Bleacher Report's 2021 Midseason MLB AwardsJuly 15, 2021
Bleacher Report's 2021 Midseason MLB Awards
The 2021 Major League Baseball season is approximately 56 percent completed, which means there is a lot of time left for slumps, injuries and/or hot streaks to drastically change the current projections for the various major awards.
If the season ended today, though, many of the picks would be rather obvious.
Bleacher Report's panel of MLB scribes—Abbey Mastracco, Joel Reuter, Zachary Rymer and myself—offered up picks for Manager, Comeback Player, Rookie, Cy Young and MVP in each league from the first half of the season.
For the most part, there was minimal debate. We were in unanimous agreement on five of the 10 awards, and there was a three-fourths agreement on four of the other five.
American League Manager was the only one without a clear consensus, so let's start there.
Players/managers listed as "Also Considered" is a combination of those who received votes from our panel and those whom I at least contemplated for more than a moment.
AL Manager of the 1st Half: Scott Servais, Seattle
When in doubt for a Manager of the Year pick, it never hurts to compare a team's actual record to its Pythagorean record.
In the case of the Seattle Mariners and Scott Servais, the team is actually 48-43 and has a reasonable shot at making the postseason, while its Pythagorean record—otherwise known as the expected record based solely on the numbers of runs scored and allowed—is 40-51.
In other words, the Mariners have won eight more games than they "should" have, thanks to a ton of success in close contests. (No other team in the majors has a W/L record more than four games better than its Pythagorean record.) They are 19-8 in one-run games and 10-1 in extra-inning games, boasting the best winning percentage in the majors in both of those categories.
That crunch-time success wouldn't be all that noteworthy if the Mariners had one of the best closers in the big leagues, but they don't even have a closer. Six different pitchers have tallied at least one save. None of them has more than eight. And during one three-game stretch in late May, the M's won three consecutive games saved by three different relievers.
Throw in the fact that their third-highest paid player (James Paxton) lasted just 1.1 innings before undergoing Tommy John Surgery and their second-highest paid player (Kyle Seager) is batting .213, and it sure feels like Servais is some sort of wizard.
Also Considered: Alex Cora, Boston; Dusty Baker, Houston
NL Manager of the 1st Half: Gabe Kapler, San Francisco
Per DraftKings, the San Francisco Giants had a preseason win total over/under line of 75.5, good for fifth-lowest in the National League. Not only that, but so little was expected of the Giants that 64 percent of the money bet on that line came in on the under.
Suffice it to say, not many folks thought San Francisco would be sitting at the All-Star break with the best record in baseball (57-32), yet here they are.
So, yeah, Gabe Kapler for NL Manager of the Year (to date) was a rather easy decision.
Perhaps the most remarkable part is he has managed this team through a litany of injuries and absences. The Giants have played 89 games, but not a single player has appeared in 80 of them. Only four guys (Brandon Crawford, Wilmer Flores, Austin Slater and Mike Yastrzemski) have played in at least 75 percent of the team's games (67 games). And the best player on the roster (Buster Posey) has only played in 58 games.
Factor in the injuries to starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Logan Webb, and it's rather astounding how successful this club has been.
And it's not like Kapler came into the year with a stellar managerial track record. He went two games below .500 in his two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and finished two games below .500 with the Giants last year. As long as they don't drop off a cliff in the next 73 games, though, he's a shoe-in for NL Manager of the Year.
Also Considered: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee
AL Comeback Player of the 1st Half: Trey Mancini, Baltimore
Comeback Player of the Year is often a tricky one to nail down, because you have to consider both how impressive the player's season is and how unlikely his comeback was.
In a normal year, Yordan Alvarez would be a solid candidate for AL Comeback POY. Between testing positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of the season and subsequently having season-ending surgery on both of his knees, he missed all but two games last year. Now he's back as arguably the best hitter on the Houston Astros—arguably the best team in the American League.
Mitch Haniger would also be a fantastic option in most years. He missed the majority of the 2019 season and all of 2020 because of a ruptured testicle and several subsequent surgeries, but he has hit 20 home runs already this season as the brightest star of the surprisingly good Mariners.
But, really, how could we not pick Trey Mancini here?
The Baltimore Orioles first baseman/designated hitter missed all of last season while undergoing chemotherapy for stage 3 colon cancer discovered in March 2020.
He somehow didn't lose a single step.
From 2016-2019, Mancini had a 162-game pace of 31 home runs, which is exactly where he's at this year with 16 dingers at the All-Star break. Each part of his triple-slash line is a bit below his previous career levels, but he's, like, two good games away from matching those averages.
