2016 MLB Awards Race: Odds Updates with 6 Weeks to Go

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2016

2016 MLB Awards Race: Odds Updates with 6 Weeks to Go

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    Let's get this out of the way: Yes, there are only six weeks left in the 2016 MLB season. Kind of snuck up on you, didn't it?

    That means, among other things, we can get serious about the various awards races.

    A lot will be decided in the final month-and-a-half. Hot streaks, cold spells and injuries will inevitably shift the picture. And some races—like the American League Cy Young Award—are impossibly wide open.

    That said, based on stats and performance entering play Tuesday, let's parse the odds for each major piece of hardwaremeaning Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and each league's Cy Young and MVP awards. 

    We're looking at stats, obviously. But we'll also consider past voting trends, team performance (which matters, fair or not) and a dash of old-fashioned gut feeling.

    Clear some room in your trophy case and proceed when ready.

AL Comeback Player of the Year

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    R. Yeatts/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Ian Desmond, OF, Texas Rangers: 1-1
    • Rick Porcello, SP, Boston Red Sox: 4-1
    • Chris Tillman, SP, Baltimore Orioles: 15-2
    • Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners: 15-2
    • Doug Fister, SP, Houston Astros: 20-1

    This is Ian Desmond's award to lose.

    After posting an anemic .674 OPS with the Washington Nationals in 2015, Desmond's free-agent stock tumbled. That led to a one-year, $8 million show-me contract with the Texas Rangers. Show them he has.

    Desmond's .292/.340/.472 slash line and 20 home runs look swell enough by themselves. But he's also learning to play center field for the first time in the big leagues and has posted a solid 6.7 ultimate zone rating.

    "In the offseason, I couldn't believe that no other team was trying to get him, no other team was going after him," said Desmond's former teammate, Bryce Harper, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. "What a deal the Rangers got."

    If Desmond gets hurt or fades down the stretch, Rick Porcello, Chris Tillman or even Doug Fister—all of whom are having bounce-back seasons on the mound for playoff contenders—could slip into the mix. Porcello, who has lowered his ERA from 4.92 in 2015 to 3.22 and owns a 17-3 record, is the biggest threat.

    Robinson Cano is there, too, thanks to his resurgent power numbers (28 home runs entering play Tuesday), but it's a stretch to say a guy who hit .287 with 21 homers in 2015 needed to make a comeback.

NL Comeback Player of the Year

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Wil Myers, 1B, San Diego Padres: 3-2
    • Tanner Roark, SP, Washington Nationals: 4-1
    • Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins: 4-1
    • Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves: 10-1
    • Jean Segura, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks: 10-1

    After his 2014 and 2015 seasons crumbled under injuries and inconsistency, Wil Myers has put together an All-Star comeback in San Diego.

    The 2013 AL Rookie of the Year's 23 home runs and 71 RBI pace the Padres, and his .819 OPS is the highest since his rookie season.

    If Myers slips, or gets penalized by voters for the Friars' poor showing, Tanner Roark and Marcell Ozuna are right there.

    After spending most of last season in the bullpen and posting a 4.38 ERA, Roark has roared back, going 13-6 through 25 starts with 130 strikeouts and a 2.87 ERA.

    Ozuna has raised his OPS from .691 in 2015 to .819 while clubbing 22 home runs and making his first All-Star team.

    Julio Teheran is throwing like an ace again, but he eclipsed 200 innings last season with an 11-8 record, so it's harder to sell the comeback. The 26-year-old Jean Segurawho leads the National League with 159 hits after posting a .257/.281/.336 slash line in 2015is a nice story, but his exploits may get lost amid the Diamondbacks' disastrous season.

AL Manager of the Year

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles: 3-1
    • Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians: 3-1
    • Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers: 4-1
    • Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners: 13-2
    • John Gibbons, Toronto Blue Jays: 13-2

    This one is pretty wide open. Not coincidentally, so is the American League itself.

    If Buck Showalter gets the Orioles back to the postseason after a disappointing 81-81 finish in 2015, he's a horse to bet on.

    Terry Francona, though, will get ample support if the Indians finally deliver on the hype and win the AL Central. In fact, if Cleveland wins the division and the O's settle for a wild-card slot—which is how it'd shake out if the season ended Tuesday—Francona might be the nominal front-runner.

    Jeff Banister is the reigning AL Manager of the Year, and he's got the Rangers on course for another AL West crown. He's managed through injuries to key veterans such as Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. But only one skipper has repeated as Manager of the Year since 1983—the Atlanta Braves' Bobby Cox in 2004 and 2005—suggesting voters prefer to spread the love around.

    Scott Servais could be a dark horse if the Mariners make the playoffs. John Gibbons, too, will get some support if the Blue Jays repeat as division champs in the noisy AL East.

    One other name to consider: Joe Girardi. If the New York Yankees—who are five games out in the wild-card race at 63-61can somehow sneak into the playoffs after their massive trade-deadline sell-off, Girardi will charge into the picture.

NL Manager of the Year

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals: 5-2
    • Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs: 5-2
    • Don Mattingly, Miami Marlins: 5-1
    • Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers: 5-1
    • Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals: 31-1
    • Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants: 31-1

    Manager of the Year usually goes to a skipper who defied expectations or swung the most notable turnaround.

    Based on the second criteria, Baker could be the guy. After bathing in preseason hype, the Nationals imploded last year under Matt Williams. Baker, by all accounts, has been a steadying presence. And he's got Washington, at 73-51, on cruise control heading toward a division title. 

    "I think he's the exact opposite of what was here before," MASN analyst F.P. Santangelo said of Baker, per Chris Lingebach of CBS D.C. "He's a great communicator, he's positive in everything he does, he makes it fun for the players, and he just makes you feel like, if you're the 25th man, you're every bit as important as the five-time All-Star MVP."

    Under Joe Maddon, the Cubs have the best record in baseball at 79-45 and an absurd plus-212 run differential. Sure, they were expected to do well out of spring. But this is still a young team overall, and Maddon banks points for maximizing its potential.

    Like Banister, he's the reigning winner, so the same caveat applies. If Chicago sails past 100 wins, however, Maddon's case is going to be stronger than a stiff North Side breeze.

    This is probably a two-horse race, assuming the Nats and Cubs hold their comfortable division leads. But Don Mattingly will garner votes for keeping the Fish in the playoff chase despite injuries to key cogs such as Giancarlo Stanton and the distractions surrounding Dee Gordon's performance-enhancing drug suspension.

    Rookie skipper Dave Roberts, meanwhile, has the Dodgers locked in a tight race with the archrival Giants in the NL West, even with uber-ace Clayton Kershaw on the shelf and former phenom Yasiel Puig languishing in Triple-A.

AL Rookie of the Year

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Michael Fulmer, SP, Detroit Tigers: 3-2
    • Tyler Naquin, OF, Cleveland Indians: 3-1
    • Edwin Diaz, RP, Seattle Mariners: 7-1
    • Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins: 9-1
    • Nomar Mazara, OF, Texas Rangers: 9-1

    On Friday, the Tigers announced they were pushing Michael Fulmer's next start back because of off days, per George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. But there's no indication yet that the 23-year-old right-hander is on a strict innings limit or is going to be shut down.

    Assuming that doesn't happen, Fulmer is the favorite here.

    We could rattle off multiple stats, but here's all you need to know: He leads AL qualifiers with a 2.58 ERA. There is virtually no scenario under which a rookie pitcher wins the ERA crown and doesn't claim Rookie of the Year honors.

    That said, Tyler Naquin is in the discussion. He's hitting .310 with a .953 OPS for a postseason contender. On the flip side, he's been used in a platoon role by the Indians, and the defensive metrics don't love his play in the outfield. 

    Edwin Diaz, who has fanned 66 in 36 innings with a 2.25 ERA and assumed closing duties for Seattle, could also enter the frame if Fulmer and Naquin stumble and he finishes strong. The same goes for Max Kepler (.821 OPS, 15 home runs, 53 RBI) and Nomar Mazara (.755 OPS, 14 home runs, 46 RBI). 

NL Rookie of the Year

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: 1-3
    • Aledmys Diaz, SS, St. Louis Cardinals: 17-2
    • Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies: 19-2
    • Junior Guerra, SP, Milwaukee Brewers: 19-1

    For a while, this was shaping up to be a fascinating battle between three emerging NL shortstops.

    Then, Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz went down with injuries. Story is out for the season after undergoing thumb surgery. And Diaz, who's dealing with a fractured thumb of his own, likely won't be back until September at the soonest.

    Assuming his digits remain intact, Corey Seager should walk away with this one. He's hitting .321 with a .915 OPS and 22 home runs. He's the third best defensive shortstop in baseball, according to the metrics. On Aug. 5, MLB.com's Mike Petriello made a fairly convincing case for Seager as an MVP candidate and the game's best shortstop.

    So Rookie of the Year? Barring an alien-abduction-level event, he's got this.

AL Cy Young Award

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    Joseph Garnett, Jr./Getty Images

    The Field

    • Zach Britton, RP, Baltimore Orioles: 4-1
    • Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians: 5-1
    • Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox: 6-1
    • Cole Hamels, SP, Texas Rangers: 6-1
    • Rick Porcello, SP, Boston Red Sox: 7-1
    • Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers: 7-1
    • Someone else: 9-1

    At the risk of giving you vertigo, we're jumping from the most clear-cut awards race to the most impossibly wide-open.

    It's just one of those years, with a gaggle of pitchers bunched up in the good-to-solid range but no starter putting together a monster season.

    Notice we said "starter." That's because there is a guy doing ridiculous things on the stat sheet. He just happens to be a closer.

    It's been 13 years since a reliever won a Cy Young Award, and 24 years since it happened in the AL. Zach Britton, though, is making a push, posting a minuscule 0.53 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 51.1 innings. He hasn't allowed a run, earned or otherwise, since June 21. He's a perfect 38-for-38 in save opportunities.

    "He's been as valuable as anybody in baseball," Showalter said, per Chron.com's Angel Verdejo Jr. "Everybody should be considered."

    Speaking of everybody, the field after Britton is more jumbled than a Rubik's Cube in a Cuisinart.

    For what it's worth, ESPN.com's Cy Young Predictor places the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ (150.1 innings, 3.05 ERA, 133 SO), Rick Porcello (165 innings, 3.22 ERA, 137 SO) and Cole Hamels (160.2 innings, 2.80 ERA, 159 SO) above Britton.

    Corey Kluber (169.2 innings, 171 SO, 3.13 ERA) and Chris Sale (168.2 innings, 165 SO, 3.15 ERA) may have better cases with their robust strikeout totals and high likelihood of surpassing 200 innings. 

    Don't discount Justin Verlander, who sports a 3.38 ERA and ranks second in the AL with 181 strikeouts. 

    Into that ambiguous "someone else" category up there, toss the Kansas City Royals' Danny Duffy, the Jays' Aaron Sanchez and any number of other pitchers who could elbow their way in with a string of dominant outings. 

    In the end, Britton's status as a reliever could ironically boost his chances. At the very least, it makes him stand out in the crowd.

NL Cy Young Award

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    The Field

    • Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants: 4-1
    • Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals: 13-3
    • Jake Arrieta, SP, Chicago Cubs: 11-2
    • Johnny Cueto, SP, San Francisco Giants: 11-2
    • Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins: 13-2
    • Kyle Hendricks, SP, Chicago Cubs: 13-2

    Before Clayton Kershaw's back betrayed him, this prize was his for the taking. Now, with the Dodgers ace on ice indefinitely, another star left-hander emerges.

    While the Giants have wobbled since the All-Star break and frittered away their lead in the NL West, Madison Bumgarner has been mostly transcendent. 

    He leads the Senior Circuit in innings pitched (175.2), ranks second in ERA (2.25) and third in strikeouts (195). And voters may leap at the chance to honor Bumgarner's body of work, including his historic postseason performance, especially if he pitches San Francisco back to the playoffs. 

    This thing is by no means wrapped up, however. Max Scherzer is the NL strikeout leader, having fanned 217 in 174 innings, including a masterful 20-strikeout performance on May 11.

    Jake Arrieta, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, isn't duplicating his 2015 stats but has a 2.75 ERA, has fanned nearly a batter an inning and threw the season's only no-hitter to date.

    Johnny Cueto won't benefit from his status as the Robin to Bumgarner's Batman, but he's been a reliable innings-eater and sports a 2.90 ERA.

    Jose Fernandez is second only to Scherzer with 204 strikeouts, and unsung hero Kyle Hendricks is currently the NL's ERA leader with a 2.16 mark.

    As with the American League Cy Young, this will be decided in the season's final weeks, when a run of scoreless starts or a well-timed no-no could tip the scales.

AL MVP Award

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Field:

    • Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros: 7-3
    • Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays: 4-1
    • Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels: 4-1
    • Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox: 13-2
    • David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox: 13-2

    If you go by WAR, the AL's top three players are Mike Trout (6.9), Jose Altuve (6.7) and Josh Donaldson (6.3), in that order.

    That suggests a tight MVP race, and it will be. We're giving Altuve the edge, however.

    The Astros' diminutive second baseman leads both leagues in hits (179) and average (.364). More surprisingly, he ranks second in OPS (1.001) thanks to a power surge that has seen him club a career-high 20 home runs. Add 26 stolen bases, and he's got an outside shot at joining the 30-30 club.

    Altuve isn't a liability with the leather, but he doesn't bring as much defensive value as Trout or Donaldson, according to the metrics.

    He could also be hurt if the 'Stros miss the playoffs. The same goes for Trout, whose Angels are going nowhere but the cellar. Donaldson, meanwhile, looks like the best bet to play into late October.

    If so, he may repeat as MVP. Since 1995, only three players have done it: the Giants' Barry Bonds (2001-2004), the Cardinals' Albert Pujols (2008 and 2009) and the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (2012 and 2013).

    Donaldson might be No. 4. Trout could win, even with the Halos' woes. Altuve, however, has that unmistakable "it" factor—the sheen and novelty of a breakout season from a guy who had already broken out a fair distance.

NL MVP Award

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Field:

    • Kris Bryant, INF/OF, Chicago Cubs: 7-3
    • Daniel Murphy, INF, Washington Nationals: 4-1
    • Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies: 13-3
    • Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: 13-3
    • Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs: 7-1

    Call it a hunch, but a member of the Chicago Cubs will win a major award. 

    It could be Maddon winning Manager of the Year. It could even be Arrieta or Hendricks snagging a Cy Young. The guess here, however, is Kris Bryant following up his 2015 Rookie of the Year win with an MVP.

    He leads the NL in WAR (6.6). He's tied for the lead in home runs (32) and ranks third in OPS (.958). And he's played solid defense all over the field.

    Yes, he still strikes out a lot—123 times to be exact. But his .390 on-base percentage makes him the prototype of the powerful, patient hitter modern stat-heads love. 

    Daniel Murphy is hitting .347, on course for the NL batting title. He also leads the league with a .610 slugging percentage and 1.001 OPS.

    Nolan Arenado remains a whiz with the glove, is tied with Bryant with 32 homers and paces the Junior Circuit with 104 RBI. He will be dinged, however, for playing his home games in hitter-happy Coors Field.

    Corey Seager, who we already discussed, is a factor. If the other hitters lose steam and he helps the Dodgers win the West, it's easy to imagine his getting first-place votes.

    The same goes for Anthony Rizzo, who is in Bryant's shadow but ranks fifth in the NL with 4.5 WAR and inspired Maddon to split the difference and throw his MVP support behind "Bryzzo."

        

    All statistics current as of Aug. 22 and courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

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