Bleacher Report's 2015 MLB Writer's Choice Poll

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2015

Bleacher Report's 2015 MLB Writer's Choice Poll

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Each year, a number of different media outlets publish an MLB survey in which they ask current players for their predictions on topics ranging from who will win it all that season to who the most overrated player in the game is.

    With that in mind, we decided to do the same thing here at Bleacher Report—but with a pool of 32 of our MLB writers instead. I crafted a 30-question poll with a mixture of team- and player-specific questions.

    What follows is a look at how the voting shook out on everything from Favorite Player to Watch to Best Facial Hair, as well as some analysis on the top vote-getters.

    I opted not to vote in the poll, so as not to influence the results.

    However, included on each slide is what my choice would have been and an explanation of why.

    So sit back and enjoy!

NL Pennant Winner

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    Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Washington Nationals17
    Los Angeles Dodgers8
    St. Louis Cardinals3
    Pittsburgh Pirates2
    Chicago Cubs1
    San Diego Padres1

    Voting Analysis

    Not a huge surprise here, as the Washington Nationals entered the season as the odds-on favorites in the National League thanks to their juggernaut of a starting rotation.

    Four of the five NL teams that reached the playoffs a year ago made up the top four in these rankings, with only the reigning champion San Francisco Giants not receiving a vote.

    Arguably the two most improved teams in the league, the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres, garnered one vote each after both clubs posted a losing record a year ago.

    My Choice: Washington Nationals

    Pitching wins championships, and no one has a better pitching staff than the Nationals. They also have two of the game's best young hitting stars in Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper.

    If this is the year Harper finally takes his game to the next level, that offense could be plenty dangerous in its own right.

AL Pennant Winner

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    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Seattle Mariners20
    Boston Red Sox3
    Chicago White Sox2
    Detroit Tigers2
    Los Angeles Angels2
    Baltimore Orioles1
    Cleveland Indians1
    Kansas City Royals1

    Voting Analysis

    They have not reached the playoffs since 2001, but that didn't stop the Seattle Mariners from running away with the voting on the American League side.

    An improved offense, paired with a high-ceiling starting rotation and a dominant bullpen, has the Mariners looking like the most complete team in the league and a dangerous draw come October.

    Seeing four teams from the AL Central receive at least one vote only speaks to how wide open that division is, and it could very well wind up being a four-club race well into the second half of the season.

    My Choice: Seattle Mariners

    If young arms Taijuan Walker and James Paxton can break out, as many are expecting, the Mariners rotation could be dominant.

    The Nelson Cruz signing captured the headlines, but don't overlook the right field platoon of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano, as they could make a big impact in what might be the best Mariners lineup since the Bret Boone/John Olerud days.

World Series Winner

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    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Washington Nationals16
    Los Angeles Dodgers7
    Seattle Mariners3
    Pittsburgh Pirates2
    St. Louis Cardinals2
    Detroit Tigers1
    Los Angeles Angels1

    Voting Analysis

    The National League comes across as the resounding favorite here, receiving 27 of the 32 votes, and, as expected, it's the Washington Nationals leading the way.

    Of the 17 people who voted for the Nationals to win the NL pennant, all but one of them had them winning it all. It was a similar story for the Los Angeles Dodgers, with eight voters picking them to win the pennant and seven picking them to win it all.

    On the flip side, only three of the 20 people who picked the Seattle Mariners to claim the AL pennant think they'll cap things off with a World Series title.

    My Choice: Washington Nationals

    The Nationals laid an egg in the first round of the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, despite being overwhelming favorites both times. If nothing else, that's provided their core with some valuable experience, and this time around could be a different story entirely.

Best Offense

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    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Boston Red Sox15
    Toronto Blue Jays7
    Los Angeles Dodgers3
    Colorado Rockies2
    Baltimore Orioles1
    Cleveland Indians1
    Detroit Tigers1
    Los Angeles Angels1
    Tampa Bay Rays1

    Voting Analysis

    As expected, this one essentially came down to the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, though the Red Sox won a bit more handily than expected.

    The National League received a total of five votes, which was no surprise. To find the last time an NL team led the league in runs scored, you have to go all the way back to Darryl Strawberry and the 1990 New York Mets.

    That one vote for the Tampa Bay Rays seems pretty optimistic, to say the least. They were 27th in the league in runs scored last year, and outside of Evan Longoria, their lineup is sorely lacking firepower.

    My Choice: Boston Red Sox

    The additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are nice, but a healthy season from Dustin Pedroia could wind up being the biggest X-factor of all for the Red Sox offense.

    Throw in the continued progression of the dynamic Mookie Betts and the eventual arrival of Rusney Castillo, and this lineup looks to have slightly more upside than the Blue Jays, though not much.

Best Starting Rotation

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Washington Nationals28
    Cleveland Indians1
    New York Mets1
    Seattle Mariners1
    St. Louis Cardinals1

    Voting Analysis

    This one probably could have been a clean sweep for the Washington Nationals, and it would not have been all that surprising.

    Could another team wind up as the best rotation in baseball before all is said and done? Sure, but at this point, when we're basing things more on potential than production, it's hard to make a legitimate argument for anyone but the Nationals being on top here.

    That said, all four teams that received one vote have the potential to be great, albeit with at least some minor reservations—whether it is counting on a young pitcher to take the next step or on a breakout player to turn in a duplicate performance.

    My Choice: Washington Nationals

    This staff is so good, Tanner Roark went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 198.2 innings of work last season and lost his spot in the rotation.

    The New York Mets may have just taken two of three against them, but it's a long season, and this staff still looks like the best in the business.

Best Bullpen

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Kansas City Royals15
    New York Yankees4
    San Diego Padres3
    St. Louis Cardinals3
    Pittsburgh Pirates2
    Seattle Mariners2
    Washington Nationals2
    Oakland Athletics1

    Voting Analysis

    The Seattle Mariners finished last season with the best bullpen ERA in baseball (2.59), followed closely by the San Diego Padres (2.73) and Oakland Athletics (2.91).

    That said, it's not a big shock to see the Royals win the voting here by a significant margin, as the late-inning trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland was historically good last season and received plenty of attention in October.

    It's a bit surprising that the team those Royals met and eventually lost to in the World Series, the San Francisco Giants, did not receive any votes. The foursome of Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla has seen it all at this point.

    My Choice: San Diego Padres

    This voting began a few weeks ago, with a number of people turning in their ballots before the trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Padres. Otherwise, it's fair to assume a few more people would have penciled them in for best bullpen.

    Adding the best closer in the game to a relief corps that ranked second in all of baseball a year ago? Sounds like a winning combination to me.

Best Rivalry

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    LAD vs. SF15
    BOS vs. NYY 7
    CHC vs. STL 3
    LAD vs. ARI2
    LAD vs. SD2
    LAA vs. SEA2
    PIT vs. STL 1

    Voting Analysis

    An MLB rivalry can take a few different forms.

    It can be a pair of teams with a long history such as the Red Sox vs. Yankees, or Cubs vs. Cardinals. Even when both teams are not in the playoff hunt, those games still take on a postseason-like atmosphere.

    It can be teams with some bad blood in recent years. The Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks, or the Red Sox vs. Rays come to mind as two newer examples.

    Or it can simply be two clubs battling it out for first place, which is likely why we see the Angels vs. Mariners as well as the Pirates vs. Cardinals here.

    At the top is a rivalry that encompasses all three of these areas to a point, as the Dodgers and Giants have a long history and their fair share of bad blood, and both teams have been in contention a lot in recent years.

    My Choice: CHC vs. STL

    As a Cubs fan living with two Cardinals fan roommates, I more or less experience this rivalry on a daily basis during the season.

Most Surprising Team

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Miami Marlins6
    Chicago White Sox4
    Houston Astros3
    Oakland Athletics3
    San Diego Padres3
    Chicago Cubs2
    Cincinnati Reds2
    Cleveland Indians2
    Minnesota Twins2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays

    Voting Analysis

    Calling a team surprising is all relative to expectations, so everyone's idea of a potential surprise team could be different, depending on how they expect things to shake out.

    The Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Cleveland Indians could certainly qualify as surprise teams to some people, but it's also fair to say that all four clubs entered the season with legitimate aspirations to contend.

    On the other hand, if squads such as the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins are in the thick of the playoff chase down the stretch, that would rank as a huge surprise given their expectations.

    My Choice: Oakland Athletics

    Dramatic offseason turnover is a scary thing for a fanbase, but it's a necessary evil for a small-market team like the Athletics. However, this latest overhaul was on a different level entirely than past offseasons from general manager Billy Beane.

    However, there is still a lot of talent on this roster, and no one does a better job of using all 25 guys than manager Bob Melvin. They won't win the AL West, but they have a shot at a wild-card spot.

Most Disappointing Team

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    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Detroit Tigers5
    San Francisco Giants5
    Cleveland Indians3
    Kansas City Royals3
    San Diego Padres3
    Washington Nationals3
    New York Yankees2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays

    Voting Analysis

    Just like with the most-surprising-team debate, this is all relative to expectations, but it's a bit more cut and dried on this side of the argument. You're expected to make the playoffs, but if you don't, you're a disappointment, simple as that.

