As we head into the home stretch of the 2016 season, Awards Watch takes one more look at this year’s MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year races in an attempt to determine who would be most deserving of each award if the season ended today. This week finds further jockeying atop the AL MVP race, a more defined NL MVP race and a big gainer you might not expect in the AL Cy Young race.
Note: All stats are through Wed., Aug. 24. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on Sept. 1. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.
Most Valuable Player
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (2)
Season Stats: .312/.430/.553 (170 OPS+), 24 HR, 78 RBIs, 96 R, 241 TB, 21 SB (84%)
Last Two Weeks: .314/.500/.629, 3 HR, 4 RBIs, 22 TB
2. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (1)
Season Stats: .361/.422/.571 (171 OPS+), 20 HR, 84 RBIs, 90 R, 285 TB, 26 SB (79%)
Last Two Weeks: .356/.381/.576, 1 HR, 16 RBIs, 34 TB
Having closed the gap at the plate over the last two weeks, Trout moves back in front this week on the strength of his superior fielding and base running. It seems likely that these two will trade places a few more times in September before one of them ultimately takes home this award.
3. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays (3)
Season Stats: .289/.401/.549 (152 OPS+), 28 HR, 81 RBIs, 98 R, 253 TB, 6 SB (86%)
Last Two Weeks: .212/.350/.333, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 11 TB
A jammed thumb and a power outage that has lasted nearly a month (just four extra-base hits since July 29) have combined to put Donaldson well behind Trout and Altuve. This week, he just barely edges out Mookie Betts, who has hit .359/.398/.652 in August and leads the majors with 295 total bases. With 5 1/2 weeks left in the season, this looks to be a two-man race.
1. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Cubs (1)
Season Stats: .301/.393/.575 (156 OPS+), 33 HR, 86 RBIs, 104 R, 275 TB
Last Two Weeks: .424/.462/.780, 5 HR, 16 RBIs, 46 TB
2. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (3)
Season Stats: .322/.376/.540 (145 OPS+), 22 HR, 61 RBIs, 86 R, 265 TB
Last Two Weeks: .469/.519/.592, 1 HR, 6 RBIs, 29 TB
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs (2)
Season Stats: .298/.396/.560 (153 OPS+), 25 HR, 87 RBIs, 76 R, 256 TB
Last Two Weeks: .362/.383/.500, 1 HR, 6 RBIs, 29 TB
I had this race as a virtual three-way tie last week, but a big surge from Bryant over the last two weeks has put him comfortably in the lead despite the fact that Seager and Rizzo had excellent fortnights as well.
There’s some compelling history at stake here: No National Leaguer has ever won the MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season, something Seager is in reach of doing this year (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki are the only American Leaguers to turn the trick). Bryant, meanwhile, is looking to keep a personal awards streak alive. He won the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy as the best amateur and college player, respectively, in the country in 2013; was named Minor League Player of the Year for '14 by both Baseball America and USA Today; and was the unanimous winner of last year’s NL Rookie of the Year award. No player has ever won all five of those awards and major league MVP honors in the span of just four seasons.
Before I get to my rankings, a quick note: I explained why I don’t believe Orioles closer Zach Britton is a serious Cy Young candidate last week (and got a few more shots in on "MLB Now" on Wednesday), but just to make things perfectly clear, I’ve added a category for my actual AL candidates this week. “Britton plus” shows what each pitcher below has done beyond what Britton has accomplished this season by subtracting his 52 innings and mere four earned runs allowed from each pitcher's season line and presenting the number of innings and ERA Britton would need to add to what he has done this season to equal the performance of the pitcher in question. In each case, bear in mind that the league-average ERA for an AL starter this season is 4.42.
As for the argument that there haven’t been very many outstanding starting pitching performances in the AL this year, I’ll admit that there hasn’t necessarily been a single one that stands out. But I’m expanding my list to seven below to prove that there are plenty of starters to choose from when assembling an AL Cy Young ballot this year.
1. Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians (1)
Season Stats: 13–8, 3.13 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 4.07 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 150 ERA+, 2.88 DRA
Britton plus: 117 2/3 IP of a 4.21 ERA
Last Two Weeks: 3 GS, 2–0, 2.89 ERA, 18 2/3 IP, 17 H, 5 R, 8 BB, 18 K, 4 HR
Kluber’s late charge for this award continues, as he has now made eight straight quality starts and gone 5–0 with a 1.78 ERA over that span. However, he has his work cut out for himself in convincing the electorate that he is the best pitcher in the league this year. Then again, that may not be true for much longer given the performance of the next man on this list.
2. Danny Duffy, LHP, Royals
Season Stats: 11–1, 2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 5.07 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS, 1 CG, 165 ERA+, 3.19 DRA
Britton plus: 86 2/3 IP of a 3.84 ERA
Last Two Weeks: 3 GS, 3–0, 1.16 ERA, 23 1/3 IP, 18 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 15 K, 1 HR
Moved to the rotation in mid-May, Duffy threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings on pitch limits across his first two starts, then had his lone disaster start of the year against the White Sox on May 27 (5 1/3 IP, 5 R). Since then, he has gone 11–1 with a 2.50 ERA in 16 starts with 113 strikeouts in 108 innings, averaging 6.8 innings pitched per start with a 5.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has clearly been the best pitcher in the AL over that three-month span, and, now that he has cleared the cutoff to qualify, is leading the league in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP.
What’s more, despite spending the first month and a half of the season in the bullpen, Duffy has thrown just 11 2/3 fewer innings than J.A. Happ, who will draw some Cy Young attention due to his 17–3 record but does not make my top seven here. Duffy is still 31 innings shy of Kluber, but that gap could shrink over the final month of the season, giving the Royals' lefty a very real chance to walk away with this award.
3. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees
Season Stats: 11–4, 3.11 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 5.07 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS, 139 ERA+, 3.33 DRA
Britton plus: 116 IP of a 4.19 ERA
Last Two Weeks: 3 GS, 3–0, 1.66 ERA, 21 2/3 IP, 16 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 22 K, 2 HR
Tanaka has been lurking just outside my top three for most of the season, but this is the first time he has cracked the official list, doing so after throwing 14 2/3 scoreless innings in his last two starts with 14 strikeouts against just one walk. Still just 27 and under contract through 2020, he is very much a part of the Yankees’ current youth movement, as he is younger than relief ace Dellin Betances and was born the same month as backup catcher Austin Romine.
4. Rick Porcello, RHP, Red Sox
Season Stats: 17–3, 3.23 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 5.18 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 2 CG, 140 ERA+, 4.03 DRA
Britton plus: 120 2/3 IP of a 4.33 ERA
Last Two Weeks: 3 GS, 2–0, 2.08 ERA, 21 2/3 IP, 16 H, 6 R (5 ER), 2 BB, 20 K, 3 HR
Porcello is not here because of his won-loss record but because he has posted a 2.31 ERA over his last six starts with a 0.77 WHIP and 9.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Deserved Run Average isn’t buying in (Porcello has been hit-lucky to the tune of a .205 BABIP over those last six starts), which is why I still have him below Tanaka. Unlike Happ, however, Porcello, who leads the seven pitchers on this list with 172 2/3 innings and made my top three in mid-May, is a legitimate contender for this award.
5. Jose Quintana, LHP, White Sox (2)
Season Stats: 10–9, 2.84 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 3.74 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 143 ERA+, 3.42 DRA
Britton plus: 112 2/3 IP of a 3.83 ERA
Last Two Weeks: 2 GS, 1–1, 2.77 ERA, 13 IP, 15 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 9 K, 1 HR
Quintana, who has been a regular on this list this season, has an active streak of seven straight quality starts during which he has posted a 1.91 ERA. That streak started with his first start after the All-Star break, a win in Seattle on July 19, and he will look to extend it against those same Mariners on Saturday.
6. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox
Season Stats: 15–6, 3.15 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.34 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 4 CG, 1 SHO, 129 ERA+, 2.70 DRA
Britton plus: 116 2/3 IP of a 4.24 ERA
Last Two Weeks: 2 GS, 1–1, 3.07 ERA, 14 2/3 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 15 K
The early leader in this race, Sale has been erratic both on and off the mound as the season has progressed. But he still has strong peripherals, is the league leader in DRA and hasn’t fallen so far behind that he couldn’t still surge back to the top with a strong September.
7. Cole Hamels, LHP, Rangers
Season Stats: 13–4, 2.80 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 2.61 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS, 161 ERA+, 2.93 DRA
Britton plus: 108 2/3 IP of a 3.81 ERA
Last Two Weeks: 2 GS, 1–1, 1.88 ERA, 14 1/3 IP, 17 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 15 K, 1 HR
DRA suggests that I’ve been allowing Hamels's career-high walk rate (3.4 per nine) to color my perception of his season too much. That walk rate has inflated his WHIP, which is his highest since 2009, and slashed his strikeout-to-walk ratio (a career low). Still among the pitchers included here, only Duffy has thrown fewer innings than Hamels’s 160 2/3. I don’t deny that Hamels has been effective this year, but I still struggle to see him as a stronger Cy Young contender than any of the other men on this list.
Off the list: Aaron Sanchez (3)
1. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants (1)
Season Stats: 12–8, 2.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 4.30 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 4 CG, 1 SHO, 167 ERA+, 3.22 DRA
Last Two Weeks: 3 GS, 2–1, 4.76 ERA, 17 IP, 18 H, 9 R, 7 BB, 21 K, 2 HR
2. Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals (2)
Season Stats: 13–7, 3.05 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 4.93 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 1 CG, 137 ERA+, 2.91 DRA
Last Two Weeks: 2 GS, 1–0, 6.97 ERA, 10 1/3 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 5 BB, 9 K, 1 HR
3. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Giants
Season Stats: 14–4, 2.86 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 4.65 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 143 ERA+, 3.66 DRA
Last Two Weeks: 3 GS, 1–1, 2.29 ERA, 19 2/3 IP, 20 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 12 K, 2 HR
Bumgarner—who leads the majors with 180 2/3 innings pitched—and Scherzer both stumbled in their last two starts. As a result, there has been no movement at the top of these standings, but this is not yet a two-man race. Further struggles from those two combined with a strong September from any of a number of pitchers—such as Cueto, Jake Arrieta, Noah Syndergaard, Jose Fernandez or even Clayton Kershaw, if he can return quickly enough—could alter things significantly. Innings and injury concerns for those last three pitchers, however, would seem to limit their chances significantly.
Off the list: Clayton Kershaw (3)
Rookie of the Year
1. Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers (1)
Season Stats: 10–4, 2.58 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 3.15 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 161 ERA+, 2.97 DRA
Last Two Weeks: 2 GS, 1–1, 3.68 ERA, 14 2/3 IP, 14 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 10 K, 2 HR
Fulmer would be leading the AL in ERA were he not a third of an inning shy of qualifying entering Thursday’s action. The 23-year-old appears to have this award on lock, but his next start bears watching. Two starts ago, he shut out the Rangers, striking out nine and allowing just four singles, one of which was erased by a caught stealing. That was his first complete game as a professional and required a career-high 112 pitches. The next time out, he gave up six runs in 5 2/3 innings to Red Sox, striking out just one. He should rebound from that bad outing in his next start against the light-hitting Angels, but he is now 16 1/3 innings past his previous career high, so any such sign of fatigue should be taken seriously.
2. Chris Devenski, RHP, Astros
Season Stats: 2–4, 2.36 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 4.05 K/BB, 168 ERA+, 87 2/3 IP
Last Two Weeks: 4 G, 1 GS, 2–0, 1.46 ERA, 12 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 11 K, 1 HR
The Astros needed a spot-starter for their doubleheader against the Twins on Aug. 11, so they turned to Devenski, who has been outstanding as a long man out of the bullpen this year. All Devenski did was stretch 71 pitches over five scoreless innings, allowing just three base runners, one of them on an error. Since returning to the 'pen, he has allowed just three hits and two walks in 7 1/3 innings, picking up another win with a four-inning outing on Aug. 19.
Devenski had one awful start against the Red Sox back on May 15, but in his other four starts this season he has posted a 1.99 ERA. In his 30 relief appearances, which have averaged more than two innings in length, he has posted a 1.71 ERA. He has now consumed 87 2/3 innings on the season, and it’s difficult to imagine the Astros still being in the wild-card hunt without him.
3. Tyler Naquin, CF, Indians (2)
Season Stats: .308/.366/.576 (137 OPS+), 14 HR, 39 RBIs, 42 R, 144 TB, 278 PA
Last Two Weeks: .290/.273/.484, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 15 TB
Naquin is a poor defensive centerfielder, and a rash of opposing lefty starters limited his playing time over the last two weeks, as he is in a strict platoon with Rajai Davis. Still, he's managed to make an impact with his bat. He didn’t start Cleveland’s game against the Blue Jays last Friday, but he finished it, literally:
Off the list: Max Kepler (2)
1. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (1)
Season Stats: .322/.376/.540 (145 OPS+), 22 HR, 61 R, 86 RBI, 265 TB
Last Two Weeks: .469/.519/.592, 1 HR, 6 RBIs, 29 TB
2. Aledmys Diaz, SS, Cardinals (2)
Season Stats: .312/.376/.518 (136 OPS+), 14 HR, 57 RBIs, 64 R, 183 TB
3. Trevor Story, SS, Rockies (3)
Season Stats: .272/.341/.567 (119 OPS+), 27 HR, 72 RBIs, 67 R, 211 TB
With Story and Diaz both out with injuries since the end of July—the former is done for the year and the latter is still at least a couple of weeks away from a return—this race is over. The 22-year-old Seager should not only win this year’s Rookie of the Year honors, but he should also do so unanimously.