Also Considered: Mitch Haniger, Seattle; Yordan Alvarez, Houston; Carlos Rodon, Chicago
NL Comeback Player of the 1st Half: Buster Posey, San Francisco
Even before Buster Posey opted out of the entire pandemic-shortened 2020 season, it felt like he was in the denouement of his career.
From 2010-17, Posey was a regular recipient of NL MVP votes. He batted .309 and slugged .475, averaging 21 home runs per 162 games.
But in 2018, he batted .284 and slugged .382. The following year, those numbers dipped to .257 and .368, respectively. Between those two years, his per-162 home run rate was just nine. And then the six-time (now seven-time) All-Star catcher opted out of his age-33 season.
Hard to imagine anyone coming back from that, given how rare it is for catchers to thrive into their mid-30s, let alone turn their career back around at that age after a steep decline.
Nevertheless, Posey has been a fascinating comeback story. He's batting .328 and slugging .547, which are the highest marks of his career with the exception of his 2012 NL MVP year (.336 and .549, respectively). He's also more patient at the plate these days, drawing walks at a career-best rate of 13.3 percent, which in turn translates to a career-best on-base percentage of .421.
The fact that he's doing this as the heart and soul of the team with the best record in baseball is like throwing gas on the comeback fire.
Also Considered: Craig Kimbrel, Chicago
AL Rookie of the 1st Half: Adolis Garcia, Texas
Back in the preseason, Tampa Bay's Randy Arozarena was the heavy favorite to be named AL Rookie of the Year—and with good reason. The man mashed 10 home runs in 18 games during the 2020 postseason.
But while Arozarena has managed just 10 home runs thus far during the 2021 regular season, a different rookie outfielder crushed his way onto the All-Star roster.
Texas' Adolis Garcia is tied for fifth in the American League in home runs with 22. He's also batting .270 and slugging .527, which are both the highest marks among Rangers who have made at least 25 plate appearances.
That is despite cooling off considerably over the past month-plus.
Despite not making his season debut until April 13, Garcia was tied with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the MLB lead with 16 home runs on May 26. At that point, he was batting .288 and slugging .619, albeit in relative obscurity for a team which has been in dead last in the AL West since the day he hit that 16th homer.
Garcia was designated for assignment by the St. Louis Cardinals in December 2019, and again by the Rangers this past February. This isn't exactly a "top prospect seizes his opportunity to shine" sort of situation. Even though he hit for power in the minors, it's almost hard to believe he's even in the majors right now, let alone as an All Star.
Also Considered: Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay
NL Rookie of the 1st Half: Trevor Rogers, Miami
We all knew the Miami Marlins had one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in all of baseball.
We just didn't realize it was this one.
Sixto Sanchez was supposed to be Miami's NL ROY candidate, but he has not pitched this season and has already undergone season-ending shoulder surgery.
In his stead, Trevor Rogers has emerged as one of the best starting pitchers in the National League, rookie or otherwise.
He only has a 7-6 record to show for it, but Rogers has a 2.31 ERA and has held the opposition to three or fewer runs in each of his 18 starts. He's averaging just under 11 K/9 and a little better than 3.5 K/BB.
Astoundingly good and consistent stuff from a guy who had a 6.11 ERA in 28 innings pitched in 2020 and who made just five career appearances at the Double-A level before making that leap to the majors.
Had it not been for the pandemic eliminating the 2020 minor-league season, Rogers probably would have spent last year in either Double-A or Triple-A. Who's to say he would've even been in the big leagues this year were it not for Sanchez's shoulder injury? But it seems his accelerated career path and 2020 trial by fire did the flame-throwing lefty quite a bit of good.
Also Considered: Ian Anderson, Atlanta
AL Cy Young of the 1st Half: Carlos Rodon, Chicago
Four months ago, it wasn't even clear if Carlos Rodon would be a part of Chicago's 2021 starting rotation. He had a 5.19 ERA in seven starts in 2019 before undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he had an unsightly 8.22 ERA in his limited 7.2 innings of work last season. Heading into spring training, the fifth starting job appeared to be a toss up between Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and highly touted prospects Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet.
But Rodon's excellent spring (13.2 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 16 K) coupled with a disastrous spring training for Lopez (11 ER in 11 IP) gave Rodon—the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft—a chance at the back end of the rotation.
In his first start, he went five scoreless innings with nine strikeouts against Seattle.
In his second start, he threw a no-hitter against Cleveland.
Five starts into the season, Rodon was a perfect 5-0 with a 0.58 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP. And that doesn't even include the back-to-back starts in late May in which his combined line against the Yankees and Cardinals was 12.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 23 K, nor the seven innings of one-hit ball that he threw against the Tigers in mid-June.
There have been a handful of mediocre outings along the way that boosted his first-half ERA to 2.31, but with a K/9 rate of 13.05 and a K/BB rate of 5.0, he's still the relatively easy choice for AL Cy Young at this point.
Also Considered: Gerrit Cole, New York; Lance Lynn, Chicago; Nathan Eovaldi, Boston
NL Cy Young of the 1st Half: Jacob deGrom, New York
One of these days, Jacob deGrom has to throw a no-hitter, right?
Through 15 starts in 2021, the two-time (soon to be three-time) NL Cy Young winner has yet to allow more than five baserunners in a game. He has allowed just 3.8 hits per nine innings, which is outrageous. Per Baseball Reference, no qualified MLB pitcher has ever finished a season with an H/9 rate below 5.0.
That "best of all time" statistic might not even be his most impressive one, as he's also averaging 13.3 strikeouts per walk. Only three qualified pitchers in MLB history previously had a season with a ratio better than 10.0, the highest of which was Phil Hughes' mark of 11.6 in 2014. Granted, deGrom's rate could go up in smoke with one sloppy game, but it's stunning he has made it this far into the season with such a ratio.
And while it seems absurd to suggest he could get even better in the second half, it bears mentioning that the Mets have been taking it easy on their ace since the minor injuries he suffered in May. DeGrom has thrown fewer than 90 pitches in nine of his past 10 starts, averaging 75.3 pitches per start over the past two-plus months. Because he's so darn efficient, though, he still managed to go at least five innings in nine of those starts.
If he gets back to full strength and gets stretched out for some eight- and nine-inning outings, perhaps that elusive no-hitter will finally come.
Also Considered: Kevin Gausman, San Francisco; Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee
AL MVP of the 1st Half: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles
As a pitcher, Shohei Ohtani has regained his pre-Tommy John surgery form. While winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2018, he had a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 in 10 starts. Through 13 starts this season, he's sitting at 3.49, 1.21 and 11.7, respectively. Not quite Cy Young numbers, but he's not far off from matching the current production of Shane Bieber, last year's AL Cy Young winner: 3.28 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 12.9 K/9.
As a hitter, Ohtani is easily one of the best in the majors, if not definitively the best. His 33 home runs are five better than any other hitter this season. Through 89 team games, he's on pace to finish the year with 60. He also has 19 doubles and three triples as part of a monstrous .698 slugging percentage.
And as a baserunner, Ohtani has stolen 12 bases, putting him on pace for roughly 22 swiped bags by the end of the year.
There have only ever been four 50-HR/20-SB seasons in MLB history: Willie Mays in 1955, Brady Anderson in 1996, Ken Griffey Jr. in 1998 and Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Anderson's 1996 season will forever be one of baseball's biggest oddities, but the other three members of that club rank among the best hitters of all time.
In short, Ohtani is batting and running like Griffey in his prime while also pitching well enough to be the ace of at least 20 of the league's 30 pitching staffs. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is having a sensational season, but what Ohtani has been up to is downright historic.
Also Considered: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto
NL MVP of the 1st Half: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego
On April 23, 1999, Fernando Tatis became the only player in MLB history to hit two grand slams in a single inning. But that was merely his second-most noteworthy contribution to baseball. The greater came a few months before that when his son was born.
Twenty-two years later, Fernando Tatis Jr. has emerged as the National League's leader in home runs, stolen bases and bat-flipping swag for what might be the best Padres team in franchise history.
Despite both a slow start (Tatis was batting .118 as late as April 19) and missing 17 of the team's first 43 games (minor shoulder injury and a stint on the COVID-19 list), El Nino has hit 28 home runs and stolen 20 bags.
From April 20 through the end of May, Tatis triple-slashed .359/.431/.845 with 14 homers and 12 steals in just 29 games, earning NL Player of the Month honors for May.
He hit five home runs in the span of six games in mid-June. A bit later in the month, he hit three home runs in the span of four innings in a win over the Diamondbacks.
He's five home runs behind Shohei Ohtani and four stolen bases behind Whit Merrifield, so he probably won't wind up leading the majors in both categories. If he does manage to pull it off, though, he would become just the second player to do so. The other was Ty Cobb (9 HR, 76 SB) in 1909.
The naysayers love to complain about his errors in the field, but if Tatis is able to do something that hasn't been done in more than a century, it's going to be mighty hard to argue against him for NL MVP.
Also Considered: Jacob deGrom, New York; Trea Turner, Washington