2017 MLB Award Race Odds Updates with Just 1 Week to Go

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2017

2017 MLB Award Race Odds Updates with Just 1 Week to Go

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    A second-half power surge has vaulted Giancarlo Stanton to the forefront of a tight National League MVP race.
    A second-half power surge has vaulted Giancarlo Stanton to the forefront of a tight National League MVP race.Joe Skipper/Getty Images

    One would think 25 weeks would prove ample time to settle MLB's major award races. Perhaps not.

    Heading into the season's final week, some of baseball's highest accolades remain up for grabs. The National League MVP is too close to call, and Aaron Judge is rapidly making up ground in the American League MVP picture. Even if the last string of starts does not alter anyone's thinking, neither league hosts a clear-cut Cy Young Award winner either.

    Those seeking certainty, however, can at least take solace in runaway Rookie of the Year races, led by a pair of superstar sluggers. That's despite another pair of powerful neophytes raking furiously to the finish line.

    The following awards odds are personal estimations based on who is more likely to win rather than who should. For example, one may feel inclined to simply give Manager of the Year to the skipper from each league's best teams. Voters, on the other hand, have favored fresh faces and redemptive arcs in the past.

    Before the last batch of games close the book on 2017, let's take a late snapshot of each category.

AL Comeback Player of the Year

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    Mike Moustakas has hit 37 home runs after tearing his ACL last year.
    Mike Moustakas has hit 37 home runs after tearing his ACL last year.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals: 7-3
    • Sonny Gray, SP, New York Yankees: 11-3
    • Mike Minor, RP, Kansas City Royals: 6-1
    • Joe Mauer, 1B, Minnesota Twins: 7-1
    • Jed Lowrie, 2B, Oakland Athletics: 9-1
    • Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: 12-1
    • Logan Morrison, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays: 24-1 

    A category with no clear criteria, Comeback Player of the Year is tough to peg.

    Does Luis Severino qualify as a 23-year-old who bounced back from a sophomore slump? Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Yonder Alonso could draw votes, but have they truly come back from anything if they were never this good? 

    Players rebounding from injuries or noticeable declines will instead receive the most consideration. Having hit 37 home runs after suffering a torn ACL last May, Mike Moustakas fits the mold.

    So does Kansas City Royals teammate Mike Minor, who has posted a 2.68 ERA in the bullpen after two full years away from the majors. His return should command more attention, but it's unlikely a middle reliever takes home the award.

    Sonny Gray has a better chance. He has followed last year's disastrous 5.69 ERA with a 3.31 ERA and 8.69 strikeouts per nine innings. A player struggling in his third full season, however, may not evoke the same emotional appeal as someone rebounding from a major injury or precipitous decline.

    Jed Lowrie might have the best case. A year removed from hitting two home runs with a .637 OPS and minus-0.8 WAR, he has 14 long balls, an .814 OPS and 3.5 WAR with help from a red-hot September. Yet he's not a household name like Joe Mauer, who has guided the Minnesota Twins to a wild-card lead by hitting .333 in the second half.

    Although the knee injury sapped Moustakas' defensive utility, he maintains a narrow edge because of his gaudy power.

NL Comeback Player of the Year

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    Ryan Zimmerman has been one of the NL's best hitters this season after contributing below-replacement level production in 2016.
    Ryan Zimmerman has been one of the NL's best hitters this season after contributing below-replacement level production in 2016.Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals: 5-4
    • Lance Lynn, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: 5-1
    • Eric Thames, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: 21-4
    • Greg Holland, RP, Colorado Rockies: 9-1
    • Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: 14-1
    • Zack Greinke, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: 30-1
    • A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks 35-1

    The NL is loaded with deserving candidates. Greg Holland and Lance Lynn successfully returned from Tommy John surgery. A.J. Pollock resurfaced after playing just 12 games last season. Eric Thames came back from South Korea to hit 31 homers. Ryan Zimmerman, Andrew McCutchen and Zack Greinke redeemed themselves after 2016 declines.

    How can anyone choose between them all?

    The Arizona Diamondbacks candidates are long shots. Pollock is hitting a useful .262/.326/.467 with strong defense, but he hasn't fully returned from 2015's breakout campaign. Calling Greinke's 2017 a comeback oversells a rough 2016, during which he posted a 4.37 ERA and 2.2 WAR

    McCutchen has boosted his WAR from 0.6 to 3.2, but most of those gains stem from incremental improvement on offense and defense. Thames reinvented himself overseas before re-emerging. Does he qualify as a comeback candidate if he was never a full-time major league starter before this second chance?

    Although Lynn has a 3.47 ERA, a 4.77 fielding independent pitching (FIP) suggests he has pitched over his head even after the Pittsburgh Pirates tagged him for eight runs on Saturday. Holland's 41 saves stand out, but an abysmal August inflated his ERA to 3.49. 

    This leaves Zimmerman, who is batting .302/.357/.563 with 34 homers after hitting .218/.272/.370 with minus-1.3 WAR in 2016. A steep turnaround from being an injured payroll liability to an All-Star slugger on a title contender gives the Washington Nationals first baseman the edge.

AL Manager of the Year

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    Paul Molitor's Minnesota Twins are on the verge of making the playoffs after going 59-103 last year.
    Paul Molitor's Minnesota Twins are on the verge of making the playoffs after going 59-103 last year.Duane Burleson/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins: 2-1
    • A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros: 7-2
    • Joe Girardi, New York Yankees: 4-1
    • Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians: 11-2
    • John Farrell, Boston Red Sox: 23-2

    Manager of the Year voting often varies between awarding the best team or the skipper whose squad most exceeded expectations. The latter philosophy may prevail in a season where all three current division leaders harbored preseason title hopes.

    The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians made the postseason last year, and they were expected to do so again in 2017. No AL manager has received the accolade twice in a row, so Terry Francona likely won't win despite Cleveland's AL-best 98 victories.

    Following a busy offseason, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA (h/t Bleacher Report's Zachary Rymer) projected 93 wins from the Houston Astros. A.J. Hinch would be the front-runner if not for a second-half decline tightening the race, but he's still a strong contender with 95 wins already.

    In Joe Girardi's 10 years as manager, the New York Yankees have never won fewer than 84 games. Despite PECOTA's 80-82 projection, the Bronx Bombers, with 86 wins, are back in the playoffs. He could finally receive credit for keeping them competitive every year.

    Yet he can't match Minnesota's success story. If the 82-win Twins preserve the second wild-card spot after finishing 2016 with MLB's worst record, Paul Molitor will stand out as the sentimental choice. Even if PECOTA anticipated a 19-win improvement from last year's 59, their first playoff appearance since 2010 would likely seal the deal.

NL Manager of the Year

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    Torey Lovullo will lead the Arizona Diamondbacks into the playoffs in his first year as manager.
    Torey Lovullo will lead the Arizona Diamondbacks into the playoffs in his first year as manager.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Torey Lovullo, Arizona Diamondbacks: 3-7
    • Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers: 11-2
    • Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals: 15-1
    • Bud Black, Colorado Rockies: 35-1
    • Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers: 50-1
    • Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals: 50-1
    • Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs: 60-1

    Voters like a first-year success story, as proved last year by Dave Roberts winning for the 91-71 Los Angeles Dodgers instead of honoring Joe Maddon and the 103-58 Chicago Cubs for a second straight season.

    The cycle will continue this year. This time Roberts, whose Dodgers are approaching the century mark in wins, will miss out in favor of Torey Lovullo, who has led Arizona Diamondbacks to 90 wins and a wild-card spot.

    The D-backs went 69-93 last year following unsuccessful upscale renovations. A new regime has received better production from Greinke, Pollock and David Peralta, while Robbie Ray, Zack Godley and Archie Bradley have flipped their pitching staff from a weakness to strength.

    While Lovullo can't take credit for Arizona acquiring J.D. Martinez in July, the team already has 12 more victories than its preseason PECOTA projection with six games remaining. His managerial skills will receive a true test in the Wild Card Game, but the first-year skipper is a safe bet to first get selected as NL Manager of the Year.

AL Rookie of the Year

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    Aaron Judge is the clear choice to win AL Rookie of the Year.
    Aaron Judge is the clear choice to win AL Rookie of the Year.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees: 0-1

    Aaron Judge will unanimously win AL Rookie of the Year honors. Case closed.

    The bigger question is whether his September power barrage will push him back into the MVP picture. The New York Yankees slugger set fire to a cold second half by going deep nine times in his last 13 games, boosting his season tally to 48. As noted by Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal, he's the only player to ever tally 45 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs in his rookie campaign. 

    Because of his off-the-charts power and an 18.3 percent walk rate that didn't fail him during an August swoon, he's second among AL hitters behind the recently qualified Mike Trout in both weighted on-base average (wOBA) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+). 

    In a sadder world where Judge does not play executioner against baseballs, Matt Olson's 20 home runs in 41 games since Aug. 1 may have catapulted him ahead of Andrew Benintendi and Jordan Montgomery, newcomers who produced over a full season. Chad Green's bullpen dominance would have also merited attention.

    Instead, Judge is looking to break Mark McGwire's rookie record of 49 by becoming the first rookie to hit 50 long balls. The closing credits are playing as Ferris Bueller tells everyone, "It's over. Go home."

NL Rookie of the Year

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    Cody Bellinger is receiving late Rookie of the Year competition from Rhys Hoskins.
    Cody Bellinger is receiving late Rookie of the Year competition from Rhys Hoskins.Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: 1-50
    • Rhys Hoskins, 1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies: 68-1
    • Paul DeJong, SS, St. Louis Cardinals: 200-1

    Rhys Hoskins is doing everything in his power to block Cody Bellinger from a landslide Rookie of the Year triumph, but he didn't receive enough time to catch up.

    Reminiscent of Bellinger's early tear, the Philadelphia Phillies slugger has blasted 18 home runs in his first 44 career games. While it's an unprecedented start to a career, let's not forget that the Dodgers newcomer crushed 22 homers in a 48-game window during May and June.

    Hoskins is hitting a remarkable .278/.409/.682, but Bellinger still sports a .273/.356/.599 slash line in approximately triple the playing time. His 39 home runs fall short of Judge, but they represent the most ever from a rookie debuting that season. (Judge played in 27 games last season.)

    Without Bellinger, Hoskins' historic arrival would probably beat out Paul DeJong and Manuel Margot. Then again, Luke Weaver would wonder why his small-sample dominance wasn't receiving the same respect.

    Hoskins, Weaver and DeJong could have taken first-place votes from Bellinger had their teams promoted them in April. Maybe one or two people succumb to recency bias and choose Hoskins, but Bellinger should take home the award with little difficulty.

AL Cy Young Award

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    An intense AL Cy Young Award race between Corey Kluber and Chris Sale is going down to the wire.
    An intense AL Cy Young Award race between Corey Kluber and Chris Sale is going down to the wire.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians: 1-2
    • Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox: 2-1 

    There's no reason to go to war arguing over which deserving ace edges out the other.

    And yes, that may have been a bad wordplay on WAR. FanGraphs enthusiasts will flock to Sale, whose 8.2 fWAR surpasses Kluber and every other player in baseball. Its formula places extra emphasis on his major league-best 2.22 FIP, a mark earned on the strength of his MLB-high 300 strikeouts.

    On Baseball Reference, however, Kluber's 7.8 rWAR comfortably leads all pitchers and ranks second among position players to Jose Altuve. Many onlookers will prefer this model since he bests all AL pitchers in ERA (2.27) and WHIP (0.86). His 201 adjusted ERA (ERA+) also tops all starters. 

    Wins luckily should play no more than a minuscule factor, as Kluber has one more win than Sale after picking up his 18th victory on Sunday. 

    Sale is a sensible selection because he has made four extra starts with a higher strikeout rate. Yet Kluber has done a better job at run prevention because of enhanced consistency. He has a 1.59 ERA since returning from the disabled list on June 1 with quality starts in 20 of those 22 turns. The Cleveland star allowed four runs in one and lasted five innings with one run allowed in the other outing that fell short.

    Many voters now study advanced stats, but few will shy away from a lower ERA and WHIP supported by 262 strikeouts and 36 walks. Sale's lower FIP likely won't be enough to seize his first Cy Young Award, allowing Kluber to win his second Cy after doing so in 2014.

NL Cy Young Award

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    Max Scherzer is in line to win his second consecutive NL Cy Young Award.
    Max Scherzer is in line to win his second consecutive NL Cy Young Award.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals: 1-3
    • Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: 13-1
    • Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals: 15-1
    • Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks: 25-1
    • Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals: 30-1
    • Kenley Jansen, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers: 44-1
    • Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks: 44-1

    Max Scherzer doesn't have an adversary like Kluber or Sale to block him from his second straight Cy Young Award. His case once again benefits from Clayton Kershaw missing time.

    The Dodgers ace has the best ERA (2.21) of any qualified starter and an NL-best 189 ERA+. He also missed over a month with a back injury that limited him to 149 innings last year.

    Besides, Kershaw has a higher FIP (3.01) and lower strikeout-minus-walks percentage (25.7) in his 171 frames than Scherzer, whose 0.91 WHIP narrowly tops the three-time Cy Young Award winner for the NL's best clip. Per Baseball Prospectus, Washington's ace also wields the best Deserved Run Average (DRA) of any NL starter at 2.29, far ahead of runner-up Jacob deGrom's 2.72.

    While Scherzer may lose some votes to two Nationals teammates, he remains their best candidate. Stephen Strasburg tops NL starters in FIP (2.74) but will fall significantly short of 200 innings for the third straight year. While Scherzer needed a spectacular Sunday start to pass Gio Gonzalez for the best rWAR among Senior Circuit hurlers, a 3.91 FIP should scare smarter voters away from the lefty despite his 2.68 ERA. 

    Scherzer's 2.55 ERA is better than that of both of his Nationals teammates anyway.

    Greinke damaged his negligible chances by surrendering eight runs on Friday. Two days earlier, Ray relinquished five runs and five walks to the San Diego Padres.

    Perhaps Kenley Jansen will emerge as a dark horse. The Dodgers closer has converted 40 of 41 saves with a 1.36 ERA, 105 strikeouts and seven walks. Baseball Reference credits him with an NL-best 5.5 Win Probability Added.

    He's dominant enough to deserve a spot at the table, but a 0.54 ERA wasn't enough for closer Zach Britton to win a wide-open 2016 AL Cy Young Award race. Even though Scherzer started September slowly, a dominant Sunday performance cemented his case over an imperfect group of competitors.

AL MVP

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    Jose Altuve is the favorite to lock down his first MVP honor.
    Jose Altuve is the favorite to lock down his first MVP honor.Tim Warner/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros: 11-9
    • Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees: 3-2
    • Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians: 11-1
    • Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels: 45-1
    • Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox: 45-1
    • Jose Ramirez, 2B/3B, Cleveland Indians: 60-1
    • Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians: 99-1

    Following Judge's recent power barrage, the 6'7" slugger is barely looking up at the 5'6" Altuve. 

    Hitting .346, Houston's second baseman should cement his third AL batting title in four years. Yet he's far from a scrappy contact hitter, delivering 24 home runs, a .555 slugging percentage and 161 wRC+ that's fourth behind Trout, Judge and Joey Votto. 

    Trout—whose chances are hurt by playing only 107 games—is the only legitimate AL MVP candidate likely to miss the postseason. Despite batting a remarkable .309/.444/.618 with 29 homers, 21 steals in a shortened season, the superstar needed to guide the Los Angeles Angels into the playoffs to pull off an upset.

    Judge could swing some votes if he reaches 50 homers during the final week. For now, he still may assume the same spot as Corey Seager last year as a unanimous Rookie of the Year and MVP finalist.

    Cleveland's dynamic duo of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor both belong on ballots. They're well-rounded superstars, but neither has a strong enough case to monopolize the spotlight and challenge Altuve. It's also possible neither is the team MVP.

    Given this season's unprecedented amount of homers, Kluber and Sale merit MVP consideration. For the "they only play every fifth day" crowd, Sale has faced 826 batters. Despite missing time, Kluber has faced 757 batters. No position player has accrued 700 or more plate appearances.

    A truly dominant ace controls his appearances enough to qualify. That doesn't mean Kluber or Sale should or will win, but don't be surprised if one or both finishes among the top five.

    Altuve still holds a narrowing inside track on his first MVP trophy, but Judge is making this far closer than fans would have thought a couple weeks ago.

NL MVP

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    The Miami Marlins' lack of success shouldn't take away from Stanton's MVP candidacy.
    The Miami Marlins' lack of success shouldn't take away from Stanton's MVP candidacy.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins 1-1
    • Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks 9-2
    • Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: 6-1
    • Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies: 15-1
    • Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals: 20-1
    • Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies: 20-1
    • Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs: 99-1
    • Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers: 300-1
    • Tommy Pham, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: 300-1

    The AL makes life easier for voters by containing its candidates to playoff teams. The NL is not extending any such courtesy.

    Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto have established the Senior Circuit's top MVP portfolios. At least the Miami Marlins momentarily had wild-card aspirations, but the Cincinnati Reds are spending their third straight season at the bottom of the NL Central.

    Should it matter? Not if they're the best players. Marlins manager Don Mattingly defended his star to MLB.com's Joel Frisaro

    "In baseball, one guy can't really change the whole scenario," Mattingly said. "If you're one guy on a bad team, and you're having a huge year, you're not really going to change the wins and losses."

    Will it matter? Stanton's 57 homers can disrupt concerns of Miami's record, but Votto's MLB-best .452 on-base percentage does not garner mainstream headlines. 

    Cincinnati's first baseman nevertheless tops Stanton for the NL lead in wOBA and wRC+. It may not offset another first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, who has more home runs, RBI and runs than Votto for the playoff-bound Diamondbacks.

    Bryce Harper might have been the easy choice had he not missed the last six weeks, but Nationals teammate Anthony Rendon's 6.7 fWAR tops the league. On Baseball Reference, however, he falls to seventh among position players at 5.9, with Stanton slightly edging out Scherzer and Votto. Even in an enlightened age for sabermetrics, it's difficult to see a player hitting .299 with 24 homers, 96 RBI and 76 runs—even if this is a product of him batting lower than he should in a loaded Nationals lineup—beating a dude vying for 60 long balls.

    Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon may prove the classic case of teammates taking votes from each other. The Coors Field factor will especially be too much to overcome if the Colorado Rockies squander their wild-card spot.

    Without a runaway winner, ballots will feature an eclectic mix of players. Tommy Pham is hitting .310/.410/.526 with 22 home runs and 23 steals for a St. Louis Cardinals squad still in the playoff hunt. Justin Turner would have a better case with a full plate of games (only 125 due to various injuries), and Kris Bryant quietly has a higher wOBA (.398) than he accrued in last year's MVP campaign.

    Amid so much confusion, Stanton's Herculean second half decides a crowded battle.

            

    All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.