2018 MLB Awards Races Odds with Just 1 Week to Go
Many things will gain clarity in the final week of the 2018 Major League Baseball season, including the major awards races.
For the time being, the best we can do is look at where these races stand now.
We're going to run through the four major honors in each of the American League and National League—Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player—and assess the top candidates' odds of winning.
These aren't meant to imply who should win but who will win based on the contenders' credentials and typical awards voting patterns. At this point in the season, it's safe to disregard long shots and focus only on the most realistic hopefuls. As in: no more than five candidates per award.
AL Manager of the Year
Aaron Boone, New York Yankees
Because of the weakness of the AL Central, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona likely doesn't have a shot at his third Manager of the Year Award.
New York Yankees skipper Aaron Boone presents a more compelling case. Instead of folding under pressure as the first-year manager of baseball's most storied franchise, he's shrugged off disappointing performances (Sonny Gray), major injuries (Aaron Judge) and the toughness of the AL East to lead the Yankees to 96 wins.
It won't be lost on voters, however, that the Yankees are a distant second in the AL East.
A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros
That's a nice feather in the cap of A.J. Hinch, whose work hasn't been free of challenges. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa haven't had great years. He's also navigated the transition from closer Ken Giles to closer Roberto Osuna, who was suspended for 75 games after he was arrested and charged with assault.
Still, voters tend to like managers whose teams blow away expectations. Even though they play in the tough AL West, it's hard to argue Hinch's Astros have done so.
Alex Cora, Boston Red Sox
Like Boone, Alex Cora has impressed as a first-year skipper of a storied franchise. The big difference is that his Boston Red Sox have won 106 games and scored 220 more runs than they've allowed.
Cora deserves his share of credit. He's implemented an analytical approach but without treating his players like robots. The result has been remarkably smooth sailing.
But while some voters may find Cora's success too hard to deny, there may be some who think any other manager could have done the same with the Red Sox's stacked roster.
Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
Bob Melvin won his first AL Manager of the Year Award in 2012, when his Oakland Athletics came out of nowhere to win 94 games and the AL West crown.
Six years later, Melvin's A's are doing it again. Though they likely won't catch the Astros, they already have 95 wins and a playoff spot nailed down. That is far better than most everyone expected of Melvin's team, and he's pulled it off despite a battered and bruised starting rotation.
And yet, there's one AL skipper whose team has exceeded expectations even more than Melvin's has.
Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays finished under .500 in 2017, and they've spent much of the past year offloading stars in trades. Hence the lowest payroll in MLB.
But somehow, some way, they're on track to win 90 games.
To get the Rays to this point, Kevin Cash has had to squeeze production out of starless offense. Even more impressive is how deftly he's navigated the team's revolutionary "opener" strategy. The Rays have a 3.32 ERA and 66-47 record since they started Sergio Romo on May 19.
All this figures to be too much for Manager of the Year voters to deny.
NL Manager of the Year
Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
Joe Maddon has won three Manager of the Year Awards, and he may have a shot at his fourth this year. He has the Chicago Cubs atop the NL despite down years from Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and all sorts of trouble with the rotation.
The challenges Maddon has encountered, however, probably won't stop voters from reasoning the Cubs have actually had a disappointing year.
Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers
Dave Roberts was named NL Manager of the Year following his first year at the controls of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. Last year, he finished second.
That is reflective of the respect he commands, which ought to be alive and well in 2018. Roberts has had to do all sorts of juggling with his lineup and pitching staff, yet the Dodgers are headed for their sixth straight division title anyway.
But if it's fair to reason the Cubs have had a disappointing year, it's also fair to reason as much for the Dodgers.
Bud Black, Colorado Rockies
Exactly how the Colorado Rockies are 86-70 despite having scored only 10 more runs than they've allowed defies easy explanation.
What's nonetheless clear is that Bud Black has had to work some magic to make it happen. Among the hardships he's encountered are a top-heavy offense and a wildly inconsistent pitching staff. But apart from an 11-16 June, the Rockies have been remarkably consistent.
Black's Manager of the Year odds likely hinge on the Rockies qualifying for the postseason, however. As of now, that's not happening.
Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers
If nothing else, Craig Counsell has a shot at the NL Manager of the Year Award because everyone loves a good underdog story.
The Milwaukee Brewers' 90-67 record makes them the NL's top wild-card team, and it also gives them a realistic shot of toppling the Cubs in the final stretch of the NL Central race. This is good stuff for a team with a $107.1 million payroll, not to mention one with a patchwork starting rotation.
But like there is in the AL, there's a better underdog story in the NL.
Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves
Brian Snitker's roots with the Atlanta Braves go back to 1977. When he was finally hired as the big club's manager in 2016, it was only on an interim basis.
Snitker held on to the position, however, and this season is his reward for the Braves' faith in him.
Though many figured the Braves weren't ready to come out of their rebuild, they've blown away expectations en route to 88 wins and the NL East title. This has happened largely because of the excellent production they've gotten out of their many young players. That, naturally, reflects well on Snitker.
AL Rookie of the Year
Joey Wendle, Tampa Bay Rays
But while the 28-year-old has his advocates, he's probably not realistic Rookie of the Year material. His WAR is nice, but other contenders have flashier credentials.
Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
For example, Gleyber Torres sees Wendle's .793 OPS and raises him an .829 OPS. He also has 23 home runs to Wendle's seven.
Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees
In truth, the AL Rookie of the Year is a two-horse race. And with an .851 OPS and 25 homers to his name, Miguel Andujar is firmly entrenched as one of the two horses.
Andujar's candidacy, however, has cooled off somewhat. After posting a .967 OPS and slamming 10 homers in August, he's down to an .820 OPS and two homers in September. Factor in his extremely poor defensive ratings, and he may not have enough clout with voters to take home the prize.
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
There are gripes to make about Shohei Ohtani's rookie sample size. He missed a month with an elbow injury in the first half. Before that, his role as a pitcher-hitter kept him from being a regular in either the Los Angeles Angels lineup or rotation.
Nonetheless, the fact that Ohtani is indeed a pitcher-hitter is a heck of a feat in its own right. Then there's how he's excelled at both roles.
Whether he should ever pitch again is a fair question, but the 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts he recorded in 10 starts this year still count. So do the .925 OPS and 21 homers he's put up in 99 games as a hitter. And contrary to Andujar, he's coming in hot.
NL Rookie of the Year
Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins
Brian Anderson's strongest claim to the NL Rookie of the Year Award has to do with his sample size, as he's played 152 games and racked up 652 plate appearances. Beyond that, he owns a decent .272/.356/.394 batting line and 3.7 WAR.
Trouble is, none of the 25-year-old's numbers jump off the page. He's also limping to the finish with a .638 OPS since Aug. 1.
Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
Though he lags behind Brad Keller and Walker Buehler in WAR, Jack Flaherty has the best chance of any rookie pitcher of earning some hardware. Between his 148.1 innings, 3.16 ERA and 179 strikeouts, he has a nice mix of workload and dominance in his favor.
But while Flaherty is worth mentioning as an NL Rookie of the Year candidate, a teammate and two more position players are ahead of him in the race.
Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals
Harrison Bader has accumulated more WAR (4.0) than all but one NL rookie. It's not hard to see how he's done it. He's played 133 games, and he's balanced strong offense (.789 OPS) with excellent defense (22 defensive runs saved).
Bader's bat has cooled in the stretch run, however. On top of that, he simply hasn't inspired as much hype as the next two players.
Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
Juan Soto may have "only" 2.8 WAR in 111 games, but what he's done at the plate is nothing short of historic for a mere 19-year-old. He owns a .295/.406/.516 batting line and 21 homers, which adds up to the best offensive season by a teenager in MLB history.
Frankly, this may well be more than enough for voters to bestow the NL Rookie of the Year Award on Soto. But only if they don't lean toward a fellow NL East wunderkind.
Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
At just 20 years of age, Ronald Acuna Jr. is no old-timer either. In light of that, nothing he's done this season should fail to impress.
So whereas Soto is probably the best teenage hitter ever, Acuna is only a year his senior and already one of MLB's best players.
AL Cy Young Award
Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
The AL Cy Young Award race is relatively wide-open this year, so there's a glimmer of a chance that Edwin Diaz could become the first relief pitcher to win the honor since 1992. After all, he does boast a 2.02 ERA, a 120-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio and, of course, 56 saves.
But since saves don't have the same clout they used to, Diaz's candidacy doesn't amount to much more than an honorable mention.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Trevor Bauer was the top Cy Young contender on the Cleveland staff once upon a time, but a stress fracture in his fibula put the kibosh on that.
Bully for Corey Kluber, who's quietly been doing Corey Kluber things with a 2.83 ERA and AL-low 1.4 walks per nine innings across 210 frames. His 20-7 record will also appeal to voters.
Still, the 32-year-old is living up to neither his 2017 Cy Young season nor his 2014 Cy Young season. That could result in a level of indifference among voters.
Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale has struck out 38.5 percent of the batters he's faced in 2018. That's the highest rate ever among hurlers who've logged at least 150 innings. He also boasts a 2.00 ERA and has allowed only 33 walks and 11 homers all year.
The catch, of course, is that a couple of disabled list stints have limited the 29-year-old to 26 starts and 153.1 innings. That is bound to cost him precious votes.
Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
It helps that he's pitched 208 innings and has excellent peripherals, to boot. His 2.60 ERA and 16-9 record are backed by an astonishing 280-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The 28 homers Verlander has surrendered, however, mar his resume. That he peaked early might also cost him. He had a 1.11 ERA through May but only a 3.55 ERA since then.
Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
The AL Cy Young Award race sure appears to be Blake Snell's to lose, and for good reasons.
It might be good enough if the 25-year-old merely had a 21-5 record to appeal to old-school voters. But on top of that, he has an AL-best 1.90 ERA with 211 strikeouts in 175.2 innings. At Baseball Reference, his 7.0 WAR leads all AL pitchers.
Snell offers something of a happy medium between Sale's dominance and Verlander's workload. That will likely earn him a shiny new trophy.
NL Cy Young Award
Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies
It's not often that a Colorado Rockies pitcher is mentioned as an NL Cy Young Award candidate. But Kyle Freeland is having that kind of year. With a 2.84 ERA over 196.1 innings, the 25-year-old is having the best season ever by a Rockies pitcher.
Freeland is nonetheless an extreme dark horse in the hunt, which is effectively a three-horse race.
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
Nola's 16-6 record, 2.45 ERA and 205.1 innings also make it clear he's had an outstanding season. The difficulty comes in explaining his excellence. His peripherals are in good-not-great territory, which explains his lesser WAR at FanGraphs.
That plus his September fade figure to cost him in the voting.
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Max Scherzer already has three Cy Young Awards, and his performance in 2018 is worthy of a fourth.
The veteran righty co-leads the National League with 17 wins, and he leads all pitchers with 213.2 innings and 290 strikeouts. He's also allowed only 145 hits and 51 walks.
In any other year, this would be more than enough for Scherzer to clinch the NL Cy Young. But this year, things could be different.
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Jacob deGrom has as many losses (nine) as he does wins in 2018. If the history of Cy Young Award voting is any indication, that might as well disqualify him entirely.
It doesn't seem like anyone actually cares about deGrom's record, however. And rightfully so. He's done his job to the tune of an MLB-best 1.77 ERA with 259 strikeouts and only 46 walks and 10 home runs allowed in 209 innings. That doesn't show in his record simply because his New York Mets teammates haven't done theirs.
The question in the air seems to be: Why hold that against deGrom?
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Even by his standards, 2018 has been a special season for Mike Trout.
As per usual, the catch is that the Angels are denying Trout a narrative angle to his MVP candidacy. Because of that, it wouldn't be surprising if he failed to beat even fellow AL West standout Alex Bregman in the balloting.
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Between Khris Davis and J.D. Martinez, the latter has a better chance of turning a fantastic power-hitting season into an MVP award. Though Davis leads Martinez in homers (46 to 41), Martinez has him beat in average (.328 to .249), OPS (1.023 to .873) and runs batted in (an MLB-high 124 to 120).
It may take an unlikely Triple Crown triumph for Martinez to actually win MVP, however. And even then, nothing is guaranteed.
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
Two forces, however, threaten Lindor's MVP chances. One is the possibility he'll split votes with a certain teammate of his. The other is the weakness of the AL Central might be held against him.
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Though Jose Ramirez is 0.1 WAR behind Lindor, he has better odds of winning AL MVP.
It comes down to his offensive numbers, which blow even Lindor's away. Ramirez has a .952 OPS with 38 homers and 33 steals, giving him the AL's first 30-30 season since Trout in 2012. He also has 103 RBI, which place him behind only Martinez and Davis among AL hitters.
Still, the same complications that apply to Lindor's candidacy also apply to Ramirez's.
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
As amazing as Martinez has been at the plate this season, Mookie Betts has been even better. He leads all hitters with his .343 batting average, and it comes with a 1.073 OPS, 32 homers and 29 steals.
Then there's Betts' defense, which has produced 21 defensive runs saved. That's third among all outfielders.
Thus, Betts' MLB-best 10.6 WAR among position players. This may not guarantee him victory in a tight MVP race, but it does give him the inside track.
Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
In a year in which there are few clear front-runners for the NL MVP Award, why not Acuna? His numbers are excellent, and his scorching-hot second half is easy to twist into a narrative. Surely, the Braves have needed that production to make up for Freddie Freeman's slump.
The rookie's relatively modest sample size works against him, however. Barring a ridiculous final week, he's probably a long shot.
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
With Trevor Story having missed valuable time with an elbow injury, Nolan Arenado is probably the Rockies' best MVP hope. He's raking with a .919 OPS, 34 homers and 104 RBI, and his defense probably hasn't declined as much as the metrics suggest.
And yet, Arenado had better get hot in these next few days if he wants to boost his candidacy. His bat has been cold for the last two months.
Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
How have the St. Louis Cardinals risen from the ashes and put themselves in position to make the postseason? Largely thanks to this guy. Matt Carpenter has a .911 OPS with an NL-high 36 homers.
Carpenter's value is tied up entirely in his bat, however, and that's a problem. With only a .561 OPS in September, he's failing to further narrativize his hot hitting.
Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
Javier Baez's NL-high 110 RBI should earn him some love from traditional-minded voters. New-school-minded voters, meanwhile, will like how his .893 OPS, 34 homers, 21 steals and versatile defense contribute to his 6.1 WAR, which ranks third among NL position players.
There's also a clear narrative angle to Baez's chances, as he's put the Cubs on his back and carried them through a tough year. The only real complication is that he's been stumbling a bit in September.
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
That stretch has elevated Yelich's numbers to extraordinary heights. He leads the NL in average (.321), slugging (.576) and OPS (.967), and he's up there in homers (32, tied for ninth) and RBI (98, seventh). Among NL position players, he also trails only Brewers teammate Lorenzo Cain (whose value stems greatly from his defense) in WAR.
Even in a clustered race like this one, it's hard to ask for more from an MVP candidate.