MLB

Contender or Pretender for MLB's Top Cy Young, MVP Candidates Entering June

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2014

Contender or Pretender for MLB's Top Cy Young, MVP Candidates Entering June

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    MLB award season talk won't really heat up until after the All-Star break, but it's never too early to check in on the top candidates to take home MVP and Cy Young honors here in 2014.

    What follows is a look at the top five candidates for both honors in the National League and American League as things stand today and whether or not they are legitimate contenders or pretenders to actually take home the award at season's end.

    An awful lot will change between now and the actual voting, but there are undoubtedly some players who have separated themselves from the pack entering June.

     

    *All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. All injury information courtesy of MLBDepthCharts team pages. League ranks reflect players' ranks among qualified hitters/pitchers through May 30.

NL Cy Young Candidate: SP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Stats and NL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats114-491%1.830.75208583.2.1482.7
    Rank2nd20th2nd2nd1st31st2nd2nd1st3rd

    Johnny Cueto started the season on fire, going 4-2 with a 1.25 ERA and .135 BAA through his first nine starts, including three complete games and a pair of shutouts. He has allowed 12 runs (seven earned) in 11.2 innings over his last two starts, picking up the loss in both games, but his numbers are still impressive.

    After making just 11 starts last season while dealing with a lat strain, Cueto has returned to the elite form that saw him go 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting back in 2013. His contributions have been that much more important with Mat Latos sidelined and Tony Cingrani spending a stint on the DL as well.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

NL Cy Young Candidate: SP Tim Hudson, San Francisco Giants

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Stats and NL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats105-280%1.920.8864470.1.2172.1
    Rank41st9th8th4th2nd141st47th13th8th6th

    The San Francisco Giants took a chance this offseason when they signed a 38-year-old Tim Hudson, fresh off of a broken ankle that ended his 2013 campaign, to a two-year, $23 million deal to replace the departed Barry Zito in the rotation.

    It's looked like a stroke of genius for general manager Brian Sabean to this point.

    While Hudson will likely experience some regression moving forward based on his peripherals, there's no reason he can't be a plus No. 2 starter behind Madison Bumgarner for the duration.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Pretender

NL Cy Young Candidate: SP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Stats and NL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats111-482%1.681.07216475.2162.8
    Rank2nd52nd3rd1st13th35th12th6th7th1st

    Jeff Samardzija took a step backward last season, but he has very much looked the part of an ace here in 2014. He hasn't gotten much support from a subpar roster around him, going winless through his first 10 starts before finally picking up a victory last time out, but his other numbers speak for themselves.

    It's going to be an interesting season for Samardzija, as he is viewed as a sure thing to be dealt at the July deadline, and he will see his name consistently thrown around in trade rumors until that happens. Potential distractions, combined with the fact that he may not even be in the National League by the time voting actually rolls around, are enough to keep me from calling him a contender.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Pretender

NL Cy Young Candidate: SP Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Stats and NL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats125-392%1.830.93206683.2.1952.8
    Rank1st9th1st2nd5th31st8th2nd3rd1st

    With Kris Medlen lost for the season to Tommy John surgery and Mike Minor on the disabled list to kick off the season as well, right-hander Julio Teheran got the Opening Day nod for the Atlanta Braves by default.

    His 3.66 FIP suggests some regression is in order, but his peripheral numbers are impressive, and he has shown no signs of a sophomore season letdown to this point. The 23-year-old went 13-8 with a 2.86 ERA over his final 25 starts as a rookie last season, and he's been lights-out since he opened 2013 with a rough first month.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

NL Cy Young Candidate: SP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Stats and NL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats128-375%2.320.91178185.1.1982.2
    Rank1st1st13th7th4th19th4th1st5th4th

    Leading all of baseball with a 1.67 ERA heading into his most recent start, Adam Wainwright was touched up for eight hits and seven runs in 4.1 innings of work. That marked just the third time this season he failed to record a quality start.

    Even with that rough outing, Wainwright is still among the NL leaders in a number of categories and is the unquestioned ace of a St. Louis Cardinals team that ranks third in the MLB with a 3.15 starter's ERA. He finished second to Clayton Kershaw in the voting last season after going 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA, and he has a real chance to take home the honor here in 2014.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

     

    Other Notable Candidates: Zack Greinke (LAD), Madison Bumgarner (SF), Andrew Cashner (SD), Stephen Strasburg (WAS), Michael Wacha (STL), Kyle Lohse (MIL)

AL Cy Young Candidate: SP Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Stats and AL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats119-182%2.331.23194373.1.2592.5
    Rank3rd1st5th3rd17th19th33rd9th28th2nd

    Veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle has only received Cy Young consideration once in his career, finishing fifth in the AL voting back in 2005 when he was 16-8 with a 3.12 ERA while leading the AL with 236.2 innings pitched.

    He's been on a roll here in 2014.

    But while a high FIP and average WHIP could mean some decent regression and his strikeout numbers will never turn heads, his importance as the ace of a Toronto Blue Jays staff that was a huge question mark entering the year is a big reason why they've gotten off to such a great start.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Pretender

AL Cy Young Candidate: SP Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Stats and AL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats115-191%2.311.12246074.2171.8
    Rank3rd14th2nd2nd8th31st14th8th6th7th

    When Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went down with season-ending injuries this spring, Sonny Gray was thrust into the role of staff ace in his first full season in the majors. The 24-year-old made 10 regular-season starts last year, going 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA, before turning in an impressive two starts in the ALDS.

    Armed with a plus fastball and one of the best curveballs in all of baseball, Gray certainly has the stuff to be a front-line pitcher, and the numbers reflect that here in the early going. The biggest thing that could hurt him is potentially splitting votes with Scott Kazmir if he keeps pitching like he has, but the young ace looks like a serious candidate at this point.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

AL Cy Young Candidate: SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Stats and AL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats127-183%2.571.02168384.2241.8
    Rank1st3rd4th7th4th60th2nd2nd8th7th

    A model of consistency since breaking into the league as a 19-year-old, Felix Hernandez has finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting four times in the past five seasons. He was actually out-pitched by teammate Hisashi Iwakuma in 2013 and could wind up splitting votes with him again.

    That said, Hernandez is off to a great start this season, as he's on pace to post an ERA under 3.00 for the first time since 2010 and currently has a career-best 5.19 K/BB rate. Wins may not carry the same weight they once did, but they still grab the attention of voters sometimes, and he's off to an impressive 7-1 start thanks to an improved team around him.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

AL Cy Young Candidate: SP Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Stats and AL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats106-273%2.550.98126170.2.2232.7
    Rank12th5th7th6th2nd6th12th16th7th1st

    All due respect to the terrific start Mark Buehrle is off to, but Houston Astros southpaw Dallas Keuchel is without a doubt the biggest surprise on the pitching side of things in the American League.

    The 26-year-old was 9-18 with a 5.20 ERA in 47 games (38 starts) heading into the season, but he has been a revelation for the rebuilding Houston Astros and looks like he could be a legitimate building block for them. With a 2.66 FIP and an MLB-best 66.5 percent ground-ball rate, his early season numbers are for real. It's still too early to view Keuchel as a legitimate contender given his limited track record, but if he's still pitching like this in a couple of months, look out.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Pretender

AL Cy Young Candidate: SP Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Stats and AL Ranks

     GSW-LQS%ERAWHIPBBKIPBAAWAR
    Stats107-1100%2.290.98107970.2.2262.4
    Rank25th3rd1st1st2nd3rd6th16th10th4th

    Expectations could not have been higher for Masahiro Tanaka after he signed a seven-year, $155 million deal to join the New York Yankees this offseason, but he has lived up to the hype and then some in the early going this season.

