Top 5 MLB ROY, MVP, and Cy Young Contenders for Each League After 1 Month

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMay 1, 2017

Top 5 MLB ROY, MVP, and Cy Young Contenders for Each League After 1 Month

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    Featuring Mike Trout, because nothing ever changes.
    Featuring Mike Trout, because nothing ever changes.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Among other things, the first month of the 2017 MLB season being out of the way means that awards season is one step closer.

    So who are the early contenders for the big ones?

    This is a good time to take the temperatures of the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP races. Lists of the top five contenders for each award in the American League and National League will be presented ahead.

    It's a little early to take defensive ratings into account, so position players will be judged primarily on their offensive results. For pitchers, early run-prevention results (i.e. ERA) will be weighed alongside matters relating to the process. That means strikeouts, walks and contact management.

    Let's take it away.

American League Rookie of the Year

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    5. Matt Davidson, Chicago White Sox

    Matt Davidson was a top-rated prospect for several years before falling off the radar in recent seasons. So it's surprising that he still has rookie eligibility, much less the numbers he's working on.

    Albeit in just 54 plate appearances, Davidson has four home runs and a .946 OPS that ranks third among qualified AL rookie hitters. If he keeps this up, he'll only need more plate appearances to make a serious run at the Rookie of the Year.

    4. Yulieski Gurriel, Houston Astros

    Yulieski Gurriel was cold out of the gate, hitting just .125 with a .292 OPS through seven games. He's since caught fire, hitting .411 with a 1.038 OPS over his last 15 games.

    Overall, Gurriel has now come to the plate 82 times and put up an .835 OPS that's good for fifth among AL rookies. His age (32) will be a deterrent for voters if he stays in the race through the end of the season, but he's at least on track to numbers that would force the issue.

    3. Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners

    The disclaimer here is that it'll be a while before Mitch Haniger is seen again. He's on the disabled list with an oblique strain, and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports that he could be out three-four weeks. That puts his Rookie of the Year push on ice for now.

    Nonetheless, Haniger's numbers are going to loom large for a while. In 21 games, he's hit .342 with a 1.054 OPS. That last number ranks second among AL rookies.

    2. Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox

    While he hasn't quite been the best rookie hitter in the AL, Andrew Benintendi has been a very good hitter over a large sample size. He's come to the plate 102 times and has hit .333 with an .870 OPS.

    These numbers have come from Benintendi living up to his billing as an advanced hitter. He's been one of the best contact hitters in the AL, and has utilized the whole field in the process. His power has been slow to come, but the two homers he hit over the weekend could be the start of him fixing that.

    1. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

    Never mind just AL rookies. Aaron Judge leads all AL hitters with his 1.161 OPS, and his 10 homers are good enough to co-lead the league. That puts the Rookie of the Year race firmly in his pocket for now—and maybe for good.

    A strikeout rate that was way too high in 2016 has come down this season, and Judge hasn't had to sacrifice any pop to make that happen. He entered Sunday hitting his batted balls at an average of 94.5 mph, ranking him third among all qualified hitters.

    "I've said all along, if he gets the barrel of the bat to the ball, good things are going to happen," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. "That's what he's done."

National League Rookie of the Year

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    5. Manuel Margot, San Diego Padres

    With only a .699 OPS to his name, Manuel Margot hasn't lit things up on offense. But he's achieved that number over 116 plate appearances, more than any other NL rookie. So he at least has that going for him.

    And while it's a little early to give Margot points for his defense, it's something to keep an eye on. He was billed as an elite defender as a prospect, and the early returns suggest he's going to be one as a major leaguer, too.

    4. Manny Pina, Milwaukee Brewers

    Albeit in only 52 plate appearances, Manny Pina has been on fire with a .375 average and .986 OPS. The latter is good enough to rank first among NL rookies who've come to the plate at least 50 times.

    Given that Pinis a 29-year-old rookie who's splitting playing time with Jett Bandy behind the plate, the lasting power of his hot start is going to be tested. But for now, he's too hot to ignore.

    3. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Josh Bell showed well in the majors last year with a .775 OPS in 45 games. He also just missed using up his rookie eligibility in collecting 128 at-bats, two short of the cutoff.

    Now Bell is beginning to take off this season. He started slow, but he has rebounded to hit .342 with a 1.102 OPS over his last 12 games. His OPS is up to .815, which ranks second among NL rookies behind only Pina. It's likely just a matter of time before Bell catches him.

    2. Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies

    There are nits to pick with Kyle Freeland's early stats. He's only pitched 27.2 innings in his five starts and has only 16 strikeouts to balance out his 12 walks.

    Nonetheless, it's no easy feat for a Rockies starter to put up a 2.93 ERA. And with the highest ground-ball percentage in baseball entering Sunday, Freeland has at least one extremely valuable skill.

    1. Antonio Senzatela, Colorado Rockies

    With a 2.81 ERA, Antonio Senzatela is right there with his Colorado comrade in run prevention. Except, he's gotten his ERA over 32 innings and has done more to earn it, to boot.

    With a 48.5 GB%, Senzatela is also none-too-shabby a ground-ball pitcher in his own right. He's also struck out 18 and walked only seven. Add it all up, and he's been the more in command of the two young Rockies hurlers.

American League Cy Young

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    5. Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals

    The biggest knock against Jason Vargas is that he's made only four starts so far. The four guys ahead of him on this list have each made at least five.

    Otherwise, it's hard to knock a guy whose 1.40 ERA ranks fifth among AL hurlers. And the veteran lefty has truly earned it. He has 28 strikeouts and only two walks in 25.2 innings and is one of the league leaders in average exit velocity at 84.0 miles per hour. Hitters have had a tough time squaring the 34-year-old up.

    4. Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins

    At 0.77, Ervin Santana has easily the best ERA among qualified AL starters. And he's had to go deep into games to get it, logging 35 innings in his five starts.

    The catch is that Santana only has a 26-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go with his ERA. But with average exit velo of 84.0 mph, his microscopic .129 batting average on balls in play isn't strictly the product of luck.

    3. James Paxton, Seattle Mariners

    With a blistering fastball and a sharp curveball, James Paxton has always had ace-caliber stuff. All he's needed to do to fully unlock its potential is stay healthy.

    So far, so good in 2017. Paxton owns the AL's fourth-best ERA at 1.39, and he has struck out 33 more batters (39) than he's walked (six) in 32.1 innings. And with average exit velocity of 84.5 mph, it's no wonder he's yet to be taken deep.

    2. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

    It would be nice if they actually got some runs for him on days he pitches, but the Red Sox can rest easy knowing that Chris Sale has been as advertised.

    The lefty has logged 37.2 innings in his five starts and has put up the AL's second-best ERA at 1.19. And while his 87.1 mph average exit velocity shows hitters have made solid contact against him, he's minimized that problem by whiffing an MLB-best 52 batters. He's also walked only six.

    1. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

    Some idiot made the bold prediction that Dallas Keuchel wouldn't recapture his Cy Young form this season. Suffice to say that prediction isn't going well.

    Despite the fact he's still pitching with less velocity than he had in 2015, Keuchel has logged an AL-high 44.2 innings and posted a 1.21 ERA that ranks just behind Sale. He's struck out 36 and walked 11, and he went into Sunday's start with a 65.6 GB% that trailed only Freeland among all starters.

    Clearly, this is a guy who doesn't want his Cy Young collection to stop at just one.

National League Cy Young

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    5. Chase Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers

    Chase Anderson put up a 4.39 ERA last year and averaged only five innings per start. He was easy to miss.

    Now, not so much. The right-hander has the sixth-best ERA in the National League at 2.10 through five starts and 30.1 innings. He has a solid 24-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and elite average exit velocity at 83.8 mph. Behold, the benefits of extra velocity and more cutters.

    4. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

    With 11 free passes through 33.1 innings, Gio Gonzalez still hasn't kicked a walk habit that has haunted him his whole career. And at 7.0 per nine innings, his strikeout rate is way down from his norm.

    And yet, there he is with a 1.62 ERA that ranks at third in the NL. His secret is 83.9 mph in average exit velocity, which would seem to be the benefit of him throwing more curveballs and changeups.

    3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Con: Clayton Kershaw "only" has a 2.29 ERA that ranks seventh among NL starters.

    Pro: Pretty much everything else. The three-time Cy Young winner has pitched 35.1 innings in five starts and has struck out 36 more batters (39) than he's walked (three). And even despite a rough start in Colorado that featured three home runs, he's holding batters to a solid 86.0 mph in average exit velocity.

    This is only a hunch, but here's guessing Kershaw won't stay in the middle of this pack for long.

    2. Mike Leake, St. Louis Cardinals

    With a 1.35 ERA, Mike Leake is the league leader in the National League. And that's been compiled over a decent-sized workload, as he's logged 33.1 innings in his five starts.

    True to form, Leake has only struck out 25 batters. But it's also true to his form that he's walked only five, and he went into Sunday with a career-high 58.2 ground-ball percentage and 85.3 mph average exit velocity. Thus, he's doing what he must to get around the fact he's not overpowering anyone.

    1. Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Ivan Nova ranks only slightly behind Leake in ERA at 1.50. And with 36 innings through five starts, he ranks only two-thirds of an inning behind Zack Greinke for the NL lead in that department.

    With only 22 strikeouts, Nova hasn't been overpowering, but his continued assault on the strike zone has yielded only one walk. He's also kept the ground balls coming with a 51.0 GB% and has limited batters to 86.8 mph in average exit velocity. The latter's not great, but it beats the league average.

    Dating back to last summer, Nova now has a 2.50 ERA in 16 starts as a Pirate. This is further evidence that pitching coach Ray Searage is really good at his job.

American League MVP

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    5. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

    If you want to take FanGraphs' WAR word for it, Chris Sale has been arguably the most valuable player in the American League so far.

    That does stretch the limits of logic a little, but not too much. There's an argument that it's Sale, not Dallas Keuchel, who's the top contender for the AL Cy Young. And without him, it would be that much harder to find bright spots on a Red Sox squad that has disappointed with a 13-11 record out of the gate.

    4. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins

    Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Twins' 12-11 record makes them better than advertised. This guy is chief among the top reasons why.

    Miguel Sano's .443 OBP is tied for first among AL hitters. He also has a 1.127 OPS ranks third. He's shown a tremendous eye in walking in 18.6 percent of his plate appearances, and he has demolished what he's put in play. He entered Sunday averaging 98.7 mph in exit velocity, the highest mark in the majors.

    3. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

    Sale has arguably been more overpowering, but there's otherwise no good way to downplay just how good Keuchel has been this season.

    Besides, the 16-9 Astros have benefited from Keuchel's excellence more than the Red Sox have benefited from Sale's. They've lost only one of the six games the lefty has started. Given that he's logged at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs each time out, that's no accident.

    2. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

    Literally and figuratively, Aaron Judge is a big reason why the 15-8 Yankees have been the most surprising team in the American League.

    Their offense leads the AL with 128 runs, and Judge has been very much at the center of said offense with his monstrous offensive output. It's that simple.

    1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

    It's a year ending in a number and a day ending in Y, so of course Mike Trout is the leading contender for American League MVP.

    Trout ranks second in the AL with his 1.151 OPS, and he also comes with seven home runs and five stolen bases. This makes him the most valuable offensive player in the AL. And as always, he's doing it while holding it down at a premium position in center field.

National League MVP

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    5. Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh Pirates

    The National League MVP race features a drop-off after the top four contenders and no obvious picks for the No. 5 contender. So why not the lead horse for the NL Cy Young?

    At 11-13, the Pirates have had a hard time even despite Nova's excellent pitching. But they'd be worse off without a solid pitching staff that's been picking up the slack for a struggling offense. And it's obviously been him leading said pitching staff.

    4. Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers

    How are the Brewers 13-13 with an offense that leads the majors in home runs? Mainly because Eric Thames has been the same sort of monster in The Show that he was for three years in Korea.

    Thames co-leads MLB with his 11 home runs, and his 1.276 OPS is good for fourth in the National League. He's done most of his damage (1.976 OPS, 8 HR) against a bad Cincinnati Reds team, granted. But, hey, it still counts.

    3. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

    At 10-13, the Braves aren't outpacing expectations that were low to begin with. But they would be even worse off without Freddie Freeman, who's continuing to emerge as one of baseball's great hitters.

    After finishing 2016 with a 1.069 OPS after June, Freeman has picked up right where he left off this season. His 1.283 OPS ranks second in the NL, and he's slugged nine home runs to go with it. He has as many walks (16) as strikeouts (16), and his four stolen bases already put him just two off his career high.

    2. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

    With nine homers and a 1.281 OPS of his own, Bryce Harper is right there with Freeman. The tiebreaker between the two of them is Harper's MLB-best .509 OBP. And sure, it also helps that the Nationals have the best record in the league at 17-8.

    In light of Harper's track record, it's hard not to fear a sudden plunge in his production after April. But then again, this is still the same guy who hit his way to a unanimous MVP just two years ago. It's probably not a good idea to write him off.

    1. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

    As amazing as Harper has been, Ryan Zimmerman is the one who's been leading a Nationals offense that leads MLB in scoring.

    All he's doing is co-leading MLB with 11 homers and leading MLB with a 1.345 OPS. Zimmerman's health will ultimately determine whether he keeps this up, but there shouldn't be similar doubts about his ability. He generally has hit when he's been healthy, and he's locked in now.

    "It's hard to describe," Zimmerman said recently, per Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. "You don't want it to go away. But just keep doing the same stuff you been doing, keep doing your routine and your work, and hope it somehow lasts for six months."

    Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.