Way-Too-Early MLB MVP and Cy Young Rankings for 2021 SeasonApril 28, 2021
Way-Too-Early MLB MVP and Cy Young Rankings for 2021 Season
Jacob deGrom might be better at his job than anyone else in America.
The New York Mets ace is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball and he has only gotten better with age. The offense behind him has been famously bad, but deGrom has taken it upon himself to help his own cause. Last week against the Washington Nationals, deGrom hit eighth in the lineup and went 2-for-4 with a double.
The former college shortstop is hitting .545 on the season. He's not exactly Shohei Ohtani, but if Clayton Kershaw can win an NL MVP Award as a starting pitcher, then maybe deGrom could eventually land himself in that conversation as well.
For now, the deGrominator is once again in the conversation for the NL Cy Young Award. Four weeks into the season and the speculation around awards has already begun, due in large part to the gaudy numbers produced by deGrom, and the Los Angeles Angels' Ohtani and Mike Trout.
It might be early, but let's take a look at a few candidates for each of MLB's top honors.
AL MVP Award
Los Angeles Angels DH/SP Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani became the first pitcher to start a game while leading the major leagues in home runs since Babe Ruth. Seriously. Rhys Hoskins now has the MLB lead with eight, but Ohtani still made history when he took the mound in Arlington, Texas on Monday night.
His candidacy might get overshadowed by Trout's, but the key for him is health. Ohtani has been limited on the mound since he entered the league because of injuries. The Angels have taken the pitch-count restrictions off him this season with the belief that it's time for him to ramp things up and the hope that a standout pitcher like him will help the team win.
Ohtani made his third start Monday night in Texas against the Rangers, earning the win with an eventful five-inning performance. He helped his own cause by going 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk, scoring three times and driving in two runs. Finally healthy and doing things that we haven't seen in baseball in a generation, blowing batters away on the mound and then hitting opposing pitchers hard (he's responsible for the second-hardest hit ball this season), and showing us his full range of talents.
Minnesota Twins CF Byron Buxton
Like Ohtani, the key for Buxton is health. Buxton has been hitting the cover off the ball to start the season, leading some to believe this is what he has always been capable of. He played a career-high 140 games in 2017, despite dealing with a groin strain and migraines. The next season, he missed most of the season with migraines, a fractured toe and a sprained wrist. In 2019, there was another wrist injury, a concussion and a dislocated shoulder that eventually led to surgery. Last year, he was hit in the head with a high fastball.
But the 27-year-old Buxton has six home runs, an OPS over 1.000, he has reduced his strikeout rate by about 3 percent and increased his walk rate by 2 percent. His 1.7 fWAR ties him for second in the league with Ronald Acuna Jr. Should Buxton stay healthy and stay with this approach at the plate, he'll have a case for the award.
Los Angeles Angels CF Mike Trout
It's still April, so anything can happen, but it just doesn't even seem like much of a competition. Trout has the highest OPS in baseball by a margin of more than 100 points and the highest WAR. Trout's six home runs trails Ohanti and two others for the American League lead, but he's outproducing the rest of the league. Before being sidelined with an elbow contusion, he was on pace for a 61-homer season.
If Trout wins in 2021, it would be the fourth time in his career. He's the best player in baseball and he's playing like it this season as well, as eager as ever to get to the postseason for just the second time in his career and the first time since 2014.
Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. put Trout, Ohtani and Buxton on notice Tuesday night with a three-homer, seven-RBI game. His dad, Vladimir Guerrero, won the award as a member of the Angels in 2004 and Guerrero Jr.'s 1.177 OPS would and a 1.3 fWAR indicate that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Not that we didn't know that already, but the younger Guerrero is reinforcing that with every big hit.
Yermin Mercedes has been a great story for the Chicago White Sox this season. The South Side faithful can often be heard chanting "MVP" when he delivers, as he did over the weekend in a four-hit game. The DH is a top candidate for AL Rookie of the Year with the way he's hitting (1.145 OPS).
Trout might be the leader in the clubhouse right now, but this race is going to be a wild ride.
AL Cy Young Award
Cleveland Baseball Team RHP Shane Bieber
Bieber is hoping to become Cleveland's second player to win two AL Cy Young Awards and the first since Corey Kluber. They profile similarly as crafty pitchers who rely on command and off-speed offerings. Both use more guile and guise than speed and strength, which seems like a throwback these days in the era of the power pitcher.
Bieber won the award last season and he looks even better this year, with similar numbers, like a 2.48 ERA and a league-leading 57 strikeouts.
New York Yankees RHP Gerrit Cole
Cole outdueled Bieber over the weekend to help the struggling Yankees top Cleveland. His 50 strikeouts are tied for second in baseball, seven behind Bieber. The AL Cy Young race could end up becoming a battle between Bieber and Cole as the season unfolds.
There is immense pressure on each pitcher each time they take the mound. Starting pitching hasn't been the Yankees' strength this season and there is little depth in the rotation behind him. Cost-conscious Cleveland is trying to remain competitive after shedding payroll over the winter. Cole would be the first Yankees' pitcher to win the award since Roger Clemens in 2001. He currently has the highest fWar of any pitcher (1.9) and the second-highest strikeout total in the AL (50) behind Bieber.
Kansas City Royals LHP Danny Duffy
Duffy could be the dark horse candidate this year. If the upstart Royals make the postseason, it will be in large part because of their veteran ace. Duffy is having a fantastic start to his season, allowing only a single earned run through 23 innings of work in four starts. He has the American League's best ERA (0.39), something few probably saw coming when he put up a 4.95 ERA last season and a 4.34 ERA the year before that.
Duffy said he's throwing with what he calls "maximum intent," trusting in all of his pitches and his ability to deliver. He's worked his way out of danger effectively and stayed calm throughout messy innings.
Tampa Bay Rays ace Tyler Glasnow has had some shaky innings but managed to move past them. His 1.3 fWAR ranks fourth in baseball, showing just how valuable he is to his team.
John Means is giving the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles something to look forward to with his 1.50 ERA. He's pitching like an ace every time he goes out there and fans have already started campaigning for the 28-year-old lefty.
NL MVP Award
Atlanta Braves OF Ronald Acuna Jr.
Trout might be the best player in baseball, but Acuna isn't far off. As of Tuesday, Acuna had scored the second-most runs (22) in baseball, has hit more home runs than most of MLB (tied for second) and he has the second-best OPS. It's an absolutely ridiculous pace, especially for a 23-year-old.
Can he keep it up? That will be the question throughout the rest of the season. If he does, he could have some new hardware. If he doesn't, then this could be a close race.
Philadelphia Phillies OF Bryce Harper
Harper won the award with the Washington Nationals in 2015 as a 22-year-old phenom. Now anchoring the Phillies' lineup, he has a chance to do it again. Harper has the third-highest OPS in the National League, 186 wRC+ and a 1.1 fWAR. These are the type of numbers one would expect from Harper and expect from an MVP candidate.
If the Phillies fade in the standings, then Harper's candidacy may fade a little as well. But if they can hang around the top of the NL East standings through the summer, then Harper should be in the hunt for his second MVP Award.
San Diego Padres SS Fernando Tatis Jr.
Tatis may not have as gaudy of a slash line or an OPS as some others in the National League right now, but there are indicators that they will come. What are those indicators? Seven home runs is a good place to start. Five of those came over the weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers, including two off Kershaw and another pair off Trevor Bauer, one of which brought out the showman in him.
Tatis, Acuna and Harper are all flashy players with big personalities and big bats. This NL MVP competition might be the most fun to follow.
Shortstop Francisco Lindor is off to such a slow start that Mets fans are already booing him. But Lindor is an elite offensive talent and he'll turn it around. There is plenty of time for Lindor to make a case for himself.
It's impossible to count out Mookie Betts or Corey Seager. They may not be the trending picks right now, but on a loaded team like the Dodgers, MVP-like seasons are the expectation.
NL Cy Young Award
New York Mets RHP Jacob deGrom
DeGrom is almost 33, he's throwing harder than ever and more efficient than ever, which is saying something about a two-time Cy Young Award winner.
He threw a two-hit, complete game shutout struck out 15 his last time out, a win against Washington. He was the first Mets' pitcher to whiff that many batters since Al Leiter in 1999 and he beat his own career-high mark of 14. He's struck out 14 in each of his last three starts and has recorded 43 strikeouts over his past three outings, which is tied for the fourth-most in any three-game span in history.
This is a pitcher with a feel for pitching that seems almost inherent. It's what sets him apart from everyone else and what earns him Cy Young votes year after year. He has the second-highest fWAR behind Cole (1.8), the best ERA in the National League (0.31) and the most strikeouts (50).
Now, if only the Mets can start hitting behind him.
Milwaukee Brewers' RHP Corbin Burnes
Burnes had an 8.82 ERA in 2019. Now he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. His transformation began when he started seeing a sports psychologist and started throwing more sinkers and cutters to get outs on the ground. But he's still getting the bats swinging, as is evidenced by his 15.03 strikeouts-per-nine inning rate, the third-best in baseball behind deGrom and his own teammate Freddy Peralta.
The Brewers' calling card is their bullpen, but having two starters like Burnes and Brandon Woodruff gives them a boost in a tight division. But the way Burnes has pitched this season is nothing short of exceptional, and this is reflected in his 1.7 fWAR. Woodruff himself may earn himself a spot in the conversation as well. And Peralta too, for that matter.
Maybe just give the entire award to the Brewers starting rotation.
San Diego Padres RHP Joe Musgrove
For Joe Musgove, a no-hitter for his hometown Padres was pretty special. A Cy Young would be even more meaningful. Musgrove is 2-2 with a 1.55 ERA so far, and some of his success can be attributed to his groundball rate, which has increased this season (50.8 percent, up from 48.4 percent and ahead of his career 45.2 percent rate).
Of course, groundball pitchers are always somewhat beholden to their infielders, and the Padres have a stellar crew of defenders behind him, but Musgrove is showing sharp command (1.55 walks per nine innings) and trust in his stuff.
The winner of the 2020 Award, Trevor Bauer, has gotten off to a good start with his new team, his hometown Dodgers. He's 3-0 with a 2.53 ERA in five starts.
There are several quality starters in the National League. Trevor Rogers of the Miami Marlins and Max Scherzer may end up on a short list as we get deeper into the summer and the games take on more importance. It's difficult to even narrow this list down in April, but there is plenty of time for pitchers to strengthen their cases for Cy Young consideration and for new ones to emerge as well.