    The Detroit Tigers still have a stacked offense, but their pitching staff is potentially the weakest it has been in years. With Detroit working on a string of four straight division titles, and with an improved division around the club, it could certainly disappoint in 2015.

    The Tigers were tied atop the voting with the defending champion San Francisco Giants, who have certainly qualified as disappointments the past two times they've tried to defend their title. A shaky rotation could put them in a similar position this time around.

    My Choice: San Francisco Giants

    The Giants have a way of squeezing every bit of talent out of their roster, and they know how to win. But this team just doesn't look to have the pieces to repeat.

    San Francisco caught fire at the right time last season, largely on the strength of its pitching staff. With Matt Cain already on the shelf and Jake Peavy dealing with some back issues, things will get worse before they get better on the pitching staff this time around.

2015 Breakout Hitter

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    CF Mookie Betts, BOS 7
    3B Kris Bryant, CHC 7
    RF Bryce Harper, WAS2
    CF Joc Pederson, LAD2
    3B Kyle Seager, SEA2
    RF Jorge Soler, CHC 2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Brandon Belt, C.J. Cron, Travis d'Arnaud, J.D. Martinez, Gregory Polanco, George Springer, Steven Souza, Yasmany Tomas, Kolten Wong, Christian Yelich

    Voting Analysis

    Two of the stars of spring training, Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, top the balloting here as the only players to receive more than two votes.

    Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler figure to be the biggest competition for Kris Bryant in the NL Rookie of the Year race, while the only AL rookie to receive a vote was Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Steven Souza, as Betts exhausted his rookie status last year.

    Digging into the voting a bit deeper, George Springer and Gregory Polanco could certainly take that next step. Most would probably classify what J.D. Martinez did last season as his breakout performance, and he may actually be a better regression candidate than breakout candidate.

    My Choice: Bryce Harper, WAS

    In my mind, a breakout player is someone who has already established himself as an everyday big leaguer, then takes that big step forward from contributor to star.

    It still seems like only a matter of time before all the pieces fall into place for Bryce Harper, who is still just 22 years old and is actually younger than Bryant. Here's predicting this is the year he takes that next step.

2015 Breakout Pitcher

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Taijuan Walker, SEA9
    Carlos Carrasco, CLE 3
    Sonny Gray, OAK2
    Daniel Norris, TOR2
    Noah Syndergaard, NYM2
    Carlos Rodon, CWS2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Nathan Eovaldi, Kevin Gausman, Shane Greene, Jesse Hahn, Drew Hutchison, Mike Leake, Carlos Martinez, Jose Quintana, Yordano Ventura, Alex Wood

    Voting Analysis

    Taijuan Walker entered last season one of the top pitching prospects in the game, but shoulder issues limited him to just five starts and 38 total innings at the big league level.

    Healthy this season, and coming off of a dominant spring (27 IP, 0.67 ERA, 5 BB, 26 K), Walker is expected to play a huge role in the Seattle Mariners' push for a playoff spot.

    By most accounts, Sonny Gray broke out last season, emerging as the ace of the Oakland staff, but at the same time, he is still capable of another step forward. As expected, this ended up being a collection of young arms, none of which rank among the game's elite hurlers just yet.

    My Choice: Drew Hutchison, Toronto Blue Jays

    l like the Walker pick a lot, as well as guys like Kevin Gausman and Trevor Bauer, both of whom are capable of a big step forward as well.

    However, it's Drew Hutchison whom I expect to be the biggest riser among starting pitchers in 2015. He looked terrific on Opening Day, has the strikeout stuff to dominate and still has plenty of room to improve at the age of 24.

Biggest Free-Agent Bargain

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Nori Aoki, SF5
    Melky Cabrera, CWS 3
    Brett Anderson, LAD2
    Asdrubal Cabrera, TB2
    Rickie Weeks, SEA2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Brennan Boesch, Phil Coke, Nelson Cruz, Jason Frasor, Jason Hammel, Chase Headley, Jeremy Hellickson (trade), Adam LaRoche, Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy, Michael Morse, Colby Rasmus, Wandy Rodriguez, James Shields, Justin Smoak, Yasmany Tomas, Edinson Volquez, Chris Young (P)

    Voting Analysis

    The San Francisco Giants' decision to sign Nori Aoki was immediately vindicated when a fractured forearm sidelined Hunter Pence to start the season.

    The 33-year-old does not do any one thing great, but he has decent on-base skills and 20-steal potential, and he should have no problem outplaying his one-year, $4.7 million contract.

    Early reports had Melky Cabrera seeking a five-year deal, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. That makes the three-year, $42 million pact he eventually signed with the Chicago White Sox look awfully good if he can continue to produce.

    Brett Anderson may have the highest upside of any buy-low candidate this offseason, but he still comes with a ton of risk for the Los Angeles Dodgers given his lengthy injury history.

    My Choice: Phil Coke, CHC

    This may be my bias showing through here, but that's kind of what a poll like this is about, right? Phil Coke has a chance to play a huge part in what could be a very good Chicago Cubs bullpen.

    One of the best bargains from a year ago was Joe Beimel, who joined the Seattle Mariners on a minor league deal. Coke came to the North Side under similar circumstances, and after 8.2 scoreless innings in the spring, he's looked sharp in the early going.

Biggest Free-Agent Bust

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Billy Butler, OAK4
    Nelson Cruz, SEA4
    Jon Lester, CHC 3
    Pablo Sandoval, BOS 3
    Nick Markakis, ATL2
    Hanley Ramirez, BOS2
    Ervin Santana, MIN2
    Yasmany Tomas, ARI2
    Edinson Volquez, KC2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Melky Cabrera, Matt Kemp (trade), Russell Martin, Brandon McCarthy, Andrew Miller, Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, James Shields

    Voting Analysis

    Apparently, the voters are not a fan of throwing down big money on a designated hitter.

    After spending the first eight seasons of his career with the Kansas City Royals, Billy Butler joined the Oakland Athletics on a three-year, $30 million deal this offseason. That came after he posted a career-low .702 OPS last season with nine home runs and 66 RBI.

    Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners threw down $57 million over four years to sign Nelson Cruz. Chances are he won't duplicate his 40-homer performance from a year ago, but that doesn't mean he can't be a key piece of the puzzle in protecting Robinson Cano and hitting 25-30 long balls.

    My Choice: Ervin Santana, MIN

    Keep in mind once again that much of the balloting for this article was done before Opening Day, so I have the benefit of hindsight here.

    Props to the two people who picked Ervin Santana prior to his 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performing-enhancing substance, as he now looks like an easy choice for the biggest free-agent bust of 2015.

Player Most Likely to Be Traded at the Deadline

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Cole Hamels, PHI18
    Johnny Cueto, CIN 4

    Others Receiving One Vote: Trevor Cahill, Wade Davis, Andre Ethier, Tim Lincecum, Justin Masterson, Justin Morneau, Michael Pineda, Shane Victorino, Justin Upton, Chase Utley

    Voting Analysis

    Despite an offseason of swirling rumors, Cole Hamels still suited up for the Philadelphia Phillies to open the year.

    At some point, the Phillies are going to trade their ace, as the return package of players figures to play a major role in their rebuilding process. It's just a question of when and for how much talent.

    Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds are in a tough spot with ace Johnny Cueto, as they were unable to negotiate an extension in the offseason, and it looks like he could be the next arm out the door after the team traded Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon in the offseason.

    The Dodgers, Giants and Red Sox would no doubt love to unload the likes of Andre Ethier, Tim Lincecum and Shane Victorino, respectively, but that could be tricky given their salaries and diminished skills.

    My Choice: Justin Morneau, COL

    There's a good chance the Phillies trade Cole Hamels long before the July 31 deadline, and the Cincinnati Reds have an opportunity to surprise some people if their offensive core can stay healthy, so my vote strays from the two popular choices here.

    Justin Morneau makes just $6.75 million this year, with a $9 million mutual option for next season, so he'll be an attractive target for a team looking to add a veteran bat. The Rockies could still look to move Wilin Rosario to first base full time at some point, so moving the 33-year-old Morneau makes sense.

NL Rookie of the Year

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    Rich Pilling/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Kris Bryant, CHC 24
    Jorge Soler, CHC 6
    Joc Pederson, LAD1
    Yasmany Tomas, ARI1

    Voting Analysis

    All but two voters think it will be a Chicago Cubs player who takes home NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, something the franchise last did in 2008 when catcher Geovany Soto won the award.

    Kris Bryant is easily the most hyped prospect in baseball right now, and his monster spring training performance paired with the controversy surrounding his being sent to the minors only fanned that fire.

    However, don't count out his teammate and fellow uber-prospect Jorge Soler. He brings a more advanced approach at the plate, uses the whole field, is incredibly athletic and has big-time power in his own right.

    My Choice: Jorge Soler, CHC

    Despite the gaudy numbers Kris Bryant has put up to this point, there is still a good amount of swing-and-miss to his game, as he struck out 162 times in 492 at-bats in the minors last year.

    Bryant has the higher ceiling long term, but there's a good chance Soler is the more consistent producer as a rookie.

AL Rookie of the Year

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Rusney Castillo, BOS 11
    Daniel Norris, TOR9
    Steven Souza, TB5
    Carlos Rodon, CWS 4
    Dalton Pompey, TOR2
    Andrew Heaney, LAA1

    Voting Analysis

    An oblique injury slowed Rusney Castillo during spring training, and that opened the door for Mookie Betts to run away with the everyday center field job, with Castillo sent to the minors to open the season.

    However, the 27-year-old Castillo won't be there for long, as he's set to earn $10.5 million this season after signing a seven-year, $72.5 million deal last year. The inevitable Shane Victorino-disabled list trip should open things up in right field.

    Close behind in the voting was left-hander Daniel Norris, who began last season pitching in High-A and finished the year in Toronto. He'll be a major X-factor in the Blue Jays' chances of winning the AL East title.

    Keep an eye on Chicago White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon. He has a chance to dominate as soon as he gets the ball.

    My Choice: Daniel Norris, TOR

    It was a bit surprising to see Aaron Sanchez receive zero votes here, but I'll agree with the rest of the voters in calling Daniel Norris the better Rookie of the Year candidate of the Blue Jays' two young arms.

    If I knew Rodon would be called up before June, he'd be my pick here, but his timetable is still unclear at this point.

NL Cy Young

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Clayton Kershaw, LAD21
    Max Scherzer, WAS4
    Johnny Cueto, CIN 2
    Stephen Strasburg, WAS2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright

    Voting Analysis

    Clayton Kershaw was historically good in 2014, going 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.857 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 198.1 innings, as he won his third NL Cy Young in four years and also took home MVP honors.

    His recent run of dominance made him the runaway favorite in the voting here, and barring an injury, the smart money figures to be on the 27-year-old lefty once again this season.

    Max Scherzer looked sharp on Opening Day, and he'll be motivated to prove he's worth that $210 million contract. The biggest thing working against him could be his own teammates, as the Nationals' top two starters (Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) could wind up splitting votes.

    My Choice: Clayton Kershaw, LAD

    Kershaw looked downright human on Opening Day, allowing six hits and three earned runs, as a game-winning home run by Jimmy Rollins took him off the hook for the loss.

    That's not nearly enough to scare me off here, though, as Kershaw is still the game's best pitcher.

AL Cy Young

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Felix Hernandez, SEA20
    Chris Sale, CWS 7
    David Price, DET 4

    Others Receiving One Vote: Michael Pineda

    Voting Analysis

    As good as Corey Kluber was last season, a pretty convincing case can be made that Felix Hernandez deserved to win AL Cy Young, as he led the league in ERA (2.14), WHIP (0.915) and quality starts (27).

    With the Seattle Mariners expected to be serious contenders, his performance will be magnified this season, and a similarly dominant performance would put him in a great position to win the award for the second time in his career.

    Left-handers Chris Sale and David Price are both the clear-cut aces of their respective staffs, and they are two of the game's truly elite starters.

    Sale could conceivably get better after trimming nearly a full run off his ERA last year, while Price should be plenty motivated in a contract year.

    My Choice: Chris Sale, CWS

    Starting the season on the disabled list is not the best way to kick off a run at the Cy Young, but that didn't stop Clayton Kershaw from winning it a year ago.

    Sale is expected to return this Sunday against the Minnesota Twins, and after going 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA, 0.966 WHIP and AL-best 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings last season, he should give King Felix a serious run for his money.

NL MVP

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Giancarlo Stanton, MIA14
    Andrew McCutchen, PIT6
    Bryce Harper, WAS3
    Yasiel Puig, LAD2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gomez, Jason Heyward, Clayton Kershaw, Starling Marte, Anthony Rendon, Anthony Rizzo

    Voting Analysis

    Were it not for a gruesome injury resulting from a fastball to the face that cost him the final 17 games of the season, Giancarlo Stanton might have taken home NL MVP honors last season.

    Even with that time missed, the slugger still led the NL in home runs (37), slugging (.555) and total bases (299) while posting a terrific .395 on-base percentage and adding 13 steals. An improved lineup around him and a potential playoff push could put him over the top.

    Andrew McCutchen won NL MVP in 2013, with that win sandwiched between a pair of third-place finishes. He's the best all-around player in the National League, and with the Pittsburgh Pirates expected to be in the playoff hunt once again, he should be a leading candidate.

    Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig's clubs are both counting on them to take a step forward this season, as the Nationals parted ways with Adam LaRoche and the Dodgers lost Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp.

