Final B/R Predictions for All Major 2016 MLB Award Winners
From now on, I'm calling these the Mike Trout predictions, because for five years running, that's basically what they have been.
Oh, there's an argument every now and then about the Rookie of the Year or the Manager of the Year. The Cy Young Award winners aren't easy to figure in either league this year.
But let's face it. Nothing gets an awards discussion going like the Trout question. For five straight years, he has arguably been the best player in the game. For five straight years, he has led the American League in WAR, whether you prefer the Baseball-Reference.com version or the FanGraphs version.
For three of those years, someone else was the AL Most Valuable Player, as voted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Thursday, we'll find out if it becomes four out of five.
This isn't a repeat of Trout vs. Cabrera, because no one won the Triple Crown, as Miguel Cabrera did in 2012. There wasn't an obvious anti-Trout this year. But because Trout's Los Angeles Angels were 10 games out of first place by June 7 and only fell further behind, there were legitimate reasons for many not to vote for him.
Do I think he'll win? I'll get to that, but first let's go through the other awards to be handed out this week.
NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Let's begin with an easy one.
Corey Seager was the odds-on favorite when the season began, and he was so good he even made the top three in the MVP voting. He won't win that, but he will win this one, to be handed out Monday night.
The 22-year-old shortstop excelled in the traditional categories—.308 hitter, 26 home runs—and also in the newer ones. His 7.5 WAR, according to FanGraphs, was second to Kris Bryant among National League position players, and more than double that of any other major league rookie (Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals was second at 3.3).
Turner and Seager's Dodgers teammate, Kenta Maeda, are the other two finalists, but in this case they'll settle for finishing second and third.
Seager is a clear winner.
AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
For most of the season, this was an easy one, too.
Michael Fulmer's 3.06 ERA would have ranked third in the league behind Aaron Sanchez and Justin Verlander. Fulmer fell three innings short of qualifying, simply because the Tigers opted to limit his workload.
He had a 33.1-inning scoreless streak, the longest by a Tiger since 1961 and the second-longest by a major league rookie in the last 45 years (behind Fernando Valenzuela's 35-inning streak in 1981).
He was brilliant, and he was as obvious a choice as Seager—or would have been if the New York Yankees hadn't called up Gary Sanchez on Aug. 3.
Sanchez didn't have much time, but boy did he make the most of it. He hit 11 home runs in the first 20 games after he was called up and had 20 home runs in just 53 games overall. He quickly became a reason to watch a Yankees team that had seemingly thrown in the towel with midseason trades—and he nearly carried the Yankees into the playoffs.
If not for Fulmer, Sanchez would be the Rookie of the Year. But in a race where one guy excelled for five months (Fulmer was called up at the end of April) and the other guy was great for two months, go with the guy who was there longer.
As for Tyler Naquin, the Cleveland Indians outfielder who was the third finalist, he got to play in the World Series. He already got his reward.
Monday night, when the Rookie of the Year winners are announced, Fulmer should get his.
NL Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers
Joe Maddon's Chicago Cubs won more games. They also beat Dave Roberts' Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, although that doesn't count for the purposes of this award.
Maddon did a fine job, but much of his work transforming the Cubs into winners took place last season (when he was the Manager of the Year). Maddon dealt brilliantly with the raised expectations in 2016, but Roberts had to deal with so much more.
Because his bosses assembled a fragile rotation, Roberts used 15 starting pitchers, per Baseball-Reference.com, three more than any other playoff team. Because so many of those starters weren't prepared for the job, the Dodgers rotation combined for just 862.1 innings, the fewest of any playoff team in a full season, per Baseball-Reference.com.
And because Roberts still managed to avoid burning out his overused bullpen, Dodgers relievers combined for a 3.35 ERA that was the best in the majors.
Plenty of us wrote off the Dodgers when Clayton Kershaw got hurt in June (I know I did). Roberts kept his team together, and with the help of the San Francisco Giants' poor second half, the Dodgers won the National League West with relative ease.
Maddon is a fine candidate, and so is Dusty Baker, the third finalist. Baker proved the importance of managers, doing with the Washington Nationals what Matt Williams couldn't.
It was a Cubs year, even before the postseason, so there's a chance I get this prediction wrong. But when the Manager of the Year winner is announced Tuesday night, I'll be disappointed if it's not Dave Roberts.
AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
Remember, votes for these awards are due at the end of the regular season. Anything that happens after that doesn't count.
If it did, Terry Francona would be an easy, unanimous winner. He should win anyway, for the work he did guiding the Indians to their first division title in nine years.
Francona had a better rotation for most of the regular season than he did in October, but he deserves credit for guiding an offense that expected to get Michael Brantley back and basically never did (Brantley played just 11 games). He deserves credit for transforming an Indians franchise that hadn't had a winning season in the five years before he was hired and has four straight winning seasons (and two playoff appearances) since he arrived.
Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers and Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles are the other two finalists for the award set to be announced Tuesday night, and both deserve consideration. Banister led the Rangers to a second straight American League West title despite a bunch of pitching injuries, and Showalter took the Orioles to the postseason despite anything resembling a stable rotation.
And remember, the postseason doesn't count.
Even without it, though, Francona deserves this award and should win.
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
I'll admit, I've gone back and forth on this one. I'll admit, I'm not sure whom the voters will pick.
Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs led the league in ERA (2.13), but with significantly fewer innings than the other contenders (190). Jon Lester of the Cubs was second in ERA (2.44) and won 19 games (if that even matters to voters). Max Scherzer had a higher-but-not-high ERA (2.96) and gave up a shocking 31 home runs, but he also had far more innings (228.1), far more strikeouts (284) and more wins (20, if that even matters).
Even WAR doesn't agree who should win. Scherzer led in the Baseball-Reference.com version, with Hendricks and Lester not even in the top five. Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets led in the FanGraphs version, with the late Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins second and Scherzer third (and with Hendricks and Lester sixth and seventh, respectively).
We know Syndergaard isn't winning, because Hendricks, Lester and Scherzer were announced as the three finalists. I won't be surprised if any of the three are announced as the winner Wednesday night, but I'll go with the innings and strikeouts and take Scherzer.
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
I was all ready to go with Corey Kluber to win this, but back in March, Justin Verlander for Cy Young was one of my "bold predictions." So I'm sticking with it, unless or until it is proved wrong.
Back then, it really did seem bold, because Verlander was coming off an injury-shortened season and hadn't even been in the top three in Cy Young voting in three years. It's not nearly as bold now, with Verlander already announced as a finalist (along with Kluber and Rick Porcello) and topping the league (barely) in the Baseball-Reference.com version of WAR.
The Baseball-Reference.com numbers are close, and the FanGraphs numbers are even closer, with Verlander, Porcello and Chris Sale all at 5.2 and Kluber just behind at 5.1. It's tough to separate these guys, which is why I originally thought fantastic Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton would get serious consideration.
Britton didn't make the final three, so we know he's not getting the award when it's announced Wednesday night.
If you want a reason why Verlander should get it instead of Porcello (his ex-teammate) or Kluber (his AL Central rival), check out this chart helpfully provided on Twitter by Verlander himself.
It's good enough for me. Here's for one more bold prediction coming through.
NL Most Valuable Player: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Kris Bryant for MVP was another one of my bold predictions in March. I'm almost embarrassed to say that, not because it won't happen, but because it's so obvious now that it doesn't feel at all bold.
There are two other finalists—Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Daniel Murphy of the Washington Nationals—but just as with Seager for the Rookie of the Year, it hardly seems necessary to mention them. Bryant was a dominant player on a dominant team, and he tops this list whether you believe in traditional stats, new-age stats, season narrative or some combination of all of the above.
Murphy helped carry the Nationals through weeks and months when stars like 2015 MVP Bryce Harper underperformed, but Bryant was also consistently great from start to finish. He hit far more home runs (39-25), is far better defensively and gave Cubs manager Joe Maddon the flexibility he craves by starting games at four positions (left field, right field and first base, in addition to his regular spot at third base).
Bryant is going to win, and he's going to be the first guy since Dustin Pedroia (2008) to win the Rookie of the Year one year and the MVP the next.
As good as Bryant is and as good as the Cubs are, it might not be Bryant's last MVP. It will be his first, and it will be official Thursday night.
AL Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
If this really happens, and Mike Trout wins the MVP for the second time in three years, get ready for the analysis saying baseball writers have joined the modern stats age and voted for the guy the sabermetrics crowd has championed five straight years.
Don't buy it.
Oh, it's not totally untrue. The electorate, made up of 30 baseball writers, gets younger and more stats-oriented every year. Voting patterns do change.
But the fact is Trout has finished first or second in MVP voting every year since he was a rookie in 2012, even though his team made the playoffs just once in that span. Plenty of baseball writers have voted for Trout every year he has been a candidate; he has received at least five first-place votes every year.
So why is this the year he wins again (as he did in 2014)?
It's not that he was substantially better (he had fewer home runs but more walks and steals than the last couple of years). It's not that his team was any better (the Angels' 88 losses were their most since 1999).
The difference this year is there's no other obvious winner, no one who will dominate the non-Trout votes the way Miguel Cabrera did in 2012-13 and Josh Donaldson did last year. The other two finalists are Mookie Betts (a great player who had other great players around him with the Boston Red Sox) and Jose Altuve (a great player who, like Trout, played for a team that missed the playoffs).
In this field, I'm going with Trout to win Thursday night—but it doesn't mean he'll win again if he's as good and the Angels are as bad in 2017.