Awards Watch: Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich Heading for Photo Finish in MVP Race

In our latest check at the National League award races, it's more apparent than ever that Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are locked in an epic duel for the MVP award.
By Emma Baccellieri ,

The trade deadline has passed, August is here, and so it’s time for another round of awards watch. (This post is just for the National League; American League awards watch can be found here. Last month's NL awards ballot lives here.) Belli versus Yeli! Scherzer versus Ryu! And a Rookie of the Year race that just might be one for the ages.

This piece picks 10 MVP contenders, five Cy Young choices, and three Rookie of the Year options, just like the actual BBWAA ballots. The rookie cut-off is 130 at-bats or 50 innings from the season(s) prior. Stats in bold indicate National League leader; stats in italics and bold indicate MLB leader. We used Baseball-Reference's version of WAR below.


1. Cody Bellinger, OF, Dodgers (Last Month: No. 1)

.322/.422/.668 (475 PA), 37 HR, 88 RBI, 69 BB, 9 SB (5 CS), 183 OPS+, 7.3 WAR

Bellinger has held the top spot here all season. Now, however, his grasp on it is more tenuous than it’s ever been. While Yelich has surged, Bellinger has… certainly not slumped, but he had his lowest monthly performance yet with a .942 OPS for July. That is, of course, still an objectively great number—but when you begin a season as hot as Bellinger did in 2019, the relative standards for “hot” and “cold” get spun out of whack, and in this context, his recent stretch has felt more like the latter than the former. Even so, he remains a comfortable NL leader in WAR (by both Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus), and nearly even in OPS+, which is enough to keep him #1… for now. 

2. Christian Yelich, OF, Brewers (Last Month: No. 2)

.336/.428/.705 (465 PA), 39 HR, 84 RBI, 23 SB (2 CS), 60 BB, 185 OPS+, 6.1 WAR

Yelich, if you’ll recall, was last year’s MVP… and he’s looking even better this year. He’s already passed his home run total. He’s already passed his stolen base total. His average, on-base, and slugging are higher than they were in 2018. And he’s a league leader in many of these stats. The Belli-vs.-Yeli race is tighter than it’s been at any point yet this season—close to totally even, at this point—and Yelich’s last two months have been crucial in closing the gap. 

3. Ketel Marte, 2B/OF, Diamondbacks (Last Month: No. 5)

.317/.377/.574 (485 PA), 24 HR, 66 RBI, 6 SB (1 CS), 41 BB, 141 OPS+, 5.4 WAR

Marte’s career season at the plate has continued apace. He’s set personal bests in just about every statistical category—including more home runs this season than he had in the previous four combined. And, of course, this is all in addition to his characteristically sterling defense up the middle, which gives him a solid boost in these rankings.

4. Ronald Acuña, Jr. OF, Braves (Last Month: No. 9) 

.294/.376/.513 (530 PA), 28 HR, 72 RBI, 26 SB (6 CS), 53 BB, 125 OPS+, 4.3 WAR

The NL’s stolen-base leader is coming off another solid month, keeping any idea of a sophomore slump extremely at bay.  

5. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals (Last Month: Not Ranked)

.315/.401/.601 (434 PA), 24 HR, 87 RBI, 2 SB (1 CS), 47 BB, 152 OPS+, 4.3 WAR

Rendon’s walk year is shaping up to be his best season yet—and he just might be looking something like the best third baseman in baseball. (Yes, he’s hitting better than Alex Bregman, Kris Bryant, Rafael Devers, Matt Chapman, and Nolan Arenado.)

6. Javier Báez, SS, Cubs (Last Month: No. 6)

.291/.323/.562 (473 PA), 28 HR, 76 RBI, 9 SB (5 CS), 22 BB, 122 OPS+, 4.5 WAR

Báez is repeating so much of what made him 2018’s NL MVP runner-up: premium defense at a premium position, with a solid bat to match.  

7. Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets (Last Month: No. 3)

.260/.365/.591 (480 PA), 36 HR, 81 RBI, 1 SB (0 CS), 54 BB, 152 OPS+, 3.9 WAR

Sure, Alonso’s bat has cooled off a bit. (He should be okay now that Mercury’s out of retrograde, though.) But he’s still strikingly high on the home run leaderboard, which counts for quite a bit—enough to overcome some of the ding he’d carry in award voting as an otherwise conventional first baseman.

8. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (Last Month: No. 10)

.285/.385/.529 (470 PA), 22 HR, 53 RBI, 2 SB (0 CS), 55 BB, 133 OPS+, 3.6 WAR

Bryant’s July (141 OPS+) marked a slight step up from his June (132 OPS+), part of an all-around solid season that gives him a place in the down-ballot conversation. 

9. Trevor Story, SS, Rockies (Last Month: Not Ranked)

.282/.347/.556 (450 PA), 25 HR, 63 RBI, 14 SB (5 CS), 37 BB, 112 OPS+, 4.5 WAR

Story had a difficult July at the plate, yes—but his speed and defense at short remain strong to keep him high up the leaderboard on WAR, which helps to earn him a spot here.

10. Max Muncy, IF, Dodgers (Last Month: Not Ranked)

.264/.373/.522 (456 PA), 27 HR, 75 RBI, 3 SB (1 CS), 67 BB, 134 OPS+, 4.6 WAR

Muncy’s maintained his blend of strong bat and defensive versatility—making him a standout talent, no matter where he’s positioned on the infield.

Cy Young

1. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (Last Month: No. 1)

11-2 (21 GS), 135 ⅔ IP (6.5 IP/GS), 1.53 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 117 K, 16 BB, 7.31 K/BB, 10 HR, 272 ERA+, 5.0 WAR

The Ryu-versus-Scherzer race is just about as tight as Bellinger-versus-Yelich, though this one comes down more to differing philosophies about how to evaluate pitching. (And this one has the added wrinkle of both of them currently on the IL, which might shift this whole thing… but it hasn’t yet, so we’re analyzing here just based on their performances to date.) What gives Ryu the edge? His insane run prevention. t is among the best of all time, between 1994 Greg Maddux’s 271 and 2000 Pedro Martinez’s 291. His 1.53 ERA is the lowest since Dwight Gooden’s in 1985. Ryu hasn’t been simply good. He’s been historically great...

2. Max Scherzer, Nationals (Last Month: No. 2)

9-5 (20 GS), 134 ⅓ IP (6.7 IP/GS), 2.41 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 189 K, 25 BB, 7.56 K/BB, 10 HR, 189 ERA+, 5.3 WAR

...but you can make a case that he isn’t the only pitcher who’s been so. Scherzer’s exhibiting his own kind of dominance. While he’s led the league in strikeouts in each of the last three seasons, Scherzer currently has the best strikeout rate of his career (12.7 K/9), which would rank sixth among starters all-time. His 2.08 FIP is also historically strong (among the ten lowest of the last half a century), which points to his success in the areas of the game that he can directly control. Essentially, while Ryu’s done a stellar job of straightforward run prevention, Scherzer’s done an arguably more stellar job of just about everything else. So the question of who should go on top is a question of how voters want to define excellence in pitching—Ryu took the top spot here, as it’s easy to imagine that many ballots might follow his gaudy ERA and ERA+, but there’s just as valid a case to be made for Scherzer.

3. Jacob deGrom, Mets (Last Month: Not Ranked)

7-7 (23 GS), 143 IP (6.2 IP/GS), 2.77 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 182 K, 35 BB, 5.2 K/BB, 15 HR, 148 ERA+, 4.6 WAR

Scherzer’s and Ryu’s IL stints are both supposed to be brief—but if, for whatever reason, they aren’t? deGrom is waiting in the wings for a shot at a second straight Cy Young, with a characteristically solid season that’s looked even better after a strong July.

4. Luis Castillo, Reds (Last Month: No. 4)

11-4 (23 GS), 137 IP (6.0 IP/GS), 2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 164 K, 60 BB, 2.7 K/BB, 15 HR, 175 ERA+, 4.5 WAR

Castillo has shown that his remarkably hot start to the year is here to stay. Unfortunately for his award case, he’s shown that his concerningly high walk rate is, too. 

5. Mike Soroka, Braves (Last Month: No. 3)

10-2 (20 GS), 121 IP (6.1 IP/GS), 2.45 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 97 K, 29 BB, 3.3 K/BB, 7 HR, 186 ERA+, 3.9 WAR

Soroka’s rookie season remains on pace to be one of the best in recent history; only Jose Fernandez, Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden, and Fernando Valenzuela have had a comparable rookie ERA in the last 40 years. But will he be able to accumulate the innings needed for a serious case for Cy Young? 

Rookie of the Year

1. Fernando Tatis, Jr., SS, Padres (Last Month: No. 3)

.322/.383/.592 (339 PA), 20 HR, 48 RBI, 14 SB (4 CS), 27 BB, 156 OPS+, 3.9 WAR

Had Tatis not missed time with an injury earlier in the year, he’d likely have a spot on the back half of the above list for MVP. As is, though, he still has a strong case for Rookie of the Year—in a remarkably tight race. There’s a reasonable argument available for any of the three players listed here. But Tatis takes the top spot right now because of the depth of his insanely well-rounded game. Offense! Defense! Base-running! He does it all! And, no, he still isn’t old enough to legally drink.

2. Mike Soroka, SP, Braves (Last Month: No. 1)

10-2 (20 GS), 121 IP (6.1 IP/GS), 2.45 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 97 K, 29 BB, 3.3 K/BB, 7 HR, 186 ERA+, 3.9 WAR

But then you have “best rookie pitching season in years,” on a list of historically great performances, which might have won this award with no question in many a season.

3. Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets (Last Month: No. 2)

.260/.365/.591 (480 PA), 36 HR, 81 RBI, 1 SB (0 CS), 54 BB, 152 OPS+, 3.9 WAR

And then you have 36 home runs, already tied for the eighth most ever by a rookie, with nearly two months left to play. 

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