With less than three weeks left in the season, there's still a lot to be decided in the major player awards. My list of the National League MVP candidates has a new leader for the third time in my last three looks at that race, there's some potential for mischief in the American League MVP voting and the Cy Young awards in both leagues are virtual toss-ups. Only the Rookie of the Year races are all but decided.
Note: 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 each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list. All stats are through Wednesday, September 13. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics.
1. Buster Posey, C, Giants (3)
Season Stats: .333/.408/.542, 21 HR, 89 RBI
Posey went 11-for-20 in his last five games with three doubles and two home runs and now leads the NL in on-base percentage and OPS+ (170), the later mark mere decimal points behind Mike Trout's major league-leading figure. He doesn't lead the league in Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (bWAR), but that's largely due to the fact that WAR is a cumulative stat and catchers simply can't play every day. Posey, though, has come close, starting in all but 17 of the Giants 143 games by starting 23 at first base and three at designated hitter. For a catcher to play that much and still be this hot at the plate (he's hitting .393/.470/.658 since the All-Star break) is very special.
2. Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers (1)
Season Stats: .310/.385/.593, 38 HR, 100 RBI, 93 R, 23 SB
That the Brewers have pushed their record over .500 and into the wild-card picture will help Braun's chances of actually winning this award, but from my perspective, his slow last week, was just enough to let Posey surge past him for the lead in this race. Braun had just one extra-base hit in seven games and dropped his slugging percentage below .600.
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates (2)
Season Stats: .340/.406/.559, 26 HR, 85 RBI, 97 R
McCutchen snapped a 20-game home run drought with longballs on Sunday and Monday, but outside of those two games, in which he also walked four times, once intentionally, he hasn't given any meaningful indication that he's breaking out of his second-half doldrums.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)
Season Stats:.331/.396/.569, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 114 R, 45 SB>
Lest anyone think Trout is wilting as the pennant races heat up, in nine games against wild-card rivals Detroit and Oakland dating back to last Monday, he has hit .314/.400/.514 with a pair of home runs and three stolen bases in three attempts, picking up a hit in eight of those nine contests. He leads both leagues in the major wins above replacement stats by a lot, and in OPS+ (which doesn't factor in his outstanding baserunning and fielding) by a little. There's still a threat that the writers will distribute their first-place votes to other candidates if the Angels miss the playoffs, but any voter doing so will only be illuminating his or her own shortcomings, not Trout's.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (2)
Season Stats: .328/.393/.590, 36 HR, 118 RBI
The comments below last week's edition of this column were largely concerned with Cabrera vs. Trout, with some readers outraged that I didn't list a player threatening to win a Triple Crown atop my list. A week later, Cabrera has lost his leads in batting average (to Trout) and RBIs (to Josh Hamilton) and is now five home runs off the AL leader (Hamilton again) with just 20 games left to play. Miguel Cabrera isn't going to win the Triple Crown, which shouldn't come as a surprise since no one has since 1967, and unless the Tigers win the Central and the voters lose their minds, he's not going to win the MVP either.
3. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (3)
Season Stats: .300/.368/.540, 30 HR, 77 RBI
Cano's platoon partner, some guy named Jeter, has gone 17-for-37 (.459) over the last eight games, surging into third place in the competition for the batting title and drawing some speculation about his place in the MVP race should the Yankees pull out the division title. I suppose the idea is that Jeter, who has never won the award, might receive some sort of lifetime-achievement vote and win his first MVP the same way that Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese won their first Oscars for Scent of A Woman and The Departed, respectively, after being passed over for superior work in their primes. I don't see it.
It's true that the MVP voting hasn't made as much progress over the years as Cy Young voting, where the writers have finally learned to look past wins and losses, but for all the complaints filed about the award being married to RBIs and team performance, the emeritus vote has never really been an issue. The only possible exception I can see is Willie Stargell, who won the award in 1979 at the age of 39 for a season in which he was 37th in the league in bWAR but a beloved team leader for a first-place Pirates team. Even then, Stargell only managed a tie for the award.
Jeter is having an outstanding season for a 38-year-old shortstop, but he's just 45th in the league in bWAR. Meanwhile, his double-play partner is second (yes, ahead of Cabrera) with a season worth more than two and a half times as many wins as Jeter's. I might deride the voters' tendencies from time to time in this space, but I give them a lot more credit than to think that they'd make Jeter a top-five candidate for the award this year. A similar case was made for the Rangers' Michael Young last year and he finished eighth in the voting. I wouldn't even put Jeter that high.
1. R.A. Dickey, RHP, Mets (1)
Season Stats: 18-5, 2.68 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 (197 K), 4.10 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 5 CG, 3 SHO, 143 ERA+
2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (3)
Season Stats: 12-9, 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 (206 K), 3.89 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 140 ERA+
If you ignore their records, which you should, this is almost a total toss-up right now. I favor Dickey primarily because of his performance from the end of May into June, when he made five consecutive starts totaling 41 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run, the last two of them one-hitters, and over the course of eight starts struck out 10 or more five times and held his opponents scoreless five times. That was the most impressive stretch of pitching by any man in either league this year, and it's going to break any tie in Dickey's favor as far as I'm concerned.
3. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (2)
Season Stats: 17-8, 2.71 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 (155 K), 3.69 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 2 CG, 156 ERA+
In his only start since last week's Awards Watch, Cueto allowed four runs in four innings to the Astros and he has now allowed eight runs in his last two starts over 11 innings, raising his ERA 23 points in the process. He still leads the majors in ERA+, but without especially impressive peripherals, his lead in that one category isn't large enough to have him any higher than third.
1. Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers (1)
Season Stats: 13-8, 2.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.1 K/9 (212 K), 3.93 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 6 CG, 1 SHO, 144 ERA+
2. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (2)
Season Stats: 13-7, 2.67 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 (195 K), 3.98 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 5 SHO, 140 ERA+
3. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox (N/A)
Season Stats: 16-6, 2.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 8.9 K/9 (168 K), 3.82 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 1 CG, 151 ERA+
With Verlander and Hernandez both turning in disaster starts in the last week and David Price not pitching at all due to a minor shoulder injury, not much has changed in this race. That means that league wins- and ERA-leader Price (17-5, 2.54) is still the favorite to actually win the award, but I had him in third place last week due to Verlander and Hernandez's clear superiority in innings (Verlander has thrown 30 more innings than Price and starts again Thursday night), edge in most peripherals and what was effectively a three-way tie in adjusted ERA (ERA+). Price's inactivity has allowed Sale, who held the Royals to a run over six innings while striking out six in his lone start of the past week, to slip by into third place, at least for the time being.
Things may not remain the same for long, however, as Sale and Verlander face off in Chicago Thursday night with the Central division lead on the line, and Price is scheduled to return to action against the Yankees on Friday.
Out of the Top 3: David Price (3)
1. Wade Miley, LHP, Diamondbacks (1)
Season Stats: 15-9, 3.07 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.73 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS, 139 ERA+
Miley's only start in the last week was a dud, but his lead in this race is large enough that it didn't matter.
2. Mike Fiers, RHP, Brewers (3)
Season Stats: 9-7, 3.05 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.70 K/BB, 6.0 IP/GS, 135 ERA+
Just two of Fiers last six starts were quality, but he has still gone 3-1 with a 3.63 ERA over his last four, beating the Cardinals with five solid innings his last time out. There are other NL rookies who have turned in solid performances over a greater portion of the 2012 season than Fiers, who has thrown 109 1/3 innings over 18 starts and one relief outing, or who have excelled in one specific area or another, but other than Miley, none have been above average as far across the board as Fiers.
3. Todd Frazier, UT, Reds (2)
Season Stats: .283/.344/.516, 18 HR, 62 RBI
When Joey Votto came off the disabled list last week, Scott Rolen went down with a minor back injury, so Frazier started at third base in Votto's first five games back in the lineup, but Rolen returned to action on Tuesday and Frazier hasn't started either of the Reds games since. We still don't know exactly how Dusty Baker is going to distribute playing time over the season's final 18 games, but it doesn't look like Frazier, who still doesn't qualify for the batting title, will have enough opportunity left to catch Miley in this race, particularly given that he hasn't homered in his last 18 games and has hit .193//.270/.263 in his last 15.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)
Season Stats:.331/.396/.569, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 114 R, 45 SB
There's a burgeoning backlash against the idea of Trout winning the MVP, but I'm not sure there's a creature alive that is willing to argue that he won't be the deserving and unanimous Rookie of the Year.
2. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, A's (2)
Season Stats: .287/.343/.483, 18 HR, 68 RBI, 16 SB
Cespedes entered September with his average above .300 and his slugging percentage above .500 but he has hit just .174/.188/.326 on the month. Still, he has almost as firm a lock on second place in this race as Trout has on first, and he did homer in each of the A's last two wins over Trout's Angels.
3. Scott Diamond, LHP, Twins (3)
Season Stats: 11-7, 3.46 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 4.8 K/9, 3.04 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS, 118 ERA+
Diamond has posted a 6.64 ERA over his last four starts, a span which saw him throw at Josh Hamilton's head earning an ejection and a suspension. Meanwhile, Yu Darvish has gone 3-1 with a 2.52 ERA over his last five starts, all quality, while striking out 42 men in 35 2/3 innings. Darvish, who had a 7.76 ERA in the five starts prior to that and owns a 109 ERA+, 1.33 WHIP, and 2.31 K/BB, hasn't caught Diamond yet, but if the current trends continue, he will by the time the votes are cast.