Bleacher Report's 2018 Midseason MLB Awards

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 16, 2018

Bleacher Report's 2018 Midseason MLB Awards

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    Better clear some space in that trophy case, because it's time for Bleacher Report's midseason awards for the 2018 Major League Baseball season.

    Though the actual midway point has already come and gone, the arrival of the All-Star break marks the traditional midway point of the season. And there are candidates aplenty for the five major awards in the American League and National League: Comeback Player of the Year, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player.

    Our picks were informed mostly by statistics. However, there were also opportunities to make a few classic judgment calls.

    Let's get to it.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Duffy, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Following a breakout season in 2015, Matt Duffy's 2016 and 2017 seasons involved disappointing production, a trade from one coast to another and a litany of injuries that limited him to 91 total games.

    Now look at him.

    Duffy, 27, has compiled a .317/.371/.413 slash line in 80 games for the Tampa Bay Rays this season. He currently holds the fifth-highest batting average among American League qualifiers.

    That Duffy is playing at all this season is a feat in its own right. He missed the entire 2017 season due to a difficult recovery from left Achilles surgery that left him with plenty of doubts.

    "I thought my career was essentially over," he told Juan Toribio of The Athletic.

    Instead, Duffy is back and better than ever. His 121 OPS+ suggests he's an even better hitter now than he was when he was the NL Rookie of the Year runner-up with the San Francisco Giants in 2015.

    Runner-Up: Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Matt Kemp's comeback story is best told with wins above replacement. To wit (via Baseball Reference):

    • 2013-2017: 1.3 WAR
    • 2018: 1.6 WAR

    Yes, it's true. The 33-year-old has been more valuable through half of 2018 than he was throughout his previous five seasons combined.

    Each of those five years seemed to push Kemp closer to the end of his MLB career. Though he never ceased to be a capable hitter, his health and fitness levels rendered him incapable of doing much else. Moving from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the San Diego Padres to the Atlanta Braves also had an impact on his mood.

    "When I got traded the first time, I can't say I wasn't hurt," Kemp told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "I was so disappointed. I never wanted to leave [Los Angeles]. I thought I'd be around here forever."

    Though the December 2017 trade that returned Kemp to Los Angeles was little more than a salary dump, the Dodgers gave him a chance anyway. He's rewarded them by getting in shape and putting up a .310/.352/.522 slash line with 15 home runs. His 138 OPS+ is tied for 11th in the National League.

    Runner-Up: Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs

AL Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    This award should be called the "Biggest Overachiever Award." Perhaps it sounds harsh, but it accurately reflects what the Manager of the Year Award is all about.

    Rays skipper Kevin Cash is the runaway winner for the American League so far.

    Cash is in charge of a team that lost Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison, Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson from its 2017 roster. To boot, Blake Snell has been the only starting pitcher Cash has been able to rely on.

    And yet, the Rays are 49-47 overall and 46-35 since April 16.

    At the heart of the team's success is Cash's management of his pitching staff. He's used more starters and has called on more relievers than any other AL manager. This should be a recipe for catastrophe. Instead, the Rays have pitched their way to the fourth-best ERA in the AL.

    The team's defense deserves some of the credit for that, as it ranks first in MLB in efficiency. Cash has had a hand in that, too. The Rays rank third in defensive shifts used and second in batting average against the shift.

    This, folks, is how you do a lot with little.

    Runner-Up: Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics

NL Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    The National League doesn't have a Kevin Cash, but it does have a Craig Counsell.

    Though they've been stumbling of late, Counsell's Milwaukee Brewers have spent the majority of the season outpacing the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. They've been in first place for 66 of their 98 games.

    This has much to do with Counsell's bullpen management, as Brewers relievers rank fifth in ERA. A huge key has been Josh Hader, who's logged 48 dominant innings over 30 appearances. His stuff is downright electric, and Counsell has helped keep it that way by using him only as needed. Of his 31 appearances, 24 have come with at least two days of rest.

    Meanwhile, Counsell is also overseeing MLB's third-most efficient defense. Shifts have played a part in that, as the Brewers rank among the top 10 in shifts used and average against the shift.

    Last but not least, Counsell's Brewers are also one of the best baserunning teams around. They lead MLB with 79 stolen bases, as well as in the rate at which they take extra bases on hits.

    Runner-Up: Gabe Kapler, Philadelphia Phillies

AL Rookie of the Year: Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees

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    Not too long ago, it was nigh impossible to imagine anyone other than Los Angeles Angels two-way wunderkind Shohei Ohtani winning the AL Rookie of the Year.

    But as Ohtani fell, Gleyber Torres rose.

    The 21-year-old debuted with the New York Yankees on April 22 and initially established himself as a modest noisemaker at the tail end of their lineup. But once he got his first home run out of the way May 4, he took off to the tune of a .288/.349/.593 slash line over his next 51 games.

    Alas, a right hip strain landed Torres on the disabled list July 4. He won't be back until later in July.

