And then there was one. After months of building their respective resumes, the best players and managers in Major League Baseball during the 2013 season have one week left to leave an impression on the voting populace.
While the likelihood of one player greatly enhancing his chances for an award at this point in the season is slim, we know all too well that certain writers think that the value placed on a game at the end of September should be greater than a game one month ago.
Last I checked, all the games count the same, but that's another story for another day. Today, we just want to check back in on the stocks of the best that baseball has had to offer this year.
As I have said in each iteration of this series, these rankings are strictly my own opinion and how I would vote if I had a ballot. They are not necessarily reflective of who I think will win when the voting is announced in November.
That said, here is how things stand entering the final week of the season in all seven major MLB awards races.
American League Manager of the Year: John Farrell, Boston Red Sox (Stock: Up)
Not that John Farrell needed any more icing on the top of his Manger of the Year cake, but the Red Sox clinching the American League East for the first time since 2007 and a postseason berth for the first time since 2009 gave him a little extra padding.
I am curious to see how this voting will shake out, because I can see a lot of votes heading Joe Girardi's way given where the Yankees started the season and the fact they still have an outside shot at a playoff appearance. But this is still Farrell's to lose, which he most certainly won't.
Other Candidates: Terry Francona (Cleveland), Joe Girardi (New York), Bob Melvin (Oakland)
National League Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates (Stock: Up)
While the Pirates missed an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth on Sunday, it is going to happen in the next two days. Considering the typically low expectations in Pittsburgh before the season, along with the narrative of breaking a 20-year losing streak, there is no one in the NL that can touch Clint Hurdle.
Even if I don't think he is the best tactical manager—or even a very good one, in that regard—I can appreciate that some things go beyond what we see on the field.
Other Candidates: Davey Johnson (Washington), Don Mattingly (Los Angeles)
No. 1 Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Last Week: No. 1)
Wil Myers is one behind the AL rookie leader with 13 home runs despite playing in just 80 games. His .352 on-base percentage is second behind Detroit's Jose Iglesias, and his .480 slugging percentage, .356 weighted on-base average and 130 weighted runs created plus are first.
Even in a weak crop of rookies, Myers is the clear standout. He entered 2013 with as much hype as any first-year player, had to bide his time in Triple-A before getting a shot midseason and has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this season is just the beginning of big things to come.
No. 2 Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (Last Week: No. 2)
I feel like we have underrated Chris Archer this season because there is so much pitching depth in Tampa Bay, but there was a lot of temptation to put him at No. 1 because he's been very impressive in the second half.
What ultimately prevented Archer from getting the bump is a lack of starts against quality competition. Seven of his 21 starts have come against Houston, San Francisco, Minnesota and Seattle. But he did look impressive against Texas on Wednesday, with six strikeouts and just four hits allowed in six innings in a game with huge playoff implications for both sides.
No. 3 Jose Iglesias, SS, Detroit Tigers (Last Week: Rising)
This is a case where there really isn't a strong No. 3 candidate, but you have to put someone in there. Jose Iglesias' overall stat line looks a lot better than he has played since leaving Boston, and the sample size has grown enough so that things have evened out.
Iglesias is hitting just .276/.324/.370 in 42 games with the Tigers and .310/.357/.395 overall. His defense has been solid, but it doesn't rate as anything special, with three runs saved and a plus-minus of minus-two.
I can see a case to be made for two or three different players in this spot, so Iglesias' inclusion is far from a sure thing.
Rising: Dan Straily (Oakland), Danny Salazar (Cleveland)
Falling: Martin Perez (Texas), Cody Allen (Cleveland)
No. 1 Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins (Last Week: No. 1)
Jose Fernandez's grip on the top spot has been loosened ever so slightly because his season ended almost two weeks ago due to innings restrictions. But it is hard to argue with a 20-year-old who will finish with the second-lowest ERA (2.19), fourth-lowest FIP (2.73) and sixth-lowest xFIP (3.09) in the NL.
This award has been his to lose for a long time, even when Yasiel Puig was getting touted as the greatest player in the history of the world, and the Dodgers outfielder hasn't done anything to pass Fernandez thus far.
No. 2 Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last Week: No. 2)
This race is going to be very interesting because Puig has six more games to convince voters that he has been better than Fernandez. Right now, I don't really have a strong argument that he can't/won't overtake Miami's young fireballer.
The only way to add value is to play in games. Puig has the advantage that Fernandez doesn't. Both players have incredibly strong cases to be made. If Puig goes on a tear this week, the race gets even tighter.
No. 3 Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves (Last Week: No. 3)
While there is a clear separation between the top two in the NL Rookie of the Year race, the battle for No. 3, while not nearly as important, is compelling in its own right.
Julio Teheran and Hyun-Jin Ryu have nearly identical ERAs (3.09 to 3.03), but Ryu does lead in both FIP (3.26 to 3.68) and xFIP (3.49 to 3.75). However, given the differences in their ages and Teheran pitching in a more hitter-friendly division, I give him the edge in this race.
It also helps that Teheran averages nearly a full strikeout more per inning (8.32 to 7.16) with a nearly identical walk rate (2.24 to 2.34), despite pitching a handful of fewer innings.
Rising: Gerrit Cole (Pittsburgh), Hyun-Jin Ryu (Los Angeles)
Falling: Shelby Miller (St. Louis), Tony Cingrani (Cincinnati)
No. 1 Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers (Last Week: No. 1)
If all things were equal between Max Scherzer and Felix Hernandez, the latter would have the edge on my Cy Young ballot because the overall level of competition faced within the division is much higher for Seattle than Detroit.
However, because Scherzer has been able to pitch and Hernandez has been battling an injury that kept him out for three weeks in September, the Tigers All-Star gets the advantage because he's able to build upon his stats and increase his innings total.
So, even though Hernandez has the lower FIP (2.58 to 2.74) and xFIP (2.67 to 3.13), the fact that he's trailing Scherzer by almost 10 innings—roughly equivalent to 1.5 full starts for both—puts him in first.
No. 2 Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (Last Week: No. 2)
As you might have guessed from the analysis of Scherzer, I am a huge fan of innings when it comes to Cy Young voting. Obviously, there is more that goes into it than just that, but it is a component that doesn't get talked about enough. (For the record, that's why I don't include Anibal Sanchez on these lists, because he's 20-to-30 innings behind everyone else.)
Hernandez can make a very good case that he's been the best pitcher in the AL this year. He's second in FIP, first in xFIP and fourth in strikeouts. And all of that has come with one of the worst defenses in baseball behind him.
But when you have two pitchers as close in value as Hernandez and Scherzer, the great separator becomes innings spent on the mound.
No. 3 Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers (Last Week: No. 3)
Like the NL Rookie of the Year, the battle for third in the AL Cy Young voting remains incredibly compelling.
No pitcher in baseball is better at missing bats than Yu Darvish, who averages 11.78 per nine innings and has 260 overall. But he's had some issues with walks and home runs that prevent him from competing with Scherzer and Hernandez.
Rising: Chris Sale (Chicago), James Shields (Kansas City)
Falling: Justin Verlander (Detroit), Hiroki Kuroda (New York)
No. 1 Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last Week: No. 1)
Not that you have, but in case you were looking for reasons why Clayton Kershaw is tops on this list without any real competition for the award, here are a few: He is tied for the lead among all starters, AL or NL, in fWAR (6.2), and leads in innings pitched (230.0), ERA (1.88), ERA+ (191) and WHIP (0.922).
Kershaw is also first in the NL with 224 strikeouts, trailing only Yu Darvish and Max Scherzer across MLB.
We have exhausted all possible superlatives to describe the 25-year-old, so let me just say that it is hard to imagine him getting better next year. But I would have said the same thing last year and the year before that and the year before that.
No. 2 Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals (Last Week: No. 2)
"Always a bridesmaid, never a bride" is going to be how Adam Wainwright describes the NL Cy Young voting. He finished third for the honor in 2009 and was the runner-up in 2010, but can't seem to break through. Of course, it is hard to fault him this season because Kershaw has been so great.
Wainwright has the best walk rate among qualified starters (1.33), averages more than eight strikeouts per nine innings and trails Kershaw by just two-thirds of an inning for the MLB lead. He also has a better xFIP than Kershaw (2.77 to 2.93).
No. 3 Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies (Last Week: No. 3)
I think Cliff Lee has reached that point where you do something at such a high level for so long that we tend to overlook it. It also doesn't help him that the Phillies have basically been irrelevant since the season started.
But when you look at what Lee has done, it's nearly identical to Wainwright. He's averaging 8.76 strikeouts per nine innings; Wainwright averages 8.20. Lee walks 1.34 per nine innings; Wainwright walks 1.33 per nine innings. Lee's xFIP is 2.86; Wainwright's is 2.77.
The main difference can be found in innings pitched, which is why Wainwright has 1.2 more wins above replacement. Lee has thrown 214.2 innings compared to 229.1 for Wainwright.
Rising: Cole Hamels (Philadelphia), Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco)
Falling: Jose Fernandez (Miami), Mat Latos (Cincinnati)
No. 1 Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels (Last Week: No. 1)
One of my favorite Twitter threads from the weekend involved talk about the importance of September. Last year, Miguel Cabrera supporters convinced themselves (and anyone who would listen) that "this guy carried the Tigers to the playoffs." (That wasn't true, but it made for a compelling narrative.)
Now, with Cabrera hitting .264/.409/.340 in September, do those same people say that what he did in May or June is why he should win? (Yes, I know that Cabrera is hurt, but all you can judge is production on the field.)
The point being, all things considered, Mike Trout remains the best and most valuable player in baseball.
I never say that wins above replacement is the be-all, end-all of stats because it isn't. But when someone has a 2.5 fWAR advantage over the No. 2 player in the league, as Trout does over Cabrera and Josh Donaldson (10.2 to 7.7), ask yourself why. What makes Trout that valuable?
Instead of just dismissing it, as Tigers fans are wont to do, really examine what Trout is doing. You will see that his ability to hit, add value on the bases through steals and baserunning and avoid double plays—and play good enough defense in center field—paints a picture that no one else in the sport today can match.
No. 2 Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers (Last Week: No. 2)
The real test in the AL MVP vote, at least for me, is what happens at No. 2. I still believe that Cabrera belongs in this spot because his overall offensive performance has been so incredible (.349/.445/.647, all best in the league).
But Josh Donaldson's overall contribution has been just as valuable. This feels almost like a matter of personal preference rather than Cabrera making a really strong case for himself. His .460 weighted on-base average is still the best in baseball by 34 points over Trout.
No. 3 Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics (Last Week: No. 3)
What a great, underappreciated season for Donaldson. He isn't going to win the MVP award, nor should he. But Oakland's third baseman does present a very strong case for being the second-best player in the AL.
Offensively, while he can't touch Cabrera, Donaldson has put together a fantastic .306/.388/.511 line with 37 doubles, 24 home runs and three triples while playing half his games in a park that isn't always conducive to power.
When you factor in defense, where Donaldson rates as the third-best third baseman by Fangraphs' UZR behind Baltimore's Manny Machado and Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, there hasn't been a better all-around player at the hot corner in 2013.
No. 4 Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees (Last Week: No. 5)
It's hard to have an overlooked season when you play for the Yankees, but that's been the case with Robinson Cano. There were times this year when he was the only viable MLB hitter in that lineup, which isn't a real MVP argument as much as it is an observation of how bad things were in New York for a few months.
The MVP argument stems from Cano's always-reliable performance in the batter's box. He's hitting .314/.384/.517. No other AL second baseman qualified to win the batting title is within 10 points of the Yankees All-Star in on-base percentage or 70 points in slugging percentage.
Cano also remains an underrated defender. He's never going to be great with the glove, but he has transformed himself into an above-average player in the field and has six defensive runs saved this year.
No. 5 Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers (Last Week: Rising)
Max Scherzer makes his first appearance in the top five. He's been in the mix since I started keeping track of this almost one month ago and just continues to dazzle on the mound.
Some of Scherzer's success is owed to the competition, but that shouldn't entirely take away from his performance in areas over which a pitcher has total control (strikeouts, walks, home runs).
When you have allowed just 200 baserunners via hits and walks, while simultaneously averaging more than one strikeout per inning with the lowest walk rate of your career, it merits some MVP consideration.
Rising: Adrian Beltre (Texas)
Falling: Felix Hernandez (Seattle), Chris Davis (Baltimore)
No. 1 Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (Last Week: No. 1)
Just as Mike Trout has proved to be the Most Valuable Player in the AL, Andrew McCutchen has really separated himself from the pack in the NL.
The Pirates center fielder is one of only two players—along with Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, who appears later on this list—in the league with a .300/.400/.500 line. He's also fourth in weighted runs created plus and sixth in weighted on-base average.
If that's not enough to convince you, McCutchen is having his best defensive season as well, with six runs saved and a plus-minus of five. He's also been worth five baserunning runs above average, just for good measure.
No. 2 Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last Week: No. 3)
We have reached a point where Clayton Kershaw is spoiling us. I have waxed poetic about the Dodgers ace in the NL Cy Young capsule, so I won't bother repeating all of the stats that I used because they speak for themselves.
What I will say is that there are certain players you can watch and know that they are on a different level than anyone else, be it Mike Trout or Andrew McCutchen or Kershaw. This three-year run of dominance deserves to be talked about alongside some of the greatest stretches we will ever see.
No. 3 Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds (Last Week: No. 2)
Even though we tend to think the position is on a downswing because the sheer number of up-the-middle athletes in baseball has taken off over the last five years, first base in the NL is still incredibly strong at the top.
Joey Votto's power has been the subject of much debate this season, with some feeling he gets too passive and takes too many walks. Well, as I have talked about before, Brandon Phillips' RBI total is only as high as it is because players like Votto and Shin-Soo Choo are getting on base ahead of him.
Oh yeah, Votto also ranks first in on-base percentage and third in weighted on-base average and weighted runs created plus.
No. 4 Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks (Last Week: No. 4)
I fully admit to underrating Goldschmidt's season up until now because of an unwarranted bias I have against first basemen. But what he has done in 2013, showing far more power and on-base skills than I ever expected, belongs on the shortlist of MVP candidates.
Win probability added is a stat I don't focus on that much, because it can be skewed based on opportunities and where you hit in the lineup, but Goldschmidt has been, by far, the best player in the NL with a 6.89 WPA.
He is also an underrated defensive player and baserunner, stealing 15 bases at his size. Goldschmidt has gone from a potential platoon player last year to one of the very best young stars in the NL.
No. 5 Matt Carpenter, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals (Last Week: No. 5)
Falling under the same category as Goldschmidt—players who don't overwhelm you with raw tools but turn themselves into tremendous baseball players—Matt Carpenter has been tremendous for the Cardinals.
Yadier Molina gets all the hype in St. Louis for being the best all-around catcher in baseball, and deservedly so, but Carpenter can stand alongside him this season. The team experimented with him at second base in spring training, which was supposed to be a disaster because he isn't the most graceful player, yet he's been slightly above average.
Then factor in the offensive contributions with a .324/.396/.491 line, a league-leading 196 hits and 54 doubles, and Carpenter has been one of the five most valuable players in the NL this season.
Rising: Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati), Yadier Molina (St. Louis)
Falling: Carlos Gomez (Milwaukee), Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado)
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