B/R Roundtable Picks MLB MVP, Cy Young, ROY and More Awards for 2022 Season

Joel ReuterNovember 14, 2022

B/R Roundtable Picks MLB MVP, Cy Young, ROY and More Awards for 2022 Season

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    Justin Verlander
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The MLB offseason is in full swing, and award week is here!

    Before the hardware is handed out, Bleacher Report MLB writers Joel Reuter and Zachary Rymer sat down to debate their picks for each major award.

    A quick breakdown of when each award will be announced:

    • Monday, Nov. 14: AL/NL Rookie of the Year
    • Tuesday, Nov. 15: AL/NL Manager of the Year
    • Wednesday, Nov. 16: AL/NL Cy Young
    • Thursday, Nov. 17: AL/NL MVP

    Ahead, we'll debate each of those major awards along with a few others we felt are worth discussing as we wrap up the 2022 season and turn our attention to 2023.

American League MVP

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    Aaron Judge
    Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Zach: Hello there, Joel. We've come to that time of year when I make an obscure reference to a band from the 1960s and then we proceed to discuss our MLB awards picks. So, tell me your thoughts on Can. And more to the point, tell me if you have any outrageous thoughts on the American League MVP, such as that Aaron Judge shouldn't win it.


    Joel: Howdy, Zach. As usual, your band reference sent me straight to Wikipedia for some further research, so apologies for the delayed response as I went down a "German experimental rock" wormhole. But on to the task at hand, which is trying to decide if we're already taking Shohei Ohtani for granted.

    There's a pretty strong case to be made that he should take home AL MVP every year as long as he's contributing in a way that no other player can, with elite production on the mound and at the plate. If the Angels were a playoff team, I'd be more compelled to take the contrarian stance here, but what Judge did for a contender when he was at times the only consistent contributor in the lineup makes him a pretty easy choice for me. I assume you agree?


    Zach: I'm inclined to say you're welcome for that wormhole journey. Suffice it to say that "Thief" is one of the great songs of the '60s.

    As for the AL MVP, I agree that we shouldn't lose sight of what a treat it is to be living in the time of Ohtani. He had the best two-way season in major league history in 2021 and then...basically did it again in 2022? If not even better this time? That's bonkers. Bonkers, I say.

    It takes a special kind of season to distract from greatness like that, and, well, "special" barely cuts it when it comes to describing what Judge did this year. The 62 home runs obviously stand out, but that's but one of 23 categories he led MLB in this year. And that's just going off this one Baseball Reference page. Let's also not ignore how much those home runs mattered to the Yankees. They were 27 games over .500 in games when Judge went deep and only eight games over .500 in the games when he didn't.


    Joel: How wild is it that Yankees fans booed him during the playoffs after the season he had? And with free agency looming? I'll be surprised if Judge doesn't take home the hardware, but it will be interesting to see how many first-place votes Ohtani walks away with. I don't think it's going to be unanimous for Judge, and it could wind up being closer than most people expect.

    Speaking of close, the NL MVP race feels wide-open...

National League MVP

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    Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt
    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Joel: I think the biggest surprise when the award finalists were announced earlier this week was seeing no Dodgers players among the three NL MVP finalists. I thought for sure Mookie Betts or Freddie Freeman would be part of that trio. It's going to be very interesting now to see if there's enough vote-splitting between teammates Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado to open the door for Manny Machado to win it. So who gets your vote?


    Zach: Machado really does have a compelling case for the NL MVP. Maybe he didn't have the best numbers, but nobody can look at a 159 OPS+, 32 home runs and 6.8 rWAR and not be impressed. Plus, context matters. He was the rock in the middle of a Padres lineup that was lacking Fernando Tatis Jr. all year and didn't get what was promised from Juan Soto and Josh Bell.

    This said, I lean Goldschmidt in this debate. His season-ending slump put the kibosh on his pursuit of the Triple Crown, but he still walked away with 7.8 rWAR and NL-best marks for SLG, OPS and OPS+. As he easily bested Machado in these categories, I'm just not sure that the latter's context is enough to make up the difference.


    Joel: Fun fact: The last time teammates finished 1-2 in MVP voting was Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds for the San Francisco Giants in 2000. It's only ever happened six times, and I think we might see a seventh this year. As good as Goldschmidt was, Arenado was arguably even better thanks to his elite defensive contributions and a just-as-impressive offensive stat line that included a 154 OPS+, 42 doubles, 30 home runs and 103 RBI along with a superior 7.9 rWAR. I also think he's the more irreplaceable player on that St. Louis roster.

    I expect Goldschmidt to win it—and it will be well-deserved for a guy with a pair of runner-up finishes on his resume—but my vote would go to Arenado.


    Zach: How dare you stump for one of the best third basemen of all time to win an MVP award. The nerve, I swear.

    Anyway, what say we move on to the AL Cy Young Award?


AL Cy Young

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    Justin Verlander
    Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    Zach: At least for me, this is a legit should win/will win conundrum. I don't doubt that Justin Verlander is going to win the award for a third time after coming back from Tommy John surgery to go 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA. And yet, dare I say that Dylan Cease had the better year? He had a 2.20 ERA in his own right, with nine more innings and 42 more strikeouts than Verlander. It's not much, but it's enough for me to buy his AL-best 6.4 rWAR.

    Am I wrong? Tell me I'm wrong. I assume you're going to tell me I'm wrong.


    Joel: Ooooh spicy! I won't deny that Cease had an amazing season that maybe hasn't gotten the full appreciation it deserves. Among other things, it was probably the best season by a pitcher who led his league in walks since the early days of Randy Johnson, and his ability to offset those free passes with a stingy .190 opponents' batting average was impressive. Still, I have to go with Verlander. If the innings-pitched gap were a bit bigger, I might be willing to hold that against him, but with just nine innings difference, I'll take the AL ERA and WHIP leader over those superior strikeout and WAR totals.

    On a semi-related note, how do you feel about Alek Manoah as the third finalist? Kind of thought Ohtani might get some love there.


    Zach: Given how much I clearly like my starting pitchers to miss bats, you'd think that I'd be outraged that Ohtani didn't get in over Manoah as a finalist even though he struck out 39 more batters than Manoah over 30.2 fewer innings. That's dominance, all right. But Manoah nonetheless had the better ERA (2.24 to 2.33) in addition to so many extra innings. I don't know if any number of strikeouts can make up for that.

NL Cy Young

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    Sandy Alcantara
    Icon Sportswire

    Zach: As for the NL Cy Young Award, Max Fried and Julio Urías technically have a shot at upsetting Sandy Alcantara. But you tell me: Do they, really?


    Joel: No, no they do not.

    Aside from his terrific 2.28 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, Alcantara was also something of an old-school workhorse relative to his peers. He led the majors with 228.2 innings pitched and six complete games. How rare is that last number? It's been six years since a pitcher recorded more than five complete games.

    I think we're both plenty capable of playing contrarian for most of these award debates, but it kind of feels like an exercise in futility with this one. Alcantara is going to win, and he should do it unanimously.


    Zach: Yeah, yeah you're right.

    I think my favorite thing about Alcantara's season is that the six complete games are kinda-sorta an under-count. He didn't get credit for a complete game on June 8, when he went nine scoreless in a contest that was decided in the 10th inning.

AL Rookie of the Year

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    Julio Rodríguez
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Zach: Speaking of playing contrarian, I'm not about to deny Julio Rodríguez's case for the AL Rookie of the Year after he racked up 6.2 rWAR and became only the third player to ever notch 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases in his debut season.

    Seems like a pretty open-and-shut case to me, but a little bird told me that you prefer a certain bird for this award.


    Joel: Ok, hear me out.

    J-Rod was a bona fide superstar right out of the gate this year, and he's going to be one of the faces of baseball for the next decade. Nothing I'm about to say is meant to be a slight to him. However, what Adley Rutschman did is virtually uncharted territory.

    His 5.2 WAR in 113 games made him just the fifth rookie catcher in MLB history with at least 5 WAR in his debut, joining Carlton Fisk (7.3 in 1972), Mike Piazza (7.0 in 1993), Thurman Munson (5.5 in 1970) and Johnny Bench (5.0 in 1968). All four of those guys won Rookie of the Year honors. Beyond his individual numbers, the Orioles were also 63-50 in games he played, compared to 20-29 without him. It just feels like his arrival signaled the beginning of a new era for the Orioles, and his Rookie of the Year case is a strong one, regardless of who is opposing him.


    Zach: You make a good argument, and I'll even add one more thing on the pile: After Rutschman got off the schneid with his first home run on June 15, his 5.2 fWAR for the rest of the year was second to only Judge among AL position players.

NL Rookie of the Year

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    Spencer Strider
    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Zach: As for the NL Rookie of the Year, I think we can thank Brendan Donovan for playing and determine whether it should go to Michael Harris II or Spencer Strider. I feel like there's no wrong pick there, but I lean Strider. Never before had a pitcher topped 200 strikeouts in a season while also allowing fewer than 100 hits. He did that this year and, personally, I think that's A Really Cool Thing.


    Joel: It's too bad Vaughn Grissom didn't get called up earlier, or the Braves might have gone 1-2-3 in the voting.

    I've seen you reference that Strider stat once before, and it's a great one—truly speaks to how overpowering he was this year. I remember watching the highlights from his franchise-record 16-strikeout game against the Colorado Rockies in September and legit being in awe of his stuff. I echo your sentiments of there being no wrong answer here, so I'll make the case for Harris.

    The 21-year-old had only played 43 games at Double-A and skipped Triple-A entirely when he was called up to the majors at the end of May. That in itself is a tough ask, but he looked right at home from the jump. He ended up ranking third among all center fielders with 5.3 WAR, trailing only Mike Trout (6.3) and Julio Rodríguez (6.2). That's elite production at a premium position at an age when most players are just getting their first taste of the upper levels of the minors. Impressive stuff.


    Zach: If only we could have the Braves decide whether Harris or Strider is more valuable to them. Oh, wait. They kinda did. They extended Strider for $75 million and Harris for only $72 million. Boom. Trump card.

AL/NL Manager of the Year

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    Scott Servais
    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Joel: That takes care of the Big Three for awards. How about we do some quick hits on the other award categories? Let's start with the always riveting Manager of the Year awards. Who ya got?


    Zach: Terry Francona did a great job with the youngest team in the majors, but the award for the AL simply has to go to Scott Servais, right? If you captain a team to its first playoff berth in 21 years, you deserve an award.

    It's a tougher call in the NL, where it's a choice between the managers of three 100-win teams. With respect to Dave Roberts and the 111-win Dodgers, I'm drawn to the job that Brian Snitker did this year. Yes, he still had many pieces from last year's championship-winning team. But not Freddie Freeman, and he had to contend with some critical injuries (Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Tyler Matzek) while also shepherding the rookies we talked about. To pull off a 101-win year and a dramatic comeback in the NL East despite these things is good stuff.


    Joel: I grew up a Cubs fan in the mid-'90s when Servais was a light-hitting catcher on some really bad Cubs teams, so I've always had a soft spot for him and I'm fully on board with him taking home AL honors. It's still hard to believe Ichiro's rookie season was Seattle's last postseason appearance prior to this year.

    I'm well aware this is cheating since he's not one of the finalists, but my vote for NL Manager of the Year has to go to Rob Thomson. The Phillies were 22-29 when he took over for Joe Girardi, and they went 65-46 the rest of the way to claim the final wild-card spot. Even before he took the team to the World Series, just getting it to the playoffs as an interim manager who inherited a sub-.500 team was awfully impressive.


    Zach: Cheating though it may be, you make a good case for Thomson. As the Angels found out the hard way, lifting up a struggling team isn't always as simple as firing the manager.

AL/NL Comeback Player of the Year

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    Albert Pujols
    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Zach: Anyway, who do we have for Comeback Player of the Year in the AL and NL?

    I suppose we'll agree that Verlander deserves it in the Junior Circuit, for reasons that we've already been over. And are we also going to agree on Albert Pujols for the NL? It might be a reach given that he never truly went away, but we're talking about an all-time offensive turnaround. To go from a 112 OPS+ across a decade's worth of seasons between 2011 and 2021 to a 154 OPS+ this year—and as a 42-year-old, no less—is truly remarkable stuff.


    Joel: I suppose there's a case to be made for Mike Trout on the AL side after he played just 36 games in 2021, but I'd be stunned if it's anyone besides Verlander in what is probably the best return season from Tommy John surgery ever.

    How about Ronald Acuña Jr. for the NL pick? He missed most of the first month of the season continuing to recover from the torn ACL that cost him the second half of 2021, and while there was some obvious rust, he also showed the same pre-injury explosiveness with 15 home runs, 29 steals and 2.8 WAR in 119 games while posting a solid 114 OPS+. He feels like a more traditional "comeback" pick than Pujols, whom I would classify more as a "bounce-back," if that makes sense.


    Zach: We can definitely debate the merits of Pujols' season as a "comeback" effort, but I'd wager the same is true of Acuña. Did he come back from the torn ACL? Yes. Was he pretty good? Also, yes. But was he anywhere close to his normal self? Unfortunately, no. In fact he was pretty bad for the most part, slashing .249/.329/.371 over his last 88 games.


    Joel: Totally fair. We can agree there's no slam-dunk choice on the NL side, and I think Pujols probably wins it.

Most Improved Hitter

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    Andrés Giménez
    Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

    Joel: If I can step onto my soapbox for a moment, I've always been annoyed by the fact that MLB doesn't have a Most Improved Player award like the NBA does. So let's rectify that, shall we?

    It only seems right to draw a line between hitters and pitchers, so let's start with your Most Improved Hitter of 2022. It's Andrés Giménez, isn't it? It has to be.


    Zach: Well, Giménez basically doubled his OPS+ from 74 in 2021 to 141 in 2022, so...yes?

    It's not often you see a left-handed batter hit .336 against left-handed pitchers, you know. He also refused to be bamboozled, which is my weirdo-self way of saying that he was really good against off-speed. His plus-12 run value against changeups co-led the majors alongside Freddie Freeman.


    Joel: I'll also offer up Alejandro Kirk, Nathaniel Lowe, Nico Hoerner, Ha-Seong Kim and Taylor Ward as worthy additions to this conversation, but I don't think there's any question the right answer is Giménez.

Most Improved Pitcher

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    Kyle Wright
    David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Zach: Who do you have for the Most Improved Pitcher of 2022? I feel like there are a bunch of good options, but I also feel like I'm not a mind-reader.


    Joel: A bunch of options indeed! With a tip of the cap to D-backs right-hander Merrill Kelly, who I think was one of the most underrated players of the 2022 season, I'm going with Kyle Wright.

    I remember being extremely high on him coming out of Vanderbilt, and I thought he landed in the perfect spot given Atlanta's long track record of developing pitching. So I was really surprised that he struggled to a 6.56 ERA in 70 innings while shuttling between Triple-A and the majors during his first four MLB seasons. Everything finally clicked this year, and he went 21-5 with a 3.19 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 174 strikeouts in 180.1 innings. That Atlanta rotation could have been a real issue this season without his breakout performance.


    Zach: Dang, that's a good pick. I know we're not supposed to talk about wins anymore, but the dude won 21 games! I remember thinking early in the year that he would tail off eventually, but he never really did.

    But if it sounds like I'm surprised you went with Wright, it's because I was going (and still am) with Triston McKenzie. He dropped his ERA by two runs from 2021 and even pitched 191.1 innings. It goes to show what a guy can do when he stays healthy and throws more strikes. I also have a soft spot for 12-to-6 curveballs, and he has a darn good one that allowed him to zig while everyone else zagged with their newfangled "sweepers."


    Joel: I still haven't fully wrapped my head around a guy with a 6'5", 165-pound frame throwing 191.1 innings. Count me among those who didn't think he would be able to handle a starter's workload when he never filled out. Then again, few do it better when it comes to developing pitching than that Cleveland organization.

Best Executive

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    A.J. Preller
    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Joel: Shall we toss a bow on our award picks with a look at the best and worst of MLB front offices? I believe we were in agreement on the Braves taking home Best Executive honors last season for their trade deadline wheeling and dealing. Who gets the nod this year?


    Zach: One supposes Best Executive honors should default to the World Series winners, but, well, what did James Click really do this year? I guess we can give him props for the big moments that Christian Vázquez (who deserved better than to be Martín Maldonado's backup) had in the playoffs, but for the most part, this year's triumph belongs to holdovers from the Jeff Luhnow regime.

    For me, it has to be Padres President of Baseball Operations A.J. Preller. A few months ago, we were talking about his trade-deadline haul of Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Brandon Drury and Josh Hader as one of the best of all time. It didn't exactly play out that way, but I still think it's admirable that Preller had the gall to go for it like that. And it's not like the book on said haul is closed, as Soto and Hader will still be around in 2023.


    Joel: I would argue the biggest move the Houston front office made was the move it didn't make. Letting Carlos Correa walk and turning the starting shortstop job over to a guy who had only played 30 games above High-A in Jeremy Peña took some gumption, but I think Peña deserves the credit there more than Click.

    I'm going to toss my vote at Erik Neander and Peter Bendix from a Tampa Bay Rays front office that once again did a tremendous job finding value on the margins. Reliever Jason Adam was signed for $900,000, and he had a 1.56 ERA with eight saves and 22 holds in 67 appearances. Harold Ramírez was acquired from the Cubs for a career minor leaguer, and he posted a 119 OPS+ in 435 plate appearances. All-Star Austin Meadows was flipped for former top prospect Isaac Parades just before Opening Day, and the Rays ended up winning that deal by a landslide when Parades slugged 20 home runs in 381 plate appearances. They do it every year, and it's the reason they can contend with a minuscule payroll.


    Zach: Sam Miller had a tweet years ago that never ceases to ring true: "LOVE this trade for the Rays. Who'd they give up? And who'd they get?" Teams really should know by now that if the Rays want to trade for one of your guys, that's a guy you want to keep.

Worst Executive

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    Al Avila
    Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    Joel: Now for the other end of the spectrum: Which front office missed the mark?


    Zach: I know the knives were out for Brian Cashman after the Yankees got knocked out of the playoffs, but he didn't have that bad of a year at the controls. Even if the Josh Donaldson/Isiah Kiner-Falefa trade instead of signing a shortstop looks like a misfire in retrospect, let's grant that Matt Carpenter was a shrewd pickup and he even scored a nice trade-deadline haul of Frankie Montas, Andrew Benintendi and Scott Effross before the injury bug came along and ruined everything.

    If it's OK to pile on a guy who's already lost his job, I'm going to tab Al Avila as Worst Executive. The Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez signings were questionable even when they were made, and both indeed turned out to be disastrous in 2022. I think it's also fair to book Avila on charges of having botched the club's rebuild. He had better than half a decade to get the Tigers somewhere, so it's pretty damning that they're about as moribund now as they were after the trades of Verlander, Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez in 2017. I don't envy the cleanup job that Scott Harris has before him.


    Joel: No question the Tigers were one of the most disappointing teams of 2022. They were a popular dark-horse pick to contend after a quietly relevant 2021 season, but instead it feels like they've taken multiple steps backward, and the blame falls squarely on the front office.

    I'm tempted to go with the Colorado Rockies, who signed Kris Bryant to a contract that might go down in the all-time-bad category and then extended 37-year-old closer Daniel Bard in-season for some reason. Instead, I'll point the microscope at the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that refuses to do what it takes to contend. The best they could do for a roster upgrade during the offseason was Andrew McCutchen, who provided a 99 OPS+ and 1.1 WAR, and then rather than buying at the deadline, they traded Josh Hader in a deal that amounted to a cost-cutting measure. Another year of Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff being affordable slipped through their fingers, and already rumors are swirling about a potential Burnes trade. It's more of an ownership problem than a general manager problem, but it's tough to watch a team with championship potential phone it in because it's not willing to spend beyond its comfort level.


    Zach: Oh, man. Don't get me started on the Rockies. Signing Bryant to play the outfield had the same energy as when they signed Ian Desmond to play first base. I'm fine with outside-the-box thinking, but the Rockies always seem to be standing in a cloud of smoke, asking, "What even is a box, man?"

    Otherwise, I'm with you on the Brewers. We can talk about how Hader was struggling when the Brewers traded him, but go figure that the clubhouse didn't take kindly to a deal that removed a star from their midst. Eric Lauer spoke of there being a "shock factor," and understandably so. The whole situation should serve as a reminder that players are people, not line items on a spreadsheet. And I say this as someone who is generally pro-spreadsheet.


    Joel: We might disagree on some of these awards, but we'll always share a spot on Team Pro-Spreadsheet. This has been a pleasure as always, sir! I'll see you around the virtual water cooler.


    Zach: A pleasure this has indeed been, my friend. Let us now retreat to our respective cryosleep pods until B/R needs us to do another roundtable. Until then, adieu.

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