    Nonetheless, Torres holds some key ranks among fellow American League rookies:

    Even in a field as stacked as this year's AL Rookie of the Year race, Torres is the obvious frontrunner.

    Runner-Up: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

NL Rookie of the Year: Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    There's one National League rookie who's been there from the beginning and who continues to be a pleasant surprise: Brian Anderson.

    Anderson debuted for the Miami Marlins amid little to no fanfare last Sept. 1. He had never been a consensus top-100 prospect, and his numbers in the minor leagues had rarely jumped off the page.

    But to this point in 2018, the 25-year-old has been a more than capable major league hitter. He's rocking a solid .288/.363/.429 slash line that translates into a 119 OPS+. Juan Soto and Jesse Winker are the only NL rookies who've done better, and neither comes close to Anderson's 424 plate appearances.

    Not to be overlooked is Anderson's defense. He started the year at third base before moving to right field, and he's proved to be an asset at the position. He's tallied four defensive runs saved and a 2.2 ultimate zone rating.

    All told, Anderson has been worth 2.5 WAR. That, naturally, is tops among NL rookies.

    Runner-Up: Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies

AL Cy Young Award: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    In the AL Cy Young Award race, it's hard to go wrong with Justin Verlander. Or Luis Severino. Or Corey Kluber. Or Trevor Bauer. Or Blake Snell.

    Unfortunately for them, however, there's also Chris Sale.

    After finishing second in the voting last year, the Boston Red Sox's ace left-hander has responded by upping his game in 2018. He's lowered his ERA from 2.90 to 2.23 over 129 innings, and he leads MLB in strikeout rate (13.1 K/9) and strikeouts (188).

    To boot, Sale has allowed only 2.2 walks and 0.7 home runs per nine innings. Altogether, it adds up to a sizable advantage in OPS+ allowed:

    • 1. Chris Sale: 47
    • 2. Justin Verlander: 53
    • 3. Trevor Bauer: 55
    • 4. Luis Severino: 57
    • 5. Corey Kluber: 58

    There may be no stopping Sale from claiming his first Cy Young Award. He's been adding velocity as the year has moved along, and it's been paying off. He owns a 0.94 ERA over his last seven starts.

    Runner-Up: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

NL Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    The NL Cy Young Award race is between Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola, and it's close.

    For now, though, deGrom has the edge.

    That deGrom is in the race at all is a feat unto itself. The New York Mets offense and bullpen have conspired to limit him to only five wins, and his defense is one of the least efficient in MLB.

    Nonetheless, the 30-year-old leads MLB with a 1.68 ERA. To get that, all deGrom has had to do is own the three true outcomes categories with a 10.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9.

    To their credit, Scherzer leads the NL with 182 strikeouts, and Nola has a big lead with a 50 OPS+ allowed. However, the former has hit a wall in his last three starts, and metrics such as xwOBA (based on quality of contact) raise questions about whether the latter has stifled offense better than deGrom.

    Besides, it's hard to deny a pitcher who's as scorching as deGrom. Go back to April 21, and he's made more starts (15) than he's allowed earned runs (14).

    Runner-Up: Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    There was a time in 2018 when Mike Trout was on pace for an outrageous accomplishment, even by his standards: the highest single-season WAR in MLB history.

    That ship has sailed. Thanks to a sprained index finger, the Los Angeles Angels superstar has looked human in recent weeks. His production has declined accordingly.

    All the same, Trout's 6.9 WAR is still the leading mark for all of MLB. And there's zero trickery going on there.

    The 26-year-old leads MLB with a .454 on-base percentage. He also owns a .310 batting average, a .606 slugging percentage and 25 home runs. His 194 OPS+ trails only Mookie Betts', and Betts has played 19 fewer games and accumulated 73 fewer plate appearances. Throw in good defense and baserunning, and Trout is as Trouty as he's ever been.

    As per usual, Trout has had to do all this while carrying the Angels. Unlike Betts, he doesn't have a J.D. Martinez. Unlike Jose Ramirez, he doesn't have a Francisco Lindor.

    Runner-Up: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

NL MVP: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

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    The National League MVP race doesn't offer an easy pick, so all anyone can do is pick the guy who seems like he's the league's most valuable player.

    Thus, Nolan Arenado.

    The Colorado Rockies third baseman has been an MVP candidate before, but not like this. His ever-improving bat has produced 23 home runs and a .312/.395/.586 slash line that, even after the Coors Field adjustment is applied, still results in the NL's fifth-best OPS+ at 143.

    Meanwhile, it's hard to believe Arenado's Gold Glove defense has declined as much as his zero DRS indicate. He still rates well by UZR and passes the eye test. As such, his 3.5 WAR at Baseball Reference is missing a key element of his value.

    All this has been in service of a team that's been beset by relatively bad offense and woefully inefficient defense. Without Arenado, the Rockies would likely be nowhere close to the National League West lead.

    Around the rest of the NL, it's hard to find a similar blend of excellence and importance in any other star.

    Runner-Up: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus.