Los Angeles Dodgers Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are angling this fall to become the first teammates since Justin Morneau and Johan Santana in 2006 to win the MVP and Cy Young awards in the same season.
Though each has stiff competition, they are each the most qualified candidate for their respective honors. When it comes to MLB awards this fall, in fact, those look like two of the easier decisions voters face.
Never bet on MLB awards: Baseball writers are fickle, susceptible to a thousand biases and generally unreliable in this regard. If one were looking to take wagers on such things, though, here are the percentage chances of each major awards going to each of several top contenders come November.
Right or wrong, Ellsbury gets a little closer to the MVP award every day. He has four home runs in the last three days, and his .323/.378/.552 line couples with his speed and range in center field to make him the most well-rounded player in the league. My vote would go to Jose Bautista, but Ellsbury has the inside track on the hardware.
Jacoby Ellsbury: 40%
Curtis Granderson: 31%
Jose Bautista: 19%
Justin Verlander: 8%
Dustin Pedroia: 2%
On the senior circuit, things are a bit cleaner. Though Ken Rosenthal types who insist upon an MVP playing for a playoff contender will cast their share of votes for Ryan Braun and Justin Upton, Kemp is the clear choice, and he will pull out the award.
He has no shot, really, at the Triple Crown, but he came awfully close. It was a fun season for Kemp, even if it was a miserable one for Dodgers fans and ownership.
Matt Kemp: 63%
Ryan Braun: 20%
Justin Upton: 12%
Roy Halladay: 3%
Ryan Howard (He's an RBI machine, after all): 2%
Somewhere along the line, everyone apparently decided not to fight over the Cy Young award in the American League. Last season, remember, households divided over whether or not Felix Hernandez—demonstrably the best hurler in the league, but pitching for miserable Seattle—could win the award despite his mediocre won-lost record.
Justin Verlander observed Hernandez carefully, and learned well. If one could start the season as the most dominant hurler in baseball according to advanced metrics, he could earn the support of the sabermetric caucus.
Then, by piling up a league-leading win total with 12 straight victories and by finishing with the most innings, most strikeouts, best ERA and fewest hits allowed per nine innings, he could secure the votes of the traditionalists. Yep, Verlander has it all figured out. Solid strategy here.
Justin Verlander: 93%
CC Sabathia: 3%
James Shields: 2%
Jered Weaver: 1%
C.J. Wilson: 1%
Kershaw has been as tough to hit as any NL lefty since Randy Johnson this season, and while his ceiling is not quite so high, Kershaw could be the next legendary left-handed ace. At 23, he is a fully-formed superstar.
Kershaw has labored in the shadow of the twin (triplet?) pillars of pitching in Philadelphia for much of the season, but writers have finally taken notice now that he has 21 wins.
Kershaw also leads the NL in strikeouts, has limited walks and is Verlander's counterpart in the NL, leading not only in strikeouts but in WHIP and fewest hits allowed per nine frames. As long as Ian Kennedy doesn't finish in the top five, I'll be satisfied, so Kennedy is sure to win.
Clayton Kershaw: 41%
Roy Halladay: 22%
Cliff Lee: 22%
Ian Kennedy: 10%
Cole Hamels: 5%
Rookie of the Year awards are always hard to handicap. Hell, it's hard enough sometimes to tell who is and is not eligible for it.
This year, for instance, Alexi Ogando dominates rookie leader boards in the AL. Ogando does qualify on the basis of innings pitched and appearances, having been only a reliever during his time on the Rangers' staff last season. Because of his accrued service time, though, Ogando is ineligible.
Even without him, though, the junior circuit has a bevy of talented arms, and even a surprising number of strongly credentialed position players who played only partial seasons at this level. Hellickson has the advantage in this horse race, largely thanks to the visibility that comes with pitching for a contender.
Jeremy Hellickson: 37%
Michael Pineda: 33%
Eric Hosmer: 17%
Mark Trumbo: 8%
Jordan Walden (any rookie with a bunch of saves will get some support, however undeserved): 5%
As strong as the rookie crop has been in the AL, that's how weak it is in the NL. The Braves have both of the really viable candidates, but the clear choice between them is Kimbrel.
Despite a tough September, Kimbrel is by far the best relief pitcher in baseball this season, and to reward that rookie outburst with anything short of the Rookie of the Year award would be criminally stupid.
Craig Kimbrel: 77%
Freddie Freeman: 10%
Vance Worley: 10%
Wilson Ramos: 2%
Danny Espinosa: 1%
The Red Sox disappointed and missed the playoffs last season, but it may have been Francona's best managing job. Although this season threatens the same heartbreak for Red Sox Nation, it may be an even better example of all that Francona does well at the top step of the dugout.
He has made all the right moves, pushed the right buttons. He simply hasn't been able to easily overcome the massive injury losses the Sox have sustained over the past six weeks.
If Francona's boys flop and the voters round on him, Joe Maddon stands to benefit both by reaching the postseason and by winning this award. The dark horse here is Jim Leyland, who has done very well to get the most out of a Tigers team that has also battled injuries this season.
Terry Francona: 61%
Joe Maddon: 16%
Jim Leyland: 16%
Manny Acta: 4%
Ron Washington: 3%
This could be the biggest landslide on the major-award docket. While Gibson has been only arguably the best skipper in the league, he has had the good fortune to helm a division winner (the most pleasant surprise of the year).
To his credit, he has also been flexible and creative, moving players around the batting order and the diamond in a way that appears much more thoughtful than the way in which most modern managers do so.
The rest of this ballot could actually include some managers who demonstrably hurt their teams. Gibson has actively helped his.
Kirk Gibson: 79%
Charlie Manuel: 9%
Ron Roenicke: 6%
Fredi Gonzalez: 4%
Clint Hurdle: 2%
Alex Gordon was once baseball's most hyped position-player prospect. He then proceeded to fail spectacularly, to the point that the Royals sent him to the minors to learn a new position. It was a sign of desperation, and even at that, it didn't look like it would work at first.
It's working now. Gordon exploded this season. His adjusted OPS+ ranks eighth in the AL. He has become a viable lead-off hitter thanks to his .376 on-base percentage. Once an erratic third baseman who struck out too much to be a viable hitter, Gordon might now be the best overall left fielder in the American League.
Alex Gordon: 51%
J.J. Hardy: 24%
Bartolo Colon: 10%
Jacoby Ellsbury: 8%
Howie Kendrick: 7%
The only operative question here is whether voters feel Berkman (who played 122 games last season and had a respectable .781 OPS) even qualifies for this distinction. He probably shouldn't, but since there are no hard-and-fast guidelines, and since the writers pretty clearly think Berkman is fair game, it hardly matters.
Berkman has been one of the league's five or 10 best hitters this season, and if the Cardinals make the playoffs, they owe their place more to Berkman than to anyone else—including Albert Pujols.
Lance Berkman: 80%
Jordan Zimmermann: 10%
Ryan Vogelsong: 6%
Carlos Beltran: 3%
Cameron Maybin: 1%