Full 2019 MLB Award Predictions at the Three-Quarter Mark
Time is running out in the 2019 Major League Baseball season, so award contenders had better start padding their resumes.
In the meantime, we can assess where each race stands with roughly a fourth of the season left.
We've predicted who will win—not to be confused with who should win—the Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player prizes in the American League and National League. This involved consulting all relevant stats and narratives, plus a little projection for the rest of the season.
We'll begin with the year's top skippers.
AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
At a time when more and more shots are being called from front offices, it's fair to wonder—as Jayson Stark of The Athletic did—whether managers are becoming obsolete.
That difficult question notwithstanding, the Manager of the Year award isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Likewise, the tendency of voters to eat up a good underdog story probably isn't going anywhere, either.
Which brings us to Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians.
Francona began the season with the deck stacked against him after the Indians front office spent the winter pinching pennies. He's since had to guide his team through an early offensive slump, Corey Kluber's broken arm, Carlos Carrasco's leukemia diagnosis and the trade of Trevor Bauer.
And yet the Indians are not only in first place in the AL Central at 72-47, but they're also an MLB-best 46-20 since May 28. Francona has done his part by squeezing the most out of unusual suspects such as Zach Plesac and Oscar Mercado, as well as by masterfully deploying arguably baseball's best bullpen.
Even if they don't win a division title, Francona's Indians should at least capture a wild-card berth. That would probably still be enough to win him a third Manager of the Year.
Runner-up: Aaron Boone, New York Yankees
NL Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers
Meanwhile, in the National League, even Mickey Callaway's June spat with a reporter might not keep voters from granting him Manager of the Year if his New York Mets finish off their Cinderella run.
For the time being, though, it's hard to imagine anyone beating Los Angeles Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts.
At least in theory, the Dodgers are nobody's idea of an underdog. They're operating with a star-studded roster that's costing the team over $200 million. They've also had the chance to pad their MLB-best 79-41 record with plentiful games against weak NL West competition.
Yet Roberts' Dodgers have been the only sure thing in a National League pennant race that's been topsy-turvy from the beginning. Plus, it's not as if the man himself has been on autopilot.
Roberts hasn't used any single lineup more than six times. Pitchers such as Julio Urias and Ross Stripling have worked double duties as starters and relievers. And while Roberts may not be the one designing them, he's at least responsible for implementing the NL's most successful (by far) defensive shifts.
In short, it hasn't necessarily been the Dodgers' checkbook doing all the heavy lifting this season.
Runner-up: Mickey Callaway, New York Mets
AL Rookie of the Year: Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
As of right now, Baltimore Orioles left-hander John Means is probably the leading contender for AL Rookie of the Year. He leads all AL rookies with 3.4 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.
Unfortunately for Means, Yordan Alvarez isn't slowing down.
The 22-year-old slugger didn't debut with the Houston Astros until June 9, yet he made an immediate impression with a home run in his first game and six more through his next 11 outings.
Whereas most mortals would have regressed from there, Alvarez is evidently some kind of hitting god. He's now batting .355/.431/.733 with 17 home runs (the last three of which came in a single game) through 46 games. He rarely fails to hit the ball hard, as his 8.8 soft-hit percentage is the lowest in baseball.
"What he's doing, it's awesome," Astros teammate Jose Altuve said of Alvarez, per Zachary Silver of MLB.com. "It's hard to believe. He's probably one of the best young hitters in baseball right now."
In fact, how about ever? Out of all rookies who've taken at least 190 plate appearances, Alvarez's 201 OPS+ tops Shoeless Joe Jackson's 193 mark from 1911 as the best since 1901.
Runner-up: John Means, Baltimore Orioles
NL Rookie of the Year: Pete Alonso, New York Mets
If this were a discussion of who should win NL Rookie of the Year, our vote would go to Fernando Tatis Jr.
It was a bit of a surprise when the 20-year-old made the San Diego Padres roster out of spring training, but he's given them zero cause to regret it. Despite missing over a month with a hamstring injury, he's put up a .315/.378/.591 slash line, 22 homers and 16 stolen bases.
Factor in how Tatis is also holding it down at shortstop, and it's no big surprise that he leads fellow NL rookie hitters with 4.2 WAR.
But can Tatis overcome Pete Alonso?
The answer may be more in the realm of "possibly" than "probably." As good as Tatis has been, Alonso has played in more games (117 to 82) and made more noise on offense. He has a .955 OPS, and his 38 home runs give him a shot at beating Aaron Judge's rookie record of 52.
A slump would knock Alonso out of the NL Rookie of the Year race, but the 24-year-old has been admirably resistant to such things. To wit, he's following a .764 OPS in July with a 1.006 OPS so far in August.
Runner-up: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
AL Cy Young Award: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
But rather than on one of them, the smart bet to win the Cy Young is on Astros right-hander Justin Verlander.
The one thing Verlander hasn't done well is keep the ball in the ballpark, as he also co-leads AL hurlers with 29 home runs allowed. But that's ultimately little more than a nitpick. In addition to his other numbers, his true dominance is reflected in his AL-best marks for expected wOBA and actual wOBA allowed.
Besides, 12 of the homers Verlander has allowed came within a five-start stretch between June 12 and July 19. He's allowed just three long balls while striking out 64 batters and walking only seven in his last six starts.
If Verlander stays on this track, he should cruise to his second career Cy Young Award.
Runner-up: Mike Minor, Texas Rangers
NL Cy Young Award: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
Up until recently, Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer seemed like a shoo-in for his fourth Cy Young Award. Alas, he's still recovering from a bad back that's limited him to two starts since the beginning of July.
That's your cue, Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Between his 90.5 mph fastball and below-average strikeout rate, the Dodgers left-hander certainly lacks the familiar trappings of a Cy Young Award contender. Yet few numbers in baseball jump off the page like his 1.45 ERA. That's the lowest mark for an ERA title qualifier since Bob Gibson (1.12) in 1968.
All Ryu has to do is avoid a massive regression that, frankly, seems almost inevitable in light of his less-than-overpowering stuff.
And yet that "almost" is indeed necessary. As evidenced by his MLB-low 1.1 walks-per-nine rate, Ryu doesn't hurt himself with free passes. He's also the NL's best at stranding baserunners, in part because he can get ground balls and pop-ups when he needs them.
Of course, it also helps that Ryu pitches to the most efficient defense in the National League. As long as he and his defenders maintain their symbiotic relationship, his ERA might actually stay that low.
Runner-up: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
The 2019 season may well be Mike Trout's masterpiece.
But once you get past all that, the 28-year-old's latest campaign is truly staggering.
As per usual, the only "yeah, but..." with Trout's MVP candidacy is that the Los Angeles Angels aren't very good. At 58-62, they're ticketed for yet another season as an also-ran in the AL West and AL wild-card races.
But if it's ever fair to ding Trout for the lack of talent around him, it should only be done when there's a player with comparable numbers and a better narrative elsewhere in the American League. For instance, that was the case with Mookie Betts last season.
This year, however, no AL player is even close to matching Trout's excellence. It'll be a joke if he doesn't win his third MVP.
Runner-up: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
NL MVP: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Could Christian Yelich end up winning a second straight NL MVP?
Absolutely. All the 27-year-old has done this season is post an MLB-high 1.130 OPS with a co-leading 39 homers. Factor in his utter excellence in high-leverage situations, and he's done more than enough to carry the Milwaukee Brewers through their perilous season.
And yet Cody Bellinger looms as a real threat to claim Yelich's MVP crown.
Although the 24-year-old peaked with a 1.397 OPS and 14 homers in March and April, he's never really gone cold en route to the .317/.416/.661 slash line and 38 homers on which he now sits. Those numbers potentially undersell the true quality of his hitting. He trails only Trout in expected wOBA.
That's one half of Bellinger's MVP candidacy. The other half is his glovework. His 19 defensive runs saved as an outfielder rank second to only Hunter Renfroe. He's also pitched in four DRS at first base.
These things add up to 7.6 WAR, which ties Bellinger with Trout for the MLB lead. That alone doesn't necessarily clinch the NL MVP for the Dodgers superstar, but there will be little cause to argue with his candidacy if Yelich and the Brewers fall short of the postseason.
Runner-up: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers