The finalists for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards were announced Tuesday night, with three nominees named for each award — Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year — in each league. There were few surprises among them. All of the expected winners are in place: Mike Trout for American League MVP, Clayton Kershaw for National League Cy Young, Jose Abreu for AL Rookie of the Year and Jacob deGrom for NL Rookie of the year. The top candidates in the two awards that are the most difficult to call are also set, with Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber among the AL Cy Young finalists, and Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton and 2013 winner Andrew McCutchen filling out the field for the NL MVP award.
In fact, of the 12 players who are finalists for their respective league’s MVP or Cy Young award, 11 of them were in my top three in my final regular-season edition of Awards Watch on Sept. 25. The lone exception is the Tigers’ Victor Martinez, who joins Trout and Cleveland’s Michael Brantley among the AL MVP finalists, beating out the Astros' Jose Altuve, whom I had third on my September list.
Martinez is certainly a deserving candidate, having led the majors in OPS (.974) and the AL in on-base percentage (.409). He finished second in batting average behind Altuve (.335 to .341) and slugging percentage behind Abreu (.565 to .581), and struck out just 42 times while connecting for 32 home runs and driving in 103 runs. However, having made 115 starts at designated hitter, he would seem to have little real chance of winning this award, as no player who played the majority of his games at DH has ever won the MVP. Still, Trout fans may not sleep as easy tonight knowing that there’s another Tigers slugger among the AL MVP finalists this year.
The most surprising name among the 24 called Tuesday night, however, was that of one of Trout’s teammates, Angels righthander Matt Shoemaker, who was among the finalists for AL Rookie of the Year. Shoemaker was inarguably excellent for the Angels, and was crucial for them in the wake of the late-season injuries to Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards. But he was inferior to fellow rookie Masahiro Tanaka, who was not among the finalists, across the board.
Shoemaker: 136 IP, 27 G, 20 GS, 16-4, 3.04 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 5.17 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS, 0 CG, 0 SHO, 120 ERA+
Tanaka: 136 1/3 IP, 20 G, 20 GS, 13-5, 2.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 6.71 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 140 ERA+
The only possible reasons for Shoemaker to be a finalist ahead of Tanaka, who is two years younger, are that he had more wins; that Tanaka got hurt and missed most of the second half of the season (which is unfair, given that Tanaka actually threw a third of an inning more than Shoemaker and made as many starts); or that a portion of the electorate felt that Tanaka was not a "true rookie" because he had starred in Japan prior to singing with the Yankees.
That last is xenophobic at best in part because Tanaka is technically a rookie under the rules that govern this award. As I wrote in my July 3 edition of Awards Watch, Tanaka, unlike Shoemaker, not only had never pitched in the major leagues prior to this season, but also had to deal with culture shock, a language barrier and radical life changes that Shoemaker, who was born and raised in Michigan and had pitched for Salt Lake City for the last two-plus years, did not. Above all else, it’s absurd because Abreu, who also starred in a foreign league prior to arriving in the major leagues, is going to win the award.
Nonetheless, the list of finalists named Tuesday night was encouraging. With no egregious omissions, we could see a deserving candidate take home all eight awards next week. The winners will be announced from Monday through Thursday of next week, with the Rookies of the Year named on Monday, the Managers of the Year on Tuesday, the Cy Youngs on Wednesday and the Most Valuable Players on Thursday. All ceremonies will air live on MLB Network in hour-long programs starting at 6 p.m. ET each evening.
Here’s the full list of finalists, listed in alphabetical order for each award.
AL MVP: Michael Brantley, Victor Martinez, Mike Trout
NL MVP: Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Dellin Betances, Matt Shoemaker
AL Manager of the Year: Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter, Ned Yost
NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, Clint Hurdle, Matt Williams