last season by going 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 16 starts after joining the Mariners rotation, and Seattle made the wise decision to bring him back on a two-year, $14 million deal in the offseason.

    Teammate Felix Hernandez gets all the attention, but Iwakuma actually has a lower ERA and WHIP (1.02) than Hernandez, and he's been terrific all season as arguably the best No. 2 starter in the game.


    SP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

    26/26  10-12  2.97  199  187.2  4.7

    It's been a long season for the White Sox, and the bright spots have been few and far between. But 24-year-old left-hander Chris Sale has built off of a fantastic first season in the rotation last year and emerged as one of the game's legitimate aces.

    His record makes him easy to overlook, but his peripheral numbers are among the best in the league across the board, and the five-year, $32.5 million extension he signed in the offseason looks like an absolute steal.

NL Cy Young

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    SP Matt Harvey, NYM26 GS, 9-5, 2.27 ERA, 191 K, 178.1 IP 6.2
    SP Clayton Kershaw, LAD29 GS, 14-8, 1.89 ERA, 201 K, 209 IP 5.9
    RP Craig Kimbrel, ATL58 G, 44-of-47 SV, 0.94 ERA, 13.0 K/9 2.0
    SP Adam Wainwright, STL29 GS, 15-9, 3.14 ERA, 187 K, 206.2 IP 5.3


    Barring a massive September collapse, Clayton Kershaw appears to have the NL Cy Young all but wrapped up at this point. Matt Harvey was the only one with a real chance at giving him a run for his money, but a season-ending UCL injury put an end to that. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel and Adam Wainwright have solid resumes, but they don't stack up to the Dodgers' left-hander.

    Others, like Patrick Corbin, Madison Bumgarner and Cliff Lee, are a notch below the above-mentioned guys, but they don't quite qualify as "dark horses" either. 


    Dark-Horse Candidates

    SP Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

     23/23  14-3  2.78  119  148.2  2.1

    After signing a six-year, $159 million deal in the offseason, things did not exactly start out swimmingly for Zack Greinke in Los Angeles. A broken collarbone in April cost him nearly a month, and he had a 4.80 ERA through his first six starts.

    However, he's turned things around since then and given the Dodgers the second ace they were hoping he'd be when they gave him all that money. He's been particularly good in the second half, going 6-1 with a 1.84 ERA in nine starts, and he gives the Dodgers two legitimate Cy Young candidates.


    SP Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds

    28/28  14-5  2.98  172  184  4.5

    With Johnny Cueto on the shelf, the Reds have counted on Mat Latos as the ace of the staff this year, and he has thrived in that role in his second season in Cincinnati.

    The big right-hander is 6-2 with a 1.97 ERA since the All-Star break, as his stock is certainly on the rise here in the second half. He'll be counted on to keep pitching like an ace down the stretch and into October for a Reds team looking to avenge last year's NLDS collapse.


    SP Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates

    22/22  15-7  2.98  139  136  3.0

    The Pirates took a flier on Francisco Liriano this offseason, signing him to a one-year, $1 million deal after the left-hander went just 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA pitching for the Twins and White Sox last season.

    He missed time early while recovering from a broken non-throwing arm, but he's been the ace of the surging Pirates staff since winning his first start of the season on May 11. The Pirates look like geniuses now for tacking an $8 million team option for next year onto the contract he signed in the offseason.


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    3B Miguel Cabrera, DET 129 G, .355/.447/.673, 43 HR, 131 RBI, 96 R 7.5
    CF Mike Trout, LAA 136 G, .338/.435/.575, 23 HR, 83 RBI, 95 R 9.4
    1B Chris Davis, BAL 139 G, .298/.381/.659, 48 HR, 123 RBI, 96 R 6.3


    The Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout, conventional numbers vs. sabermetrics debate may very well crop up once again this year, as both players are having seasons very similar to their 2012 campaigns. Chris Davis would be the front-runner in almost any other season, but he will likely have to settle for a third-place finish.


    Dark-Horse Candidates

    3B Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics

     139 .296/.371/.494 152  21  82 73  5.9

    Handed the starting third base job out of spring training in 2012, Josh Donaldson struggled to the point of being demoted. But he returned on August 14 to hit .290/.356/.489 down the stretch.

    He has built off of that solid stretch with a breakout season, and while the 27-year-old was snubbed from the MLB All-Star Game, he could get some love from the AL MVP voters if he keeps producing in the middle of the A's lineup over the final month.


    CF Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox

     130 .299/.355/.424 169  8  52 89  5.6

    Jacoby Ellsbury nearly won AL MVP honors back in 2011 when he posted a .928 OPS with 32 home runs and 39 steals, finishing second to Tigers ace Justin Verlander in a very close vote.

    A shoulder injury limited him to just 74 games last season, and his power has not returned to it's 2011 level, but he brings so much to the Red Sox offense as a table-setter, base stealer (52 SB) and fielder (10.8 UZR) that he may well get more votes than any of his teammates on a roster with no shortage of MVP candidates.

    Note: Ellsbury was pulled from Boston's road trip Saturday to receive an MRI on his bothersome right foot. Results are still pending.


    1B Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

     138 .278/.375/.546 143  36  104  87  4.4

    Once a top prospect in the Reds organization, Edwin Encarnacion had carved out a decent MLB career entering last season but never lived up to the lofty expectations many had for him. That all changed in 2012, though, as he hit 42 home runs and drove in 110 runs in a monster breakout season.

    He's proven that was no fluke this year, as he again ranks among the league's top sluggers, trailing only Cabrera and Davis in home runs and RBI. He's been on a tear since the break too, hitting .309/.420/.582 with 11 home runs in the second half. His numbers could look even better by season's end.


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    1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI138 G, .291/.395/.531, 31 HR, 106 RBI, 89 R 5.3
    SP Clayton Kershaw, LAD29 GS, 14-8, 1.89 ERA, 201 K, 209 IP 5.9
    CF Andrew McCutchen, PIT137 G, .320/.401/.513, 19 HR, 76 RBI, 87 R 6.9
    C Yadier Molina, STL117 G, .320/.358/.481, 11 HR, 64 RBI, 57 R 4.6
    1B Joey Votto, CIN142 G, .302/.428/.494, 22 HR, 66 RBI, 91 R 5.3


    The NL MVP race may be the most wide-open of any of the major award races, and who wins the NL Central may wind up deciding who takes home the hardware. Then again, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see either the best pitcher in the game, Clayton Kershaw, or the best player on a non-playoff team, Paul Goldschmidt, hoist the trophy.


    Dark-Horse Candidates

    2B Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

     136 .317/.385/.484 172  10  68 109  5.7

    For much of the season, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has been hyped as the team's most likely MVP candidate, and rightfully so. There may be no player in baseball who means more to the success of his team than Molina.

    However, Matt Carpenter has been a rock at the top of the team's lineup all season and has been awfully valuable himself. A utility player last year, he made the move to second base and was plugged into the leadoff spot when Rafael Furcal went down. He's been a fantastic table-setter for the Cardinals' loaded lineup all season.


    1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

     126 .305/.382/.483 146  19  94 72  3.4

    Freddie Freeman may not be a dark-horse candidate to Braves fans, who have shouted his name from the rooftops early and often in the comments section here on Bleacher Report, but around the league, he's still not getting the MVP respect he deserves.

    He doesn't have the numbers of fellow NL first basemen Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto, but he's been the Braves' most consistent hitter all season and should top his team in MVP votes—unless closer Craig Kimbrel gets some love from the voters.


    RF Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals

     108 .318/.394/.519 123  21  66  69  3.3

    The seven-year, $126 million deal that Jayson Werth signed prior to the 2011 season immediately put him in the discussion for the most overpaid player in the league. And after back-to-back subpar seasons, he was not expected to be anything more than an average contributor this year.

    Werth missed some time with a strained hamstring early, but he's been fantastic when on the field. He's been as hot as any player in baseball since the All-Star break with a .348/.437/.600 line and 11 home runs. The Nationals offense has been a big disappointment, but Werth has carried the team in the second half and has put up fantastic numbers overall.