    He's the only qualified starter in baseball who has turned in a quality start each time out this season, and his 7.9 K/BB ratio speaks to what terrific control he has. His splitter may be the best pitch in baseball right now, and as long as he continues to keep that nasty offering down in the zone, he's going to keep having success.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

     

    Other Notable Candidates: Scott Kazmir (OAK), Yu Darvish (TEX), Max Scherzer (DET), Corey Kluber (CLE), Chris Sale (CWS)

NL MVP Candidate: 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Stats and NL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.299.388.51760159293300.9
    Rank19th11th12th16th9th14th18th9th68th49th

    The Atlanta Braves offense was a roller coaster ride of inconsistency last season, and that has been the case once again so far this year. One of Atlanta's most consistent hitters, however, has been first baseman Freddie Freeman. He is putting up strikingly similar numbers to last season when he finished fifth in NL MVP voting.

    The 24-year-old likely won't lead the league in any categories, but he's the top candidate on a very good Braves team, and without any clear teammate to steal votes from him (Justin Upton?), he looks like a strong candidate once again.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

NL MVP Candidate: CF Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Stats and NL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.323.395.5906315113136102.9
    Rank5th9th4th7th9th6th14th6th8th4th

    Carlos Gomez turned in what was dubbed a breakout season in 2012, but that proved to be just the tip of the iceberg, as he improved his offensive production across the board last year on his way to a ninth-place finish in NL MVP voting.

    He's taken an equally large step forward so far this season, improving his OPS by 142 points, as he has been the most productive hitter on a very good Milwaukee Brewers team. The trouble with his candidacy is that teammates Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy are both viable candidates as well, putting him in a position similar to Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter last season.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Pretender

NL MVP Candidate: RF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Stats and NL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.346.439.623661411403052.5
    Rank2nd2nd3rd3rd13th6th2nd15th21st6th

    For as loaded as their lineup is with star power, the Los Angeles Dodgers only have two hitters with an OPS over .800 in Yasiel Puig (1.062) and Adrian Gonzalez (.837), and there is little question that Puig has been their biggest contributor at the plate.

    He turned in a respectable 16-game hitting streak earlier this season and has shown signs of maturing at the plate, lowering his strikeout rate (22.5 percent to 19.1 percent) and raising his walk rate (8.3 percent to 11.6 percent). There is still reason to believe his batting average will regress at some point given his lofty .401 BABIP, but even with some regression, he'd still be one of the game's most productive bats.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

NL MVP Candidate: RF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Stats and NL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.317.410.629641316513943.9
    Rank8th4th2nd5th18th1st1st4th25th2nd

    After missing a total of 82 games the past two seasons due to injury, including 36 straight with a hamstring strain last year, Giancarlo Stanton is finally healthy and turning his vast potential into production.

    With arguably the best raw power in all of baseball, Stanton is putting on a show at the plate, averaging an MLB-best 432.3 feet on his 16 home runs, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker. The biggest question concerning his candidacy is whether or not the Miami Marlins can win enough games. If not, he could wind up being this year's Paul Goldschmidt, putting up league-best numbers but missing out on the award due to his team.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

NL MVP Candidate: SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Stats and NL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.360.462.686621214374514.6
    Rank1st1st1st11th25th2nd5th1st50th1st

    The Colorado Rockies are currently hitting a ridiculous .286/.337/.468 as a team and averaging an NL-best 4.96 runs per game, and a huge start to the season from shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is a big reason why. Undoubtedly the best all-around shortstop in baseball when healthy, Tulo has shown no signs of slowing down.

    After finishing 74-88 last season, the Rockies currently sit two games over .500, and it looks like they have a good chance of at least remaining relevant for the duration. With no clear-cut leading candidate on teams like the Giants and Brewers, the award would have to go to Tulowitzki if the season ended today.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

     

    Other Notable Candidates: Angel Pagan (SF), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL), Yadier Molina (STL), Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Mike Morse (SF), Chase Utley (PHI)

AL MVP Candidate: RF Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Stats and AL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.305.438.55561814394113.0
    Rank11th1st8th14th58th5th7th3rd48th3rd

    Following a pair of monster seasons in 2010 and 2011, Jose Bautista missed a combined 112 games the past two years, and he saw his peripheral numbers decline across the board when he was on the field.

    He's back to 100 percent now, though, and is again putting up huge numbers in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup. Teammate Edwin Encarnacion has received the bulk of the attention this month—and rightfully so, with 16 home runs and 33 RBI in May—but after he hit just two home runs with a .747 OPS in April, it is still Bautista who has the better overall case for MVP honors.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

AL MVP Candidate: LF Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Stats and AL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.308.376.652621219493802.1
    Rank10th9th1st12th23rd1st1st4th61st8th

    Following a 50-game PED suspension at the end of last season and with a qualifying offer attached to his free agency, Nelson Cruz had a hard time finding a new home this past winter, eventually settling for a one-year, $8 million deal from the Baltimore Orioles.

    That has proven to be an absolute steal so far, as the slugger leads all of baseball with 19 home runs and is tops in the AL with 49 RBI and a 1.028 OPS. Pitching will again determine how far the Orioles are able to go this season, but Cruz has made a huge impact at the plate with Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters all missing time. Still, his candidacy will likely hinge on whether or not the Orioles reach the postseason, and at this point, they appear to be on the outside looking in.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Pretender

AL MVP Candidate: 3B Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Stats and AL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.285.379.561611215454714.6
    Rank23rd8th6th14th23rd3rd5th1st48th1st

    Josh Donaldson came out of nowhere to turn in a breakout season at the age of 27 last year, finishing fourth in AL MVP voting as the offensive leader of a very good Oakland Athletics team. There were some questions as to whether or not he would be able to duplicate those numbers, but he has put those to rest through the first two months of 2014.

    Donaldson is currently tied with Tulowitzki for the top WAR in all of baseball at 4.6, and he has been arguably the best defensive third baseman in the AL on top of his offensive numbers. Speaking of offense, he's been out of his mind of late, going 10-for-23 with five home runs and 10 RBI in his last six games.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

AL MVP Candidate: DH Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Stats and AL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.347.400.617671313342521.9
    Rank1st3rd2nd6th14th7th11th41st37th11th

    With Prince Fielder traded to the Texas Rangers, the onus fell on Victor Martinez to protect reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera out of the cleanup spot in the Tigers lineup, and he has stepped up in a big way so far.

    Martinez led the world with a .361 batting average after the All-Star break last season, and he currently leads Cabrera by 19 points in the AL batting title race this year. He may not even be the top candidate on his own team by the time July rolls around, with Cabrera getting hot, and that's enough to call him a pretender, but he deserves serious recognition for what he's accomplished to this point.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Pretender

AL MVP Candidate: CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Stats and AL Ranks

     BAOBPSLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Stats.294.380.549601111383453.3
    Rank17th7th9th17th32nd10th9th8th21st2nd

    Mike Trout has been runner-up to Miguel Cabrera for AL MVP honors the past two seasons, and while he has dealt with some struggles this season, he is still among the most productive players in the league and the leader of a very good Los Angeles Angels team.

    His 63 strikeouts lead the AL, but he is still getting on base at an impressive rate and delivering solid power/speed numbers once again. He's also improved his batting average 30 points over his current 11-game hitting streak, as he finally seems to be getting dialed in at the plate.

     

    Contender or Pretender?

    Contender

     

    Other Notable Candidates: 1B Edwin Encarnacion (TOR), Ian Kinsler (DET), Miguel Cabrera (DET), Alexei Ramirez (CWS), Brandon Moss (OAK), Albert Pujols (LAA), Jose Abreu (CWS)

     

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