    My Choice: Andrew McCutchen, PIT

    McCutchen has single-handedly carried the offensive load for the Pirates at times over the past three years, but the continued emergence of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and a bounce-back season from Pedro Alvarez could give him the best supporting cast he's ever had.

AL MVP

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Mike Trout, LAA 23
    Jose Abreu, CWS 3
    Miguel Cabrera, DET 2
    Robinson Cano, SEA2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Jose Bautista, Adam Jones

    Voting Analysis

    After finishing second to Miguel Cabrera in the voting in 2012 and 2013, Mike Trout finally took home AL MVP honors last season.

    A lot of was made of his increased strikeout rate and drop in batting average, but a .939 OPS with 36 home runs, 111 RBI and 115 runs scored speak for themselves. He should be the favorite to win this award every year for the foreseeable future.

    Jose Abreu took the league by storm last season, and the additions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche to the Chicago White Sox lineup should help him avoid a sophomore slump.

    Miguel Cabrera has probably lost a step, but he's still as good a hitter as anyone in the game, while Robinson Cano will also benefit from some added protection after the Seattle Mariners added Nelson Cruz to the mix.

    My Choice: Robinson Cano, SEA

    The Mariners are my pick to win not only the AL West but the AL pennant, and if that happens, it is probably going to mean a big season from Robinson Cano.

    In a stat-leader prognostication article a little while back, I predicted him to win the AL batting title with a .329 average and 111 RBI. If that happens, and the Mariners succeed, he'll be the MVP front-runner.

You're Starting a Franchise from Scratch: Clayton Kershaw or Mike Trout?

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Mike Trout24
    Clayton Kershaw 8

    Voting Analysis

    The question is simple. If you're starting a franchise tomorrow and can build around either Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw, which one are you taking?

    The 23-year-old Trout came out on top by a wide margin over the 27-year-old Kershaw, and having an everyday player as a franchise cornerstone over someone pitching every fifth day makes sense.

    In hindsight, an "other" choice would have been an interesting addition to this question, as there are a handful of players (Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Sale, Buster Posey) who are probably in the conversation.

    My Choice: Mike Trout

    Given the fickle nature of pitchers from a health standpoint, and the fact that Trout is four years younger, this was a pretty easy selection.

Most Underrated Player

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Michael Brantley, CLE 3
    Jonathan Lucroy, MIL3
    Kyle Seager, SEA3
    Jose Altuve, HOU 2
    Carlos Gomez, MIL2
    Starling Marte, PIT2
    Christian Yelich, MIA2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Nori Aoki, Andrew Cashner, Todd Frazier, Alex Gordon, J.J. Hardy, Josh Harrison, Devin Mesoraco, David Peralta, Salvador Perez, Trevor Plouffe, Jose Quintana, Anthony Rendon, Chris Sale, Jordan Zimmermann, Ben Zobrist

    Voting Analysis

    This question brought a wide variety of answers, and truth be told, there really was not a bad choice in the bunch. A case can be made for every one of the 22 guys who received a vote being underrated in one way or another.

    Michael Brantley (.327 BA, .890 OPS, 45 2B, 20 HR, 23 SB, 7.0 WAR) and Jonathan Lucroy (.301 BA, .837 OPS, 53 2B, 13 HR, 69 RBI, 6.7 WAR) were two of the biggest breakout stars of 2014, but you can argue that even after those big numbers, neither player gets the respect they deserve at the national level.

    The same goes for Kyle Seager, who has quietly been one of the league's best all-around third basemen for the past three years. The Seattle Mariners didn't underrate him, though, handing down a seven-year, $100 million extension this offseason.

    My Choice: Starling Marte, PIT

    A 5.5 and 5.1 WAR player the past two seasons, Starling Marte goes largely overlooked due to his high strikeout totals and the fact that he's playing alongside Andrew McCutchen.

    However, he hit .348/.408/.567 in the second half last season, and at this point, the 26-year-old has already established himself as a star in his own right.

Most Overrated Player

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Bryce Harper, WAS4
    Nelson Cruz, SEA3
    Matt Kemp, SD3
    Justin Verlander, DET 3
    Brandon Phillips, CIN 2
    Yasiel Puig, LAD2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Madison Bumgarner, Josh Donaldson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Prince Fielder, Paul Goldschmidt, Dee Gordon, Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, Joe Mauer, Andrew McCutchen, Fernando Rodney, Alex Rodriguez, Pablo Sandoval, James Shields, Max Scherzer

    Voting Analysis

    Bryce Harper ran away with the title of "most overrated" in the recent player poll by ESPN The Magazine, receiving 41 percent of the vote (via Yahoo Sports).

    He has certainly not lived up to his lofty expectations to this point, but the fact that he put up 9.6 WAR before his 22nd birthday has to count for something.

    Behind him we have a trio of overpaid veterans (Justin Verlander, Matt Kemp and Brandon Phillips), a high-priced DH (Nelson Cruz) and the most polarizing player in the game (Yasiel Puig).

    I think the fact that Andrew McCutchen and Paul Goldschmidt each received a vote here is completely ridiculous, but maybe that's just me.

    My Choice: Juan Lagares, NYM

    Don't get me wrong, Juan Lagares is a phenomenal defender, and he earned a place in my list of the top 100 players heading into the season on his glove work alone.

    However, there is a population of fans out there who think he's headed for superstardom, and I just don't see it. His poor plate discipline is going to keep him from being an effective leadoff hitter, and he has no real power to speak of. Decent base-stealing ability is really his only plus tool on offense.

Baseball's Nastiest Pitch

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Clayton Kershaw, curveball10
    Aroldis Chapman, fastball4
    Aroldis Chapman, slider2
    Yu Darvish, slider2
    Felix Hernandez, changeup2
    Clayton Kershaw, slider2
    Adam Wainwright, curveball2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Jake Arrieta (sinker), R.A. Dickey (knuckleball), Jose Fernandez (slider), Sonny Gray (curveball), Felix Hernandez (two-seam fastball), Craig Kimbrel (fastball), Corey Kluber (slider), Koji Uehara (splitter)

    Voting Analysis

    Clayton Kershaw only threw his curveball 14.6 percent of the time last year, but opponents hit just .136 against the pitch, and of the 414 he threw, 78 were for strike three, according to Brooks Baseball.

    While he has become more of a fastball/slider guy as his career has progressed, Kershaw always has that hook in his back pocket when he needs a strikeout.

    The only other pitch to receive more than two votes was the blazing fastball of Aroldis Chapman, which averaged 99.4 miles per hour last season, according to Brooks Baseball. As impressive as that average is, it's the fact that he can dial it up to 102 and 103 that really sets him apart.

    My Choice: Clayton Kershaw, curveball

    Just ask Gregor Blanco how filthy Kershaw's curveball is.

Favorite Player to Watch

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Mike Trout, LAA 7
    Yasiel Puig, LAD4
    Matt Harvey, NYM 3
    Carlos Gomez, MIL2
    Bryce Harper, WAS2
    Dustin Pedroia, BOS 2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Madison Bumgarner, Robinson Cano, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Fernandez, Paul Goldschmidt, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Yadier Molina, Hunter Pence, Alex Rodriguez, Andrelton Simmons, Joey Votto

    Voting Analysis

    This question really is a matter of preference, and there is absolutely no right answer here.

    Whether it's an all-around talent like Mike Trout, a defensive whiz like Andrelton Simmons or a wild card like Yasiel Puig, there is no shortage of exciting position players to watch.

    Meanwhile, the league has quickly become dominated by front-line pitching, so it's no surprise to see guys like Matt Harvey, Felix Hernandez, Madison Bumgarner, Jose Fernandez and Corey Kluber earn some support as well.

    My Choice: Craig Kimbrel, SD

    Personally, my favorite thing to watch is a closer with absolutely dominant stuff come in with the game on the line and not only nail down the save but embarrass professional hitters in the process.

    With a fastball in the high 90s and the definition of a wipeout slider, Craig Kimbrel does exactly that on a regular basis. The 479 strikeouts in 291 career innings (14.8 K/9) speak for themselves.

Most Hated Player

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Alex Rodriguez, NYY 13
    Carlos Gomez, MIL2
    Bryce Harper, WAS2
    Andrew McCutchen, PIT2
    David Ortiz, BOS 2
    Jonathan Papelbon, PHI2
    Yasiel Puig, LAD2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Mat Latos, Yadier Molina, No one, Brandon Phillips, Delmon Young

    Voting Analysis

    In last year's B/R poll, Alex Rodriguez received 11 of 38 votes (28.9 percent). Apparently, having to write about him on a regular basis again has made our writer base hate him even more this year, with A-Rod garnering 13 of 32 votes (40.6 percent).

    The perceived arrogance of players such as Carlos Gomez, Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig makes them no surprises here, and the same goes for the outspoken Jonathan Papelbon.

    On the other end of the spectrum, at least one person who voted for Andrew McCutchen noted that he'd love him if he played for his team.

    My Choice: Alex Rodriguez, NYY

    I've got to hand it to A-Rod, he's done everything right since the start of spring training. He's stayed out of the spotlight, praised his teammates and has done whatever the team has asked of him defensively.

    That said, it's hard watching a cheater pass some of the legends of the game statistically, and I'm going to hate A-Rod even more when he passes Willie Mays on the all-time home run list.

Prospect You Can't Wait to See

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Kris Bryant, CHC 20
    Joc Pederson, LAD2
    Lucas Giolito, WAS2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Archie Bradley, Byron Buxton, Francisco Lindor, Rob Refsnyder, Carlos Rodon, Blake Swihart, Noah Syndergaard, Julio Urias

    Voting Analysis

    Kris Bryant was already the most hyped prospect in baseball heading into spring training, as he absolutely destroyed minor league pitching last season to the tune of a .325/.438/.661 line with 43 home runs and 110 RBI.

    He followed that up by going 17-for-40 with nine home runs this spring, and with that, the hype has reached critical mass. He'll likely get the call before April comes to a close, and the North Side will be buzzing, to say the least.

    Tip of the cap to whoever voted for 18-year-old phenom Julio Urias, who has a chance to be an absolute stud alongside Clayton Kershaw for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the very near future.

    My Choice: Kris Bryant, CHC

    I just want him to settle on a number in the majors already so I can buy his jersey.

Who Is the Face of Major League Baseball?

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Mike Trout, LAA 22
    David Ortiz, BOS 3
    Clayton Kershaw, LAD2
    Giancarlo Stanton, MIA2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig, Buster Posey

    Voting Analysis

    Buster Posey might have won the "Face of MLB" contest during the offseason over David Wright, but all that really proved is that San Francisco Giants fans are more active on Twitter than other fanbases.

    Many pointed to the All-Star Game last season as a passing of the torch of sorts between Derek Jeter and Mike Trout as far as who is the real face of the sport, and if that's the case, said torch is in good hands.

    David Ortiz has made such an impact in October and has such a big personality that it's not a big surprise to see him get a handful of votes here.

    My Choice: Mike Trout, LAA

    Much like Ken Griffey Jr. was the face of the sport in the 1990s, it's another dynamic young center fielder who appears set to headline the 2010s.

Best Stadium

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    Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    AT&T Park, SF8
    Camden Yards, BAL 5
    Fenway Park, BOS 5
    PNC Park, PIT3
    Citi Field, NYM2
    Dodger Stadium, LAD2
    Miller Park, MIL2
    Yankee Stadium, NYY2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Busch Stadium (STL), Great American Ball Park (CIN), Wrigley Field (CHC)

    Voting Analysis

    AT&T Park and PNC Park are widely considered to be the best of the new stadiums around the league, while Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are the must-see older parks.

    Camden Yards consistently ranks among the better ballpark experiences, from ticket prices and concessions to a terrific overall venue, so it makes sense that it would also rank high.

    As much attention as the beautiful Kauffman Stadium has received in recent years, with the All-Star Game there in 2012 and the Royals' World Series run this past season, it's somewhat surprising that it didn't receive a vote or two.

    My Choice: Wrigley Field, CHC

    All of the bias in the world here, and I just don't care. I live about a 10-minute walk from Wrigley, grew up going to games there every summer and still think there's not a better way to spend a summer day than in the Wrigley bleachers. Now they just need to finish building them.

Best Player Nickname

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total
    Kung Fu Panda (Pablo Sandoval)5
    Joey Bats (Jose Bautista)3
    King Felix (Felix Hernandez)3
    MadBum (Madison Bumgarner)3
    Big Papi (David Ortiz)2
    Country Breakfast (Billy Butler)2
    Cuban Missile (Aroldis Chapman)2
    Thor (Noah Syndergaard)2

    Others Receiving One Vote: Big Lebowski (Lucas Duda), The Condor (Chris Sale), Create-A-Player (Giancarlo Stanton), El Oso Blanco (Evan Gattis), Flyin' Hawaiian (Shane Victorino), Grilli Cheese (Jason Grilli), Hits McGehee (Casey McGehee), Moose (Mike Moustakas), Todd Father (Todd Frazier), Wrench (Allen Craig)

    Voting Analysis

    When a nickname sparks people to don giant panda heads at a baseball game, it's worthy of the top spot in the voting. The Kung Fu Panda Pablo Sandoval will now look to endear himself to Red Sox Nation in the same way.

    There are plenty of good nicknames around the league, and the fact that Jose Bautista (Joey Bats), Felix Hernandez (King Felix) and Madison Bumgarner (MadBum) are three of the best players in the game help their case here.

    It's too bad Lance Berkman, or the Big Puma, is retired. That was always one of the best.

    My Choice: The Condor (Chris Sale)

    With his funky delivery and impressive wing span, The Condor is just the perfect nickname for Chris Sale.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.