End-of-Year 2020 MLB Awards Picks for MVP, Cy Young, ROY and More

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2020

End-of-Year 2020 MLB Awards Picks for MVP, Cy Young, ROY and More

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    Apart from Shane Bieber for the AL Cy Young Award, there are no slam-dunk choices.
    Apart from Shane Bieber for the AL Cy Young Award, there are no slam-dunk choices.Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Now that Major League Baseball's 2020 regular season is finally surprisingly already over, there's one piece of business we must take care of before the playoffs begin Tuesday.

    It's time to hand out some awards.

    We're specifically choosing winners for the Comeback Player of the Year, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player in the American League and National League. And by "choosing," we mean just that. These are not predictions for who will win, but instead who we think should win.

    This year more than most, we acknowledge that our award picks are subject to debate. In contrast to a regular 162-game season, it's not so easy for award favorites to set themselves apart from the pack in a mere 60-game season.

    In any case, let's get to it.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The AL Comeback Player of the Year could theoretically go to Los Angeles Angels ascendant ace Dylan Bundy or, even better, to Cleveland ace and leukemia survivor Carlos Carrasco.

    But since Carrasco won the award for 2019, we see no problem giving Salvador Perez his due instead.

    The Kansas City Royals' stalwart catcher missed all of the '19 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Royals felt his absence offensively as their catchers put up just a .637 OPS and 12 home runs.

    Though other aspects of their season didn't go as well, Perez made sure the Royals didn't have this problem again in 2020. He hit 11 homers in only 37 games, and his .986 OPS shattered his previous career high of .834 from his rookie season in 2011.

    Factoring in his steady defense behind the dish, Perez finished among the AL's top 10 position players by tallying 1.9 rWAR. Not bad for a guy who didn't play at all between September 2018 and July 2020.

    Runner-Up: Dylan Bundy, Los Angeles Angels

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The NL Comeback Player of the Year should arguably go to New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz, who struck out 50 batters in 25.2 innings while shaving nearly four runs off his 2019 ERA.

    Kyle Freeland's comeback story, though, is about as textbook as it gets.

    In 2018, the Colorado Rockies' ace left-hander was a Cy Young Award contender by way of a 2.85 ERA—a spectacular figure for anyone who pitches at Coors Field—over 202.1 innings. But in 2019, he was so bad that he was actually demoted to the minors en route to posting a 6.73 ERA in 22 starts.

    Rather than trust that he would naturally revert to his '18 form in 2020, Freeland went about reinventing himself. This notably involved tweaking his mechanics and moving away from a fastball-slider approach to one involving more offspeed offerings.

    It worked. Even after a six-run dud on Sunday, Freeland finished 2020 with a solid 4.33 ERA (i.e., a 122 ERA+) over 70.2 innings, plus a place among among the National League's top hurlers courtesy of his 2.2 rWAR.

    Runner-Up: Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

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

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    As front offices take on more and more responsibility for in-game strategy, it's only getting harder and harder to choose winners for the Manager of the Year award.

    But in the American League, anyway, it's frankly hard to side with anyone other than Tampa Bay Rays skipper Kevin Cash.

    Cash's players didn't exactly make it easy on him this season. Offensively, the Rays didn't get what they were expecting out of standouts such as Austin Meadows, Hunter Renfroe and Yoshi Tsutsugo. On the mound, aces Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow went from a 2.75 ERA in 2019 to a 4.34 ERA this season.

    Yet the Rays didn't just win the AL East; they also handily claimed the top overall record in the American League at 40-20. They often seemed better than the sum of their parts, and their four "luck" wins suggest there's some truth to that notion.

    Cash made his presence felt by re-using only one starting lineup and by frequently orchestrating stolen bases, pinch-hit appearances and pitching changes. In other words, he was pressing buttons all season.

    Runner-Up: Charlie Montoyo, Toronto Blue Jays

NL Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Miami Marlins

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    With respect to Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jayce Tingler of the San Diego Padres, the NL Manager of the Year can only go to Don Mattingly.

    By all rights, the Miami Marlins should have endured an 11th straight losing season in 2020. Their year began with a coronavirus outbreak that devastated their roster. In the long run, they also had to overcome a subpar offense and a relatively difficult schedule.

    But in the end, the Marlins were 31-29 and in possession of their first ticket to the postseason since 2003.

    Like the Rays, "luck" hypothetically had much to do with the Marlins' surprise rise. But Mattingly did what he could by letting his speedsters steal 51 bases (second in the NL) and switching out pitchers about as often as any other skipper in the Senior Circuit.

    Mattingly's attitude, however, might have been his greatest asset. With a predominantly youthful roster in hand, he fostered a culture that reliever Brandon Kintzler summed up well: "We've got a team that plays loose. We've got nothing to lose. We're playing with house money."

    Runner-Up: Jayce Tingler, San Diego Padres

AL Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, Seattle Mariners

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    For a while there, it seemed like Chicago White Sox rookie Luis Robert was going to track down the AL Rookie of the Year about as easily as he tracks down fly balls in center field.

    Then the month of September happened. In 23 games, Robert went just 11-for-81 with 10 walks. His OPS crumbled accordingly, plummeting from .960 all the way down to .738.

    Bad for Robert. Good for Kyle Lewis.

    Unlike Robert, Lewis came into 2020 having already teased he could handle major league pitching. He appeared in 18 games for the Seattle Mariners down the stretch of 2019 and made the most of them with an .885 OPS and six home runs.

    Lewis effectively picked up where he left off this year, ultimately finishing with an .801 OPS, 11 homers and five stolen bases. So though he finished behind Robert in rWAR on account of the latter's defense, we'll side with Lewis for the AL Rookie of the Year on account of his offensive consistency.

    Runner-Up: Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox

NL Rookie of the Year: Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    It's not that we don't see what Jake Cronenworth did for the San Diego Padres. Or Sixto Sanchez for the Miami Marlins. Or Ian Anderson for Atlanta. And so on.

    We just like Devin Williams for NL Rookie of the Year more, and here's why: He might have just had the most dominant season of any relief pitcher ever.

    By way of a 96.9 mph fastball and an utterly devastating changeup, Williams whiffed 53 batters in 27 innings. He also allowed only eight hits, nine walks and four runs all season. And of those runs, only one was earned.

    That works out to a 0.33 ERA, which is the best all-time for a pitcher who made at least 20 relief appearances and handled at least 25 innings in a season. In that same bracket, Williams also tied for first with his 17.7 strikeouts per nine innings and placed seventh with a 0.63 WHIP.

    With credentials like these, Williams absolutely deserves to be the first reliever since Craig Kimbrel in 2011 to win Rookie of the Year.

    Runner-Up: Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres

AL Cy Young Award: Shane Bieber, Cleveland

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    We could pretend that there are other strong candidates for the AL Cy Young Award. But let's face it: The award absolutely should and surely will go to Shane Bieber.

    Cleveland's right-handed ace made 12 starts this season. He topped five hits and three walks just once apiece, and he allowed more than three earned runs exactly zero times. He also recorded double-digit strikeouts in eight of his outings.

    Out of all hurlers who logged at least 60 innings, Bieber led all AL pitchers in allowing only 5.35 hits per nine innings. He also led all of MLB with 122 strikeouts, 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings, a 1.63 ERA and a 281 ERA+.

    Lest anyone think there was an abundance of luck involved in Bieber's performance, Statcast metrics point decidedly toward "no." To wit, his .242 xwOBA, which is based on strikeouts, walks and contact quality, was the best out of all AL pitchers.

    So by all means, somebody give the man his Cy Young Award.

    Runner-Up: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Toronto Blue Jays

NL Cy Young Award: Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    In contrast to the AL Cy Young Award race, the one in the NL was one in which no obvious winner emerged in 2020. Even now, with the dust more or less cleared, there really is no "right" pick.

    But for our money, Trevor Bauer is the best choice for the award.

    On the heels of an often difficult 2019 season, Bauer bounced back to dominate in his 11 starts for the Cincinnati Reds this year. He fanned exactly 100 batters in 73 innings, and he also permitted only 41 hits and 14 earned runs. 

    As a result, the right-hander led the National League with a 1.73 ERA and 276 ERA+, plus all of MLB with a rate of 5.05 hits per nine innings.

    Likewise, Bauer bested even Bieber by racking up a .219 xwOBA. Specifically in light of that fact, there's an argument to be made that he was the best pitcher in either league this season.

    Runner-Up: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

AL MVP: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Shane Bieber led all American League pitchers and hitters with 3.2 rWAR, while Cleveland teammate Jose Ramirez bested him in FanGraphs' iteration with 3.4 fWAR.

    But regardless of the specific version, we don't want to make our AL MVP pick as simple as which player finished with the highest WAR. Besides, Bieber appeared in just 20 percent of Cleveland's games, and Ramirez is only in the discussion because he had one great month in September.

    Alternatively, consider Jose Abreu. He played in all 60 of the Chicago White Sox's games and finished with a .987 OPS and 19 home runs, plus an AL-best 76 hits and .617 slugging percentage and MLB-high marks with 60 runs batted in and 148 total bases.

    Abreu also spearheaded Chicago's push for its first postseason since 2008. He went off for a .355/.413/.729 line and 16 homers between Aug. 16 and the end of the season, helping lead the White Sox to a 25-14 finish.

    For his durability, excellence and consistency, we think Abreu should be the AL MVP.

    Runner-Up: Shane Bieber, Cleveland

NL MVP: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Courtesy of his MLB-high 3.4 rWAR, Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts should arguably add a second MVP award to his collection this year.

    FanGraphs WAR, however, prefers Freddie Freeman as the NL's best player for 2020. Even if that part is debatable, we can get on board with him as the league's most valuable player.

    Atlanta didn't have it easy in 2020. Its starting rotation was a mess all season, and its lineup went a long stretch without Ozzie Albies and a shorter—yet no less stressful—period without fellow star Ronald Acuna Jr.

    It's largely because of Freeman that Atlanta nonetheless won a third straight NL East title. The veteran first baseman raked his way to a stunning .341/.462/.640 batting line, as well as MLB-high marks with 51 runs and 23 doubles.

    Freeman's league-best .441 xwOBA further underscores his offensive brilliance, and it's also noteworthy that he got better as the leverage got higher. Without all this, Atlanta would have endured a much more difficult season.

    Runner-Up: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.