End-Of-Year 2021 MLB Awards Picks for MVP, Cy Young, ROY and More
With the MLB postseason just around the corner, one order of business is to get through these regular-season awards.
It was nice to finally have a full 162-game season sample size to work with again, unlike last year's odd 60-game campaign.
The MVP awards seem pretty obvious after dissecting the numbers, while the Cy Young, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards are more interesting to debate.
These picks are the ones we think should win, keeping in mind what is most likely to happen.
So let's chat it up.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners
Mitch Haniger was one of the Mariners' biggest question marks heading into the 2021 season. He had not played since 2019 when a ruptured testicle cut his season short.
He missed the pandemic-shortened 2020 season because of multiple surgeries, and he just hadn't been the same player since becoming an All-Star in 2018.
In his comeback season, Haniger hit 39 home runs—by far a career high—with an .804 OPS.
If that's not enough, in Game 161, he knocked in five runs in a 6-4 win against the Los Angeles Angels to keep the Mariners' wild-card dreams alive for the final day of the regular season.
Haniger's two-run homer in the fifth inning broke a 1-1 tie. Then, his two-run single in the eighth inning put the Mariners ahead for good.
While the Mariners ended up falling just short of the playoffs, Haniger slashed .253/.318/.485 and provided power in the middle of a scrappy Mariners lineup that lacked it a year ago.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey opted out of 2020 to spend time with his family, including adopted twin girls born eight weeks premature last summer.
But Posey wasn't exactly good when he last played in 2019. Two years ago, he slashed .257/.320/.368, all career lows since after his debut in 2009.
This year, Posey's either at or above his career averages with a .304/.390/.499 slash line.
He led the Giants in batting average and on-base percentage, in addition to the Giants posting the best record in Major League Baseball.
The National League West was supposed to belong to the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. Instead, Posey helped lead the Giants to a franchise-record 107 games.
AL Manager of the Year: Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners
It would be too easy to give this award to Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays, Tony La Russa of the Chicago White Sox or Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.
Those managers were working with the American League's best teams and have all done an admirable job.
But let's face it, all three of those teams ended the season exactly where they were expected to finish.
It was understood the Rays, who won the pennant last year, would remain contenders under Cash. La Russa and Baker had a lot more to work with than Mariners manager Scott Servais.
The Mariners weren't expected to contend for years, let alone play .500 baseball this season.
Servais decided the future was now, and they went 90-72 to surpass the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics in the AL West hierarchy behind the Astros.
This award will probably go to Cash, but managers like Servais and A.J. Hinch of the Detroit Tigers deserve more credit for what they did much with less.
NL Manager of the Year: Gabe Kapler, San Francisco Giants
Best record in baseball. Won the division over defending World Series champions, who would have had the best record in baseball if not for this team.
No one else is competing for this honor against Giants manager Gabe Kapler.
The argument Kapler is similar to the one for Servais: Neither club was supposed to be this impressive. But Kapler obviously achieved more, leading the Giants to more wins (107) than they've ever had in franchise history.
Furthermore, think about how Kapler managed the Giants' depth and got everyone to buy in. When veterans like Brandon Belt, Tommy La Stella and Evan Longoria made their way back from the injured list, it didn't impact the bench roles for players like Wilmer Flores, Darin Ruf and Donovan Solano.
Who knows how much of a threat the Giants will be in a postseason, but what they did in the regular season was nothing short of phenomenal.
AL Rookie of the Year: Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
Is Wander Franco already one of the 25 best players in baseball?
Maybe it's too early to go that far, but he looked like the best rookie in the American League. There is an interesting battle among Tampa Bay Rays teammates for this award, with Randy Arozarena making a strong case for himself as well.
In 70 games, Franco's batting average led all American League rookies.
Arozarena slashed a .274/.356/.459, while Franco posted a comparable (and slightly better) .288/.347/.463. But these numbers also take into account for Franco's slow start.
Over his last 30 games, Franco went .355/.409/.545.
It also says a lot when a team can trade a player of Willy Adames' caliber and not miss a beat with the young guy meant to replace him.
NL Rookie of the Year: Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins
No rookie has pitched better this season than the Marlins' Trevor Rogers. His 2.64 ERA is the lowest of all rookie starting pitchers.
Rogers was third among rookies in strikeouts and fifth in innings pitched. Simply put, the Marlins heavily relied on him, and he delivered.
Even when you consider some drop-off later in the year, the start to the season was impressive. Rogers held an ERA under 2.00 until the second half of June and was the Marlins' lone All-Star representative.
The missed starts and trailing off at the end of the season could hurt his chances (3.69 ERA, 1.42 WHIP over last seven starts), but he was clearly the best National League rookie.
AL Cy Young Award: Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays
This seemed like Gerrit Cole's award to win until the Toronto Blue Jays' Robbie Ray had something to say about it. Cole probably should already have an American League Cy Young Award from his final season in Houston two years ago, but he was edged by then-teammate Justin Verlander.
That was a two-man race for a majority of 2019, but this year, it's Ray and Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon from the Chicago White Sox challenging Cole.
You can't go wrong with either Ray or Cole, but Ray gets the nod here after leading the American League in ERA (2.84), strikeouts (248), WHIP (1.05) and quality starts (23).
For all the attention Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is getting in the MVP race, Ray has been just as impressive from the mound.
NL Cy Young Award: Walker Buehler
Walker Buehler has had "Cy Young" written all over him for a while, but he finally put it together in 2021.
Boasting a 2.47 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, both ranking in the top four across baseball, Buehler has taken over as the Dodgers' clear ace, even before the trade for Max Scherzer.
Buehler's teammate, Julio Urias, had the most wins (20), and Scherzer had a slightly lower ERA (2.46), but no one in baseball had more quality starts than Buehler (27).
Zack Wheeler and Corbin Burnes have solid cases for the NL Cy Young, but Buehler right now is the best pitcher on the best team in MLB.
AL MVP: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
This one doesn't really seem fair because, without the existence of Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is well deserving of the MVP award.
However, Ohtani does exist in a very big way. His 46 home runs ranked third in the American League behind only Guerrero and Salvador Perez. Ohtani was also sixth in the American League with 26 stolen bases.
But Ohtani was also an All-Star-level pitcher, which helps the argument for MVP if just for context alone.
He recorded a 3.18 ERA, 156 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.09 over 130.1 innings in 23 starts.
He put up all of these offensive numbers all while pitching at an elite level. Or look at it vice versa if you prefer.
Ohtani led all MLB players in WAR (8.9), and you'd find a difficult time imagining greater value than what he's provided this season.
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
Forgive Bryce Harper for his numbers before the All-Star break and allow yourself to marvel at what he's done since.
From April 1 to July 11, he was slashing .282/.378/.520.
Then, Harper clearly realized who he was and has since hit .338/.476/.713. That comes out to an absurd 1.188 OPS, and he eventually finished the regular season with 35 home runs, 84 RBI and a line of .309/.429/.615.
For context of how rare Harper's second half has been: Only Lou Gehrig (1934), Barry Bonds (2001) and Babe Ruth (five times) have posted at least a 1.170 OPS, .700 slugging percentage, .470 on-base percentage with more than 19 home runs, 50 runs scored, 60 walks and 46 extra-base hits.
Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. deserve serious consideration. Both were higher in WAR and either could well win the award.
However, neither of their teams played .500 ball. The Phillies did and Harper gets the nod for what he did to keep them in the postseason mix for as long as they were.