Bleacher Report's 2015 MLB Award Predictions at Start of Spring Training
With the arrival of spring training also meaning the arrival of prediction season, you might even say it's our duty to take a whack at predicting who will win some hardware when it's time for 2015 MLB awards.
So that's what we're here to do. Ahead of you are picks for the four major awards—Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player—in the American League and National League, complete with what passes for reasonable analysis at this juncture.
Step into the box whenever you're ready.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
American League Manager of the Year: Lloyd McClendon, Seattle Mariners
At this stage of the game, the Manager of the Year awards are easily the hardest to call. Until we figure out how to properly evaluate manager performances, projecting them is out of the question.
Fortunately, potential narratives aren't hard to anticipate. That's why I'm going with Seattle Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon as this year's AL Manager of the Year.
McClendon's first season with the Mariners in 2014 was largely a success. He led them to an 87-75 record, which improved on their 2013 record by 16 wins and put them one win shy of the postseason. For that, he got enough support to finish fourth in the AL MOY voting.
Even more support for McClendon in the voting will be in the cards in 2015 if the Mariners take the next step, and that's something they should do. The team they have now is largely similar to the team they had in 2014, except with a huge (and much-needed) middle-of-the-order upgrade in Nelson Cruz.
FanGraphs' projections have the Mariners handily winning the AL West, which is believable. And if it comes true, McClendon will get the credit for leading the Mariners to their first postseason since 2001.
Other potentials: Terry Francona, Robin Ventura, John Gibbons, Joe Girardi, Mike Scioscia, Bob Melvin
American League Rookie of the Year: Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
It's a good bet that the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year will be a Toronto Blue Jay. In Dalton Pompey, Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez, they have three potential contenders.
But of the three, Sanchez is my guy. He flashed the ability to be a shutdown reliever with a 1.09 ERA in 24 major league appearances in 2014, and that might lead to an important gig.
Though Sanchez will battle for Toronto's fifth starter spot this spring, Jays manager John Gibbons recently admitted he's leaning toward the young right-hander as a solution at closer.
“To be honest with you, the way it stacks up now and the question marks we’ve got down there, yeah, that’s going to strengthen the bullpen if he’s down there," he told Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star.
One concern about the prospect of Sanchez as a closer is that he struck out only 7.4 batters per nine innings last year. But with high-90s heat and a power curveball, he definitely has the stuff to rack up strikeouts. As a bonus, FanGraphs can vouch for his extreme ground-ball talent.
If Sanchez does break camp as Toronto's closer, plenty of saves should follow. And silly though they may be, saves worked fine for recent ROYs Craig Kimbrel, Neftali Feliz and Andrew Bailey.
Other potentials: Dalton Pompey, Daniel Norris, Andrew Heaney, Carlos Rodon, Alex Meyer
American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Maybe it looks like I'm showing the Mariners some favoritism so far, but what I'm really doing here is making the safest pick possible.
After all, predicting that Felix Hernandez will have a Cy Young-caliber season is like predicting the latest Wes Anderson movie will be quirky and enjoyable. King Felix has a 2.73 ERA since 2009, and no AL pitcher has him beat in fielding independent pitching over the last three years.
And Hernandez only seems to be getting better. He's fresh off a 2.14 ERA across 236.0 innings in 2014, and Brooks Baseball can show how his dominance was boosted by improved velocity and liberal use of his devastating changeup. He wasn't messing around, and AL hitters paid the price.
Picking up where he left off will put King Felix in the Cy Young race by default, but what should help him even further are additional Ws. Knowing what the Mariners are packing, he could make a run at his first 20-win season.
Really, the only question may be whether or not that dastardly Corey Kluber has another dominant second half up his sleeve.
Other potentials: Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Garrett Richards, Alex Cobb
American League MVP: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
For the record, I have no doubt Mike Trout is going to be the American League's best player once again. He's shown he's quite good at being the American League's best player.
But as Trout's 2012 and 2013 seasons can vouch, being the best isn't the same as being the most valuable. Context can sway that argument, and one guy who could benefit in 2015 is Jose Abreu.
The White Sox slugger certainly put up MVP-caliber offensive numbers in 2014, hitting .317 with a .964 OPS, 36 home runs and 107 RBI. And while it is slightly concerning that his power faded in the second half, him hitting .350 with a .435 OBP was a nifty trade-off.
In 2015, Abreu could find himself hitting well over .300 with a .400-ish OBP and north of 30 dingers and 100 RBI. Numbers like those would put him in the MVP race again, but the difference this year could be the White Sox as a whole.
They're better after a busy offseason, but not good enough to be obvious playoff favorites. That makes them a candidate to be carried on one guy's shoulders, and Abreu's just the guy for the job.
Other potentials: Mike Trout, Robinson Cano, Alex Gordon, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Michael Brantley, David Ortiz, Evan Longoria
National League Manager of the Year: Bud Black, San Diego Padres
The two easiest picks for National League Manager of the Year are Chicago Cubs skipper Joe Maddon and San Diego Padres skipper Bud Black, as both stand to get the credit for making winners out of perennial losers that have recently been remodeled.
But between the two, it's more likely that Black will actually get the job done.
After an offseason shopping spree that included trades for Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Derek Norris and a major free-agent signing in James Shields, the Padres do have the look of a legit contender. You know, provided their poor outfield defense and "meh" infield are at least passable.
In and of itself, the Padres contending for the postseason would boost Black in the Manager of the Year race. What should boost him even further is that he would invariably get additional credit for turning San Diego's renovated roster into a coherent whole.
Don't count out Maddon winning the award after overseeing the turnaround of the lowly Cubs, but there's just a little bit more certainty in Black's situation.
Other potentials: Joe Maddon, Don Mattingly, Bruce Bochy, Mike Matheny, Clint Hurdle, Matt Williams, Mike Redmond, Terry Collins
National League Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
OK, so this is an obvious pick. That doesn't make it a bad pick, though.
Everyone is expecting Cubs super-prospect Kris Bryant to be the next big thing, and understandably so. He's coming off an award-winning minor league season that saw him hit .325 with a 1.098 OPS and 43 dingers, and the tools that made those numbers possible are expected to translate well to the big leagues.
Here's an excerpt from ESPN.com's Keith Law's scouting report on Bryant:
Bryant's swing is very balanced, with a wide setup and good use of his lower half to generate power. While there were concerns when he was an amateur that his bat speed might not catch up to major league velocity, he really has had no problem with better stuff in the pros, probably because his eye is so good and his swing is very short from load to contact.
Just as important, it seems likely that Bryant will have lots of major league action coming his way. If he doesn't break camp as Chicago's starting third baseman, there isn't much standing in his way of being installed at the hot corner shortly after Opening Day.
And from there, he could grab hold of the NL Rookie of the Year race and never let go.
Other potentials: Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Noah Syndergaard
National League Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
You might be thinking Clayton Kershaw's name belongs here. And yeah, it probably does.
But Max Scherzer is no joke, you know. He's authored a 3.02 ERA and a 10.2 K/9 across 434.2 innings in the last two seasons, and that was against American League competition.
It's therefore not hard to imagine Scherzer's move to the Senior Circuit increasing his dominance, especially knowing he'll get to face the offensively challenged Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies a few times each. He should also benefit from improved defense, as Baseball Prospectus can show the Nationals were a wee bit better than the Detroit Tigers in that department in 2014.
To boot, Scherzer should carry on being one of the league's top win merchants. Between his dominance and the talent level around him in Washington, the ingredients are there for him to potentially make it three straight league-leading win totals.
There are plenty of pitchers in the National League who could challenge Scherzer for the NL Cy Young, but seemingly not as many who stand to actually beat him.
Other potentials: Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Zimmermann, Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester
National League MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Had it not been for Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton might have won the National League MVP in 2014. On the bright side, however, there's every reason to believe Stanton can be an MVP candidate again.
The Marlins slugger is coming off his finest season yet, as he posted a career-best .395 OBP while leading the the NL in slugging (.555), total bases (299) and home runs (37). He also stole 13 bases and played solid defense in right field, making him one of the most complete players in the National League.
And none of it felt like a fluke. Stanton's 2014 season was largely reminiscent of his 2012 season, and what the two have in common is that he was largely healthy for both. If he can stay healthy again in 2015, he ought to be an all-out menace again.
What would further help Stanton's standing in the MVP race is if he carries the Marlins like he did in 2014, and that's doable. Though they made some improvements this winter, they didn't improve to a point where they won't need Stanton to carry them again.
If Stanton once again proves to be up to the challenge, the MVP should be his to lose.
Other potentials: Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon