Updated 2015 MLB Awards Predictions with 2 Months to Go
With only two months left in the 2015 MLB season, the conclusion of the year's award races is no longer some far off, intangible thing. It's within sight and fast approaching.
And for now, that makes it a wee bit easier to predict who's going to be collecting hardware at the end of the year.
Such is our purpose here today, and we have the five major awards for the American League and National League in our sights: Comeback Player of the Year, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. And just so everyone's clear, what we're doing is projecting who's most likely to win, which isn't necessarily the same as picking who should win.
Step into the box whenever you're ready.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Through the first four months of 2015, the race for the AL's Comeback Player of the Year award looks about as crowded as a Westerosi graveyard. The front-runner, however, is clearly Alex Rodriguez.
After spending 2011-2013 looking old and broken down, Major League Baseball suspended the veteran New York Yankees slugger for the entire 2014 season as a result of its Biogenesis investigation. In the wake of all that, it was hard to have high hopes for what he could do at the age of 39 (now 40) in 2015.
But with 99 games in the bag, there's A-Rod hitting .278 with a .917 OPS and 24 home runs to put him among the AL's very best hitters. And rather than slow down after the All-Star break, he's sped up with a 1.008 OPS and six homers in 17 games.
All this puts Rodriguez on the fast track to the Comeback Player of the Year award, with only one possible bump in the road: Will the voters deny A-Rod because of how he earned last year's suspension?
Maybe...but probably not.
As Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted in April, Jason Giambi's Comeback Player of the Year win in 2005 means there's precedence for a player to win the award despite recent ties to performance-enhancing drugs. And though many still lament the course of A-Rod's career as a whole, one does get the sense his comeback this year is being thoroughly enjoyed.
So, he should clear some space in his trophy cabinet. For the first time in a while, it figures to be getting a new addition.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Whereas the battle for the AL Comeback Player of the Year has a clear front-runner, the quest for the award in the NL appears to be a two-horse race between Joey Votto and Matt Harvey.
But if we must pick a winner—that's what we're here for, after all—let's go with Harvey.
Mind you, it wouldn't be surprising if Votto does win the award. After playing in only 62 games due to injuries in 2014, the Cincinnati Reds first baseman has come back to hit .306 with a .960 OPS and 19 homers this year. And much like A-Rod, he's been even hotter in the second half.
With regard to the Comeback Player of the Year award, though, Harvey's advantage is that he had a tougher road back than Votto. Whereas he only had to worry about coming back from a pair of quad strains, Harvey missed all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
After that, it's impressive he's returned to the tune of a 2.76 ERA across 140 innings. And though he isn't quite as hot as Votto, Harvey is dominant in his own right with a 1.65 ERA over his last nine starts.
"I can't believe how well he's throwing coming off Tommy John surgery," a scout told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark. "And he's probably still 10 to 15 percent away from where he's going to be."
If Harvey does indeed have the inside track at the Comeback Player of the Year award now, him finding that extra 10-15 percent could be what puts it away for good.
AL Manager of the Year: A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros
Disclaimer: Of the major awards, the Manager of the Year is easily the hardest to predict. Until we figure out how to properly evaluate manager performance, picking a winner for the award will always be difficult.
That said, it's common for the award to go to a manager who turns a loser into a winner. That's why the favorite in the American League has to be Houston Astros skipper A.J. Hinch.
When Hinch agreed to manage the Astros last fall, he was taking over a team that had lost at least 90 games each year between 2011 and 2014. Sure, there was a lot of young talent in Houston, but getting that talent to produce results as soon as 2015 was a tall order.
That's just what Hinch has done. His Astros lead the AL West with a record of 60-49, and that has a lot to do with how the club's young players have performed. Per FanGraphs, the Astros lead the AL in 25-and-under position-player WAR and are also in the top five in 25-and-under pitcher WAR.
Obviously, the Astros are going to need to hold on and make the playoffs for Hinch to keep his lead in the AL Manager of the Year race. But that doesn't figure to be a problem. They're playing strong baseball with an 11-6 record since the break, and new additions in Scott Kazmir and Carlos Gomez give them more than enough firepower to keep it up.
In case you're wondering, yes, Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor and Kansas City Royals lead man Ned Yost also deserve props. But for now, it's hard to imagine any of them getting as much credit as Hinch in the end.
NL Manager of the Year: Terry Collins, New York Mets
The following definitely qualifies as fodder for one of those "Had I told you [blank], you would have laughed" stories. Terry Collins as NL Manager of the year? Really?
Yes, really. The veteran skipper is presiding over a hot Mets team that's pushed its record to 58-50 and now finds itself atop the NL East over the Washington Nationals.
This is a position nobody expected them to be in, what with the Nationals seemingly in possession of a super-duper roster and all. But there they are, and they have the goods to finish the job. They already had an excellent starting rotation, and some pre-deadline trades netted them offensive depth in Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes and bullpen help in Tyler Clippard.
To be sure, general manager Sandy Alderson will get his share of the credit if those trades help put the Mets back in October for the first time since 2006. But you better believe Collins will get his share, too.
If there's a narrative the Manager of the Year voters like as much as a skipper turning a loser into a winner, it's a skipper leading a team to a winning season despite mountains of adversity. Collins stands to be a classic example of that. He's a lame-duck manager who was put on notice before the season even began, and he's had to soldier through turbulence stemming from a heaping helping of injuries—David Wright, Michael Cuddyer, Travis d'Arnaud, Steven Matz—with a side of Jenrry Mejia's performance-enhancing drug knuckleheadery.
Also worthy of consideration are Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny and, as per usual, San Francisco Giants leader Bruce Bochy. But if the Mets keep on their current track, none will stand out quite as much as Collins.
AL Rookie of the Year: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
For the second year in a row, the AL Rookie of the Year race figures to be easy to call. After Jose Abreu was a runaway winner in 2014, Carlos Correa could do the same this year.
It's been barely over three years since the Astros selected Correa with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, but that already looks like a pick well spent. The 20-year-old shortstop is hitting .286 with an .892 OPS, 13 homers and eight stolen bases in 50 games. Coupled with strong defense, it's no wonder he finds himself leading AL rookies in WAR.
However, Correa doesn't just stand out among his fellow rookies.
As Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk noted recently, Correa leads all MLB shortstops (minimum 200 plate appearances) in OPS. He's also well on his way to finishing with the best OPS of any 20-year-old shortstop since a young guy named Alex Rodriguez OPS'd 1.045 back in 1996.
Correa is only getting better, as he's hitting .308 with a 1.036 OPS and six homers in 18 games since the break. He's been one of the best players in the majors in the second half.
All told, he finds himself putting a lot of players to shame, not just fellow AL rookies. Topping them all in the Rookie of the Year race shouldn't be much trouble.
NL Rookie of the Year: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Here's the thing with the NL Rookie of the Year race: It's ridiculous. Like, Sharknado-level ridiculous.
As Craig Edwards of FanGraphs noted, there was a point not too long ago that the NL Rookie of the Year race looked like a two-horse affair between Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant. But now it's the two of them alongside Noah Syndergaard, Matt Duffy, Jung Ho Kang and Randal Grichuk. The four of them have heated up while Pederson and Bryant have slowed down, creating a mess of a situation.
Predicting who's going to win this thing means going out on a limb. So, here goes: It'll be Syndergaard.
Though Syndergaard has only made 15 starts, he's been very impressive in those with a 2.66 ERA and a strong 5.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And he's only getting better with time, as his last seven starts have seen him post a 1.44 ERA with 52 strikeouts and 10 walks in 50 innings.
This is a stretch that brings to mind what fellow Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom did toward the end of 2014, as he finished the year with a 1.90 ERA over his last 12 starts. More than anything, that stretch was responsible for him capturing the Rookie of the Year award.
Syndergaard is in a position to follow the same path. Though there is a possibility of him being shut down before the end of the year, it wouldn't be surprising if he has his ERA down in the low 2.00s after around 25 starts before that happens.
Granted, the race for the NL Rookie of the Year probably isn't going to do Syndergaard a favor and thin out as the stretch run progresses. But since finishing with numbers like those will have involved him playing a key role on a big New York stage, he could indeed loom large over the other contestants.
AL Cy Young Award: Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
There's a packed crowd at the front of the race for the AL Cy Young, but the safe money still appears to be on one horse in particular: Dallas Keuchel.
The Astros left-hander currently has the top spot in ESPN.com's Cy Young predictor thingamajig, and it's not hard to see why. He's tied for the AL lead in wins with 13 (eye roll) and is also third in the AL in ERA at 2.35 and second in innings pitched with 157.
Of course, Keuchel has the goods to satisfy more sabermertically minded voters as well. He's the AL leader in RA-9 WAR, and he's achieved his excellence through a strong 3.8 K/BB ratio and by mastering the art of contact management. His ground-ball rate of 63.6 percent is tops in the AL, and he also leads in both soft-contact rate and hard-contact rate.
The one wrench in Keuchel's gears is he hasn't been pitching as well of late, as his ERA was below 2.00 as recently as early June. But it's also hard to say Keuchel is struggling, as he's posted a 2.36 ERA with 50 more strikeouts than walks in his last seven outings.
The one guy in the AL who looks like a real challenger is Oakland A's right-hander Sonny Gray, who owns a 2.12 ERA in 152.2 innings. But his relative lack of wins (double eye roll) will hurt him with traditional-minded voters, and the sabermetrics crowd will note his peripherals aren't as strong as Keuchel's.
So in the end, look for the Astros to have their first Cy Young winner since a fella named Roger Clemens in 2004.
NL Cy Young Award: Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
While the Astros may be about to get their first Cy Young winner in over a decade, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in line for their fourth in five years.
There's a decent chance Clayton Kershaw will account for every one of those. But for now, it looks like it's going to be Zack Greinke's turn.
Greinke has gone from being very good to being downright superb. Through 21 starts, he's logged 146.1 innings and compiled a 10-2 record (triple eye roll) and a 1.41 ERA that's the best in baseball by a mile. If he can finish that off, he'll have completed baseball's first sub-1.50 ERA since Bob Gibson in 1968.
The odds are reasonably good he'll be able to do so. Greinke isn't overpowering, but his 5.1 K/BB ratio is one of the top marks in the NL, and he's also one of the NL's best at collecting soft contact. As you might have heard, he's showing no signs of slowing down with a 0.86 ERA over his last 10 starts.
The one threat to Greinke? Naturally, that looks like Kershaw. After getting off to a slow start, baseball's modern-day Sandy Koufax has been destroying the competition with a 1.10 ERA over his last 12 starts. He's also working on a 37-inning scoreless streak.
As hot as Kershaw may be, however, his 2.37 ERA is still almost a full run worse than Greinke's. And for his part, Greinke doesn't seem interested in closing the gap.
He already has an AL Cy Young award in his collection. He should make room for an NL Cy Young, too.
AL Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Something about the AL MVP? Oh, then we must be preparing to geek out over Mike Trout?
Pretty much, yeah. Once again, he's earned it.
Despite putting up huge numbers in 2012 and 2013 and ridiculous numbers on his way to winning the AL MVP last year, Trout is somehow upping the ante even further in 2015. Mike Petriello of MLB.com argues the Los Angeles Angels superstar center fielder is having his best season, and there's more than enough support for that notion.
As usual, Trout finds himself leading the AL in WAR, but he also boasts eyebrow-raising numbers in the more traditional categories. He's hitting .303 with a 1.005 OPS that ranks second in the AL, and he leads the AL in home runs (32).
As if Trout needed any more support for his MVP case, it also helps that he's been the AL's best clutch hitter in 2015. He entered Wednesday hitting .379 with an AL-best (by far) 1.452 OPS in high-leverage situations.
In addition to all this, you can factor in Trout is once again playing a solid center field and doing good work on the basepaths with 10 stolen bases. He's done everything the Angels could have possibly asked of him, and it's put them in the thick of the AL West race as a result.
Possible challengers? Uh, I don't know...Maybe Josh Donaldson? Mark Teixeira?
In other words: No, probably not. Like it was last year, the AL MVP is Trout's to lose.
NL Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Due to various circumstances, the NL MVP race looks a bit more open than it did a couple of weeks ago.
As Bryce Harper's Nationals have slowly collapsed, Buster Posey's San Francisco Giants have begun looking like, well, Buster Posey's San Francisco Giants. There's also Greinke, who deserves to be taken more seriously as an MVP candidate than he has been so far.
But even if things have become more interesting in recent weeks, the picture hasn't changed. Harper's still the man to beat for the award, and by a considerable margin.
Why? Oh, you know. Mainly because he's hitting .330 with an NL-best 1.119 OPS and 29 home runs. He owns an OPS+ over 200, putting him in line to be the first hitter to finish the season with an OPS+ beginning with the No. 2 since Barry Bonds in 2004. And as B/R's Danny Knobler notified Harper, he could be the first 22-year-old to finish with an OPS+ over 200 since Ted Williams in 1941.
"It's a blessing to be mentioned [in that company]," Harper responded. "I'm humbled. But I don't think about it."
He may not think about it, but the Nationals likely don't stop thinking about how fortunate they are to be getting that kind of production. Without it, a season that's already on thin ice probably would have been doomed a long time ago.
Of course, Harper will have to keep it up to make sure things don't get any worse for the Nats. But that wouldn't appear to be a problem. Though he has indeed slowed down in recent weeks, that's very much relative. Though he had a 1.208 OPS in his first 67 games, it's only fallen to .943 over his last 33 contests.
So long as Harper can keep doing his thing, what could be the first of many MVPs should be all his.