Bleacher Report's 2016 MLB Award Predictions at Start of Spring Training
It's admittedly a tad early to talk about Major League Baseball's 2016 awards season, but you know what they say: A day in spring training without predictions is like a day without sunshine!
Or, in other word: Eh, might as well.
We'll be putting our focus on the four major awards in the American and National League. In case you're new to baseball or have just arrived from an alien planet—either way, here's bidding you welcome—those would be the Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player.
How did we make our picks? Simple. All it took was a mix of logic, projections, analysis and a bit of imagination for good measure. And what we came up with looks a bit like this...
American League Manager of the Year: Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners
Sort of like how Oscar voters can rarely resist boring historical dramas, Manager of the Year voters can rarely resist an unusual suspect who oversees an impressive turnaround.
Meet Scott Servais. He's the new skipper of the Seattle Mariners and our pick for AL Manager of the Year.
With no prior managerial experience and a front office gig with the Los Angeles Angels in his rearview mirror, Servais is very much an unusual suspect. And according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections, the Mariners are going to win 84 games after last year's 76-win disappointment.
That would make them a wild-card contender, which is easy to believe. Servais is taking over a team that already had a core of star players, and Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto augmented it with a shopping spree that filled every last one of the team's glaring needs.
The Mariners are better. Much better.
Servais' relationship with Dipoto could also help his cause. Seattle's new GM famously lost a power struggle with Angels manager Mike Scioscia in Anaheim, with a key point of contention being Scioscia's general refusal to listen to Dipoto's analytical advice. This shouldn't be a problem with Servais.
"I have a manager now in Scott Servais who I do see eye-to-eye with," Dipoto said in a recent MLB Network interview, per Matt Snyder of CBS Sports. "And we have discussed every move. We have disagreed on many moves this offseason but in a really productive way."
Indeed, the pair's emphasis on data is already being felt in Mariners camp. Now all they need to do is make PECOTA look good.
Other Candidates: A.J. Hinch, Jeff Banister, Ned Yost, John Farrell, Joe Girardi, John Gibbons, Brad Ausmus, Terry Francona
National League Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals
One thing that made picking Servais slightly difficult is that there are going to be a lot of contenders in the American League this year. Not so much in the National League, which make this a little easier.
On that note...Dusty Baker, come on down!
Baker, who has 20 years of managerial experience and three Manager of the Year awards, was basically an anti-Servais hire by the Washington Nationals. And depending on where you're coming from, he's arguably an underwhelming hire too.
Baker probably couldn't be walking into a situation more conducive to a fourth Manager of the Year award than this one. All he has to do is wash away last year's 83-win disappointment, and that could be as simple as doing what he does best.
He has a reputation as the ultimate players' manager, which is just what the Nationals needed after Matt Williams' whole Gunnery Sergeant Hartman act destroyed the team's clubhouse chemistry. And according to one high-ranking National, Baker's influence is already being felt.
"[He's] keeping everybody loose," ace right-hander Max Scherzer told Bill Ladson of MLB.com. "We're having more fun. His personality has so much charisma. Sometimes you just need new faces, and this is the situation."
If we can accept that poor chemistry is a reason why the Nationals legitimately underperformed last year, then Baker's job may already be done. Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper and the rest of Washington's stars could take it from here, which PECOTA projects will lead to a solid 87-win season.
Other Candidates: Joe Maddon, Bruce Bochy, Mike Matheny, Clint Hurdle, Dave Roberts, Don Mattingly, Chip Hale
American League Rookie of the Year: A.J. Reed, Houston Astros
The obvious pick for AL Rookie of the Year is Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton. But I don't know, man. Buxton's iffy durability and rough introduction to the majors in 2015 give one pause.
Let's go with A.J. Reed instead. Baseball America places the Houston Astros' first base prospect at No. 11 in its top 100, a distinction he earned by being on a heck of a roll over the last two years.
In 2014 while at Kentucky, Reed won the Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur player in the country. He then played his first full pro season last year and OPS'd 1.044 with 34 homers at High-A and Double-A.
The 22-year-old's power is as legit as you'd expect for a first baseman listed at 6'4" and 240 pounds, but what opened eyes in 2015 was the strong approach that led to 86 walks and only 122 strikeouts in 622 plate appearances. As Keith Law of ESPN.com writes, this eased concerns about Reed's bat speed:
His eye at the plate and his decision-making are both so good, however, that even if he gets a pitch he can't turn on, he can still shoot it the other way for a hit -- at least often enough that guys throwing gas in the Texas League didn't carve him up the way we might have expected them to a year ago.
Now, Reed has a golden opportunity to keep the good times rolling. He has an open shot at Houston's first base gig this spring. And if he earns it, he'll get to play a full season at a power-friendly park with a contending team. If all goes well, the Rookie of the Year voters will eat him up.
Other Candidates: Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Joey Gallo, Blake Snell, Byung-ho Park
National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
And then there are the times when the obvious pick is the right pick. Such as, you know, now.
According to everyone who matters, Corey Seager is the best prospect in baseball. In addition to Baseball America, MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN.com also rank the Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop ahead of all other prospects. By all accounts, the 21-year-old is a can't-miss star.
Far be it from us to disagree. Seager is a .307 career hitter with an .891 OPS in the minor leagues, which are fantastic numbers for a shortstop. And he was even better in a 27-game stint in the majors last year, hitting .337 with a .986 OPS.
In the process, Seager just plain looked comfortable in the box. As Law writes, that's kind of his thing:
[Seager's] approach that makes him the best prospect in baseball. Seager's pitch recognition is advanced way beyond his years, and you'll see him make adjustments within at-bats that even veterans don't make. He's better than most players his age at adjusting to a pitch he didn't expect and does very well covering the outer half without creating a hole on the inner third.
It's no wonder the Dodgers have handed their starting shortstop gig to Seager on a silver platter. Barring injury, he's likely to break camp with the big club and then have a shot at being a rare rookie who gets a full season of action in the majors.
If Seager lives up to his potential, he'll boost a high-profile contender with a high average and good power at a position that tends to feature little of both. Sounds like a Rookie of the Year to us.
Other Candidates: Steven Matz, Trea Turner, Julio Urias, Hector Olivera, Lucas Giolito, Tyler Glasnow
American League Cy Young: David Price, Boston Red Sox
Dallas Keuchel won the AL Cy Young last year and is a good choice for the award again this year. Ditto 2014 winner Corey Kluber and perennial contender Chris Sale.
But David Price is also always a good pick. And, spoiler alert, he's the one we're picking.
The Boston Red Sox (presumably) didn't give Price $217 million just so they could have Astro around. He won his second American League ERA title in four years last season. He also picked up his third top-two finish in the Cy Young voting, and he arguably deserved to win it over Keuchel. There's a version of WAR at FanGraphs that says so, anyway, and we all know better than to argue with WAR.
If Price were any other pitcher, there would be cause to worry about how he would fare now that he has to pitch regularly in the AL East and at Fenway Park. But with 181 career starts as a member of the AL East and a career 1.95 ERA at Fenway Park, we'll give that the ol' Han Solo shrug.
Besides, Price is evolving as a pitcher. It was easy to focus on the velocity spike he enjoyed in 2015, but Brooks Baseball can show that it was also another year in which he threw more changeups. And because he continues to pick up arm-side fade, it's no wonder he's only getting better at drawing swings and misses.
According to the Steamer projections, the only AL pitcher pegged for a better 2016 season than Price is Sale. But because Price figures to pitch more innings and doesn't have to worry about pitching to a terrible Chicago White Sox defense, we like his chances to be, well, himself.
Other Candidates: Dallas Keuchel, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, Cole Hamels
National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
This feels easy. Too easy...but also just so right.
Clayton Kershaw went into 2015 having earned the "best pitcher in baseball" label by winning four ERA titles and three Cy Youngs over the last four seasons. And though he failed to do either last year, he probably should have. Kershaw became the first pitcher since 2002 to top 300 strikeouts, and a handful of fancy stats said he was more dominant than Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.
What can we expect from the Los Angeles Dodgers' ace southpaw in 2016? We have a Magic 8 Ball here that says "more of the same."
Also projections, of course. Steamer projects Kershaw to be the best pitcher in baseball once again, and it's not particularly close. Nor should it be, for that matter. Kershaw is only going into his age-28 season, so there's no reason to think he'll do anything other than what he always does.
That, in a nutshell, is to eat a whole bunch of innings while overwhelming batters with a variety of weapons that make John Matrix look like a chump. Kershaw's fastball features consistent mid-90s velocity and filthy movement, and both his slider and curveball keep the GIF-makers happy. As if this weren't enough to fluster the opposition, his control is as good as anyone's.
Could anything slow Kershaw down? Maybe an injury. He does have more than 1,600 innings on his arm, and it was only in 2014 that he missed a month with pain in his upper back.
But you have to worry about injuries with every pitcher, and none of the others is Kershaw.
Other Candidates: Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole
American League MVP: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
That doesn't say "Mike Trout" or "Josh Donaldson." It says "Carlos Correa." Surely, there must be some mistake!
Chill out, Mr. Strawman. There's no mistake.
Correa is no slouch, after all. He just won the AL Rookie of the Year on the strength of an .857 OPS, 22 home runs and 14 stolen bases, and he did all that in just 99 games as a mere 20-year-old.
And as Eno Sarris writes at FanGraphs, it's hard to poke holes in Correa's debut: "There wasn't a single split that made him look bad either—home/away, left/right, early/late season, he was always good."
And there's more! It reflects well on Correa's general comfort in the batter's box that he improved both his walk rate and strikeout rate after the All-Star break—and that he further established himself with an explosive performance in the American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals.
Nobody can be surprised that Steamer projects Correa as one of the best position players in baseball, and even that projection might not do him justice. After the year he just had, a .797 OPS with 22 homers and 20 steals could be his lowest floor rather than his highest ceiling.
Correa has huge offensive potential for a shortstop and also could easily be the best player on an Astros team that has eyes on an AL West title. That's something Trout's Angels likely don't have a shot at, and one fears Donaldson will regress a bit in his age-30 season.
Other Candidates: Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Miguel Cabrera, Mookie Betts, Jose Bautista
National League MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
All right, so we apparently suck at being unpredictable with our National League picks. Clearly, the medicine hasn't kicked in y...
Uh, I mean, we're going with Bryce Harper because he's obviously a Kershaw-ian lock for the National League MVP. Yeah, that's it.
His manager may not be able to remember his name, but Harper spelled it out for us in big, bold letters in 2015. The former No. 1 pick and 2012 Rookie of the Year finally burst into superstardom, hitting .330 with 42 homers and leading baseball in OBP (.460), slugging (.649) and OPS (1.109). He was a unanimous pick for the NL MVP and rightfully so.
Steamer projects Harper to take a step back in 2016. But it still pegs him as the National League's best player despite that, and we're inclined to wonder if he might actually get even better.
The power Harper showed off last year is something he always had. His real improvement was with his approach, as he finally responded to years of nibbling by dropping his chase rate from the mid-30s to a dandy 28.2 percent. That selectivity not only led to more walks but better swings in general.
But since a 28.2 chase rate is more "good" than "great," it's possible Harper will keep riding the wave and improve even more. It's either that, or he'll have to respond to pitchers being more aggressive in the strike zone. Because Baseball Savant tells us he led MLB in average and slugging on in-zone pitches, one is inclined to think that won't be a problem.
How exactly are pitchers supposed to stop Harper? I dunno. Something something clown question, bro.
Other Candidates: Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Clayton Kershaw, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Yoenis Cespedes, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto