Bleacher Report's 2019 Midseason MLB Awards
Now that the first half of the 2019 Major League Baseball season is complete, it's time for the moment you've all been waiting for: Bleacher Report's midseason awards show!
There's no better occasion for it than the All-Star break, and we have all the categories covered. We've picked Comeback Player of the Year, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player winners for the American League and National League.
Our picks were mostly based on statistics, though not entirely. In some cases, it behooved us to consider various narratives, as well.
Let's take it away.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
Last season seemed to break Gary Sanchez.
After busting out as a superstar-level catcher with a .923 OPS and 53 home runs across 2016 and 2017, Sanchez fell flat with a .186 average, a .697 OPS and 18 homers in 2018.
And that was over only 89 games, as Sanchez had to sit out a good chunk of the New York Yankees' season with groin injuries. He was also bombarded with criticism of his defense and effort level along the way.
Several months later, Sanchez has bounced back with an .870 OPS and 24 homers. The 26-year-old has also cleaned up his defense. After leading MLB in passed balls in both '17 and '18, he's committed only five so far this season.
Just like that, Sanchez has gone from being one of baseball's worst catchers to again being one of its best.
Runner-Up: Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds
Speaking of guys who endured rough seasons for last year's Yankees, Sonny Gray was so bad that general manager Brian Cashman didn't even pretend to want a do-over in 2019.
"We are going to move him if we get the right deal because I don't think it is going to work out in the Bronx," Cashman told Joel Sherman of the New York Post in November 2018.
Gray put up a 4.90 ERA overall in 2018, as well as a pitiful 6.98 ERA at Yankee Stadium. He was ultimately traded to the Cincinnati Reds in January, and he promptly signed a contract extension with them.
Cincinnati's gambit is already paying off. Gray has lowered his ERA to 3.59 through 17 starts. He also boasts a career-best 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings, as well as a revitalized ground-ball rate.
Runner-Up: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
AL Manager of the Year: Aaron Boone, New York Yankees
It makes sense that only two New York Yankees skippers (Buck Showalter and Joe Torre) have ever won the AL Manager of the Year award.
The award tends to favor skippers who have seemingly overachieved, and these are the Yankees we're talking about. They like their payrolls exorbitant and their rosters studded with stars.
Aaron Boone was supposed to have both those advantages in 2019. In practice, however, the injury bug has rendered New York's roster short-handed for the entire season. Among those who've missed significant time are sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, as well as staff ace Luis Severino.
But rather than plummet, the Yankees have risen to the top of the American League with a 57-31 record.
Boone has done his part by molding a pitching staff consisting of a thin starting rotation and a top-heavy bullpen into a functional unit with a semi-respectable 4.15 ERA. He's also shepherded a lineup with constantly moving parts that have resulted in 20 different players hitting at least one home run.
In all, Boone's club is a rare example of a Yankees team that's greater than the sum of its parts.
Runner-Up: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota Twins
NL Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves
Although he's technically up against 14 other managers, Atlanta Braves skipper Brian Snitker might as well be running unopposed in the NL Manager of the Year race.
Elsewhere in the NL East are a handful of underachieving teams. The NL Central is nothing but underachievers. Meanwhile, the NL West is firmly in the hands of an expensive and star-laden Los Angeles Dodgers squad.
By comparison, it hasn't been easy for Snitker and the Braves to get a grip on the NL East lead.
Snitker has been challenged by a rotation beset by injuries and disappointing performances, as well as by a bullpen that struggled to a 4.46 ERA through the season's first two months. He's also had to keep a handle on the club's core young hitters: Ronald Acuna Jr. (21), Ozzie Albies (22) and Austin Riley (22).
Rather than let any of those waves sink the Braves, Snitker has made them look like veritable ripples while guiding his club to a 54-37 record. And the really good stuff is happening right now, as the Braves are 24-10 since the first of June.
Runner-Up: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
This year's AL Rookie of the Year race was supposed to be led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., followed by Who Cares and Who Cares Jr.
Well, the part about the race being centralized in the AL East has proved accurate. But rather than a one-horse race led by Guerrero, it's more of a two-horse affair between Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe and Baltimore Orioles left-hander John Means.
But whereas Means is lacking in eye-popping peripherals to support his results, Lowe has truly earned his .862 OPS and 16 homers. He's striking out too much (33.9 strikeout percentage), but he boasts a well-above-average 41.5 percent hard-hit rate and a well-below-average 31.0 percent ground-ball rate.
If the 25-year-old can keep it up in the second half, he should break Dan Uggla's record (27) for home runs by a rookie second baseman.
Runner-Up: John Means, Baltimore Orioles
NL Rookie of the Year: Pete Alonso, New York Mets
If Pete Alonso weren't in the NL Rookie of the Year race, we'd be able to sing the praises of Fernando Tatis Jr., Alex Verdugo, Bryan Reynolds, Mike Soroka and Chris Paddack.
It's too bad for them that Alonso is in the NL Rookie of the Year race, and that it's totally in his control.
Alonso, 24, deserved to be in the majors following the conclusion of a 2018 minor league season in which he clobbered 36 homers and posted a .975 OPS. And rather than drag out his promotion any further, the New York Mets made an admirable decision to put him on their Opening Day roster for 2019.
Alonso has thus far rewarded their faith in him with a 1.006 OPS and 30 homers. He's already just nine homers away from Cody Bellinger's NL rookie record and 22 away from Aaron Judge's overall rookie record.
The rate at which Alonso is hitting dingers might actually understate the kind of power with which he's working. His home runs have traveled as fast as 118.3 mph and gone as far as 458 feet. Overall, he "barrels" the ball with nearly anyone.
Runner-Up: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
AL Cy Young Award: Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays
Not long ago, Justin Verlander was the runaway favorite for the AL Cy Young Award. But his recent bout with gopheritis (12 homers allowed over his last five starts) has put the kibosh on that.
There isn't an easy pick right now, but the most sensible choice for the midseason award is one of Verlander's former teammates: Charlie Morton.
The Houston Astros transformed Morton from a mere journeyman into an ace during his two seasons with the club in 2017 and 2018. With the help of rejuvenated fastball velocity and a Mjolnir-ian curveball, he posted a 3.36 ERA and 10.4 K/9 over 55 starts.
Yet so far in 2019, Morton has achieved still another level of pitching excellence with the Tampa Bay Rays. His ERA is down to an AL-best 2.32 through 19 starts and 112.2 innings.
Although ERA is a flawed statistic, there's little doubt Morton deserves his. The 35-year-old's strikeout, walk and home run rates are all better than they were a year ago. He also ranks second in the AL in xwOBA allowed actual wOBA allowed.
Runner-Up: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
NL Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Death, taxes, the "Death, taxes" cliche and Max Scherzer mowing down helpless hitters.
Scherzer already had one Cy Young Award on his resume when he signed with the Washington Nationals in 2015. He added two more in 2016 and 2017, and he would have won yet another in 2018 if it hadn't been for Jacob deGrom's historic season.
Thus far in 2019, it seems like nothing is going to keep Scherzer from winning his fourth Cy Young Award.
Scherzer's strikeout numbers certainly stand out the most. The 181 he has so far put him on pace for 329 total strikeouts. No pitcher has climbed that high since Randy Johnson in 2002.
Scherzer also leads MLB in xwOBA allowed. And whereas the WAR picture among American League hurlers is muddled, Scherzer is the runaway leader in the National League for both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
Runner-Up: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
As per usual, the only gripe about Mike Trout's AL MVP candidacy has to do with the general mediocrity of the Los Angeles Angels.
Also as per usual, Trout is simply too good for that to matter.
The 27-year-old won MVPs in 2014 and 2016, yet his best work has been happening since 2017. He put up a 1.080 OPS, 72 homers and 16.8 rWAR (Baseball Reference version) across the last two seasons, and he's now keeping it up a with a 1.098 OPS, 28 homers and 5.9 WAR.
The next-best WAR among AL position players is Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman's 4.3. Trout also either leads the Junior Circuit in OPS, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walks and RBI.
The Angels may only be a long shot for the postseason despite all this. But without Trout's help, their playoff odds would essentially be nonexistent.
Runner-Up: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
NL MVP: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Christian Yelich is making one heck of a push for his second straight NL MVP. Following a red-hot finish to 2018, he's picked up right where he left off with a 1.140 OPS and 31 homers.
Still, he's no Cody Bellinger.
After a star-making turn as a rookie in 2017, Bellinger was dealt a reality check in 2018. His numbers fell across the board, and he was essentially a platoon player by the end of the season.
Despite their comparable offensive numbers, Bellinger leads Yelich in the WAR races largely because of his defense. He's been worth 18 defensive runs saved as a right fielder alone, and he's also moonlighted as a quality first baseman.
Besides, the offensive gap between Bellinger and Yelich might not be as narrow as their results indicate. Per xwOBA, the former is enjoying a significant edge over the latter.
Last but not least, it doesn't hurt that Bellinger's brilliance has led the Los Angeles Dodgers to an MLB-best 60-32 record.
Runner-Up: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers