Examining every major award race as lightning round begins

Thursday September 5th, 2013

Mike Trout has been red-hot since May but a poor April could cost him the AL MVP award.
Porter Binks/SI

The final month of the 2013 baseball season is upon us, which means it's time for Awards Watch to move into the lightning round. Instead of ranking the top five candidates in each league for one award each week, for the remainder of the season, I'll rank the top three candidates in each league for all three awards every week.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, Sept. 4. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list. 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.

Most Valuable Player

American League

1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers (1)

Season Stats: .355/.446/.676, 43 HR, 130 RBI, 95 R

Last Week: 2-for-8, 3 K

Cabrera aggravated the abdominal strain he had been playing through for several days by sliding into second base in the third inning on Aug. 30. After sitting out three games, he went 0-for-4 in a start on Tuesday, then sat out again Wednesday. If he's able to return soon -- and his start on Tuesday suggests the Tigers think, or at least thought, he can -- his lead in this race won't be in danger, but his Triple Crown hopes could wither on the bench given that he's still four home runs behind Chris Davis.

2. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (2)

Season Stats: .335/.433/.575, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 95 R, 9 3B, 31 SB

Last Week: .409/.552/.591, 0 HR, 1 RBI

Trout is the best player in baseball, but I still think he falls short of Cabrera for this award, primarily because of his slow start in April. Trout hit .252/.322/.402 though his first 25 games this year, but has hit .357/.460/.621 since. That latter line would be enough to get him past Cabrera given the value of Trout's fielding and baserunning, but the slow start holds him back. The 22-year-old Trout, by the way, is younger than five of the six Rookie of the Year candidates listed below. That's not relevant to this race. It's just amazing.

3. Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles (3)

Season Stats: .296/.380/.656, 47 HR, 122 RBI, 95 R

Last Week: .154/.290/.192, 0 HR, 2 RBI

Davis hasn't homered in his last seven games, slowing his pace to just under 56 home runs over a full season. It seems at this point that his pursuit of Roger Maris' AL home run record will fall short. The question now becomes: Can Cabrera get healthy enough to catch Davis and win the Triple Crown before Crush goes on another home run tear?

National League

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates (2)

Season Stats: .320/.399/.513, 19 HR, 76 RBI, 27 SB

Last Week: .259/.375/.593, 2 HR, 2 RBI

Everything's coming up Pirates this week, and who am I to quibble? McCutchen isn't having as dominant a season as Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, but he leads the league in OPS+ (156) and leads all NL hitters and pitchers in Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement (7.2). That last is tied with McCutchen's total from last year, and effectively tied with Kershaw (7.1) given that bWAR's margin of error is greater than the difference between their two totals.

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McCutchen hasn't been as productive at the plate as he was a year ago, but the advanced fielding metrics all agree that his defense has improved and his basestealing has as well, meaning he's having a better all-around season even if he's hitting for a bit less power.

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2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (1)

Season Stats: 14-8, 1.89 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 (201 K), 4.28 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 187 ERA+

Last Week: 1-0, 5 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Kershaw's last two starts both fell short of quality, the first time that had happened since April. At home against the Cubs two turns ago, he pitched inefficiently and got into a sixth-inning jam that prompted Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to remove him with two outs in the sixth and 107 pitches under his belt. In his last start, against the Rockies in Colorado, Kershaw was far more efficient, but gave up five runs on 11 hits in five innings in what proved to be his worst start of the season.

Those two outings were likely a hiccup. Kershaw averaged 230 innings pitched over the last two years, so he shouldn't be running out of gas shy of 210. They were, however, enough to let McCutchen take back the lead in this race.

3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks (3)

Season Stats: .291/.397/.533, 31 HR, 104 RBI, 13 SB

Last Week: 1-for-18, 7 BB

Goldschmidt is having an outstanding season, leading the league in total bases and intentional walks, ranking second in OPS+ (154) and third among NL hitters in bWAR (Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez is second, with roughly half of his value coming from his defense), but this race is between McCutchen and Kershaw at this point.

Cy Young

American League

1. Max Scherzer, RHP, Tigers (3)

Season Stats: 19-2, 2.88 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 (209 K), 4.54 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 146 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-1, 3.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.50 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS

2. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox (2)

Season Stats: 10-12, 2.97 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 (199 K), 4.98 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 4 CG, 1 SHO, 145 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-1, 4.30 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 6.40 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS

3. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers (4) (Wed)

Season Stats: 12-7, 2.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 12.0 K/9 (240 K), 3.64 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 142 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 0-2, 4.50 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 2.20 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS

Scherzer is going to win this award, and he's a completely justifiable choice at this point (especially because Felix Hernandez went 1-5 with a 6.42 ERA in his last six starts). Indeed, if I had a vote and had to cast it today, I'd put Scherzer first on my ballot, which is what the rankings in this column are intended to represent.

However, to my eye, the three pitchers above are all neck-and-neck for this award. The tiebreaker, for me, is their respective workloads. Scherzer leads the trio with 190 1/3 innings because he pitches ever so slightly deeper into his starts than Darvish, who missed his last outing before the All-Star break due to fatigue, and has made two more starts than Sale, who has pitched deeper into his starts than anyone else this season but missed two starts in late May due to shoulder tendinitis. Scherzer hasn't missed a start all season, and with everything else being very close to equal, that, not his sparkling won-loss record (which I disregard completely) is what gives him the edge.

Jose Fernandez is an NL Cy Young contender and the Rookie of the Year favorite.
Icon SMI

National League

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (1)

Season Stats: 14-8, 1.89 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 (201 K), 4.28 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 187 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-1, 2.03 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.38 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS

2. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets (2)

Season Stats: 9-5, 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 (191 K), 6.16 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 158 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 0-1, 2.84 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 10:0 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS

3. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins

Season Stats: 10-6, 2.33 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 (173 K), 3.26 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS, 169 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-1, 1.42 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 4.80 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS

Harvey is done for the year due to a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. Fernandez, who is making his first appearance among my Cy Young leaders, has just two starts left due to a team-imposed innings limit that falls nearly 40 innings shy of the major league-leading 209 frames Kershaw has already compiled. The Cardinals' Adam Wainwright, who was ranked third three weeks ago, gave up 15 runs over eight innings in his last two starts, inflating his ERA by more than a half a run. No one else has come close to Kershaw all season. It's possible he could bomb his final four or five starts and make this interesting, but for all intents and purposes, this race is over and Clayton Kershaw has won his second NL Cy Young award.

Rookie of the Year

American League

1. Chris Archer, RHP, Rays (1)

Season Stats: 8-6, 3.14 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 2.27 K/BB, 5.9 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 122 ERA+

Last Two Weeks: 2-1, 4.08 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 4.33 K/BB, 5.9 IP/GS

This award stands a good chance of going to a Ray for the third time in six years. At the moment, Archer leads teammate Wil Myers. Archer's last start, in which he allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings, was his worst of the season, but prior to that, he had allowed just four runs over 21 innings in his previous three turns. Getting his ERA back under 3.00 and his win total into double-digits would go a long way toward convincing the electorate that the 24-year-old righty has been the best rookie in the AL this year, but for now that's true even without those signifiers.

2. Wil Myers, RF, Rays (2)

Season Stats: .291/.352/.480, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 5 SB

Last Two Weeks: .179/.289/.436, 2 HR, 3 RBI

Myers broke an 0-for-22 skid with a double in his final at-bat of August and has gone 7-for-17 (.412) with four doubles and two home runs since, so it seems safe to say that the slump suggested by his last two weeks line above has been broken. The preseason favorite to win this award, the 22-year-old Myers could be a default choice for a lot of voters, and if he finishes stronger than his teammate Archer, he'll deserve to win it.

3. Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers (4)

Season Stats: 9-3, 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.42 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS, 1 CG, 122 ERA+

Last Two Weeks: 3-0, 3.15 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 2.75 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS

Perez has gone 6-0 with a 2.54 ERA in his last seven starts, six of which have been quality, and has averaged 7.2 innings per start over that span. There's not a huge gap between the 22-year-old Perez and Archer in this race, as evidenced by their ERA+ figures and the fact that Perez, despite making three fewer starts, has thrown just 11 fewer innings.

National League

1. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins (1)

Season Stats: 10-6, 2.33 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 (173 K), 3.26 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS, 169 ERA+

Last Two Weeks: 1-1, 1.38 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 8.00 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS

Yasiel Puig debuted on June 3, thus missing the first two months of the season, but Fernandez's innings limit will wind up costing him four starts, effectively carving a month out of his season. Miami's ace was also unexceptional in April, going 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA with just one quality start in five turns. Therefore, the fact that Puig spent the first two months of the season in the minor leagues won't be the determining factor in this race.

Fernandez has two starts remaining, both on extended rest, beginning this Friday against the Nationals. If he pitches as well in those outings as he has since the start of June (1.61 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 10.2 K/9) Puig would need a hot stretch akin to his record-setting first month in the majors to overtake him.

2. Yasiel Puig, RF, Dodgers (3)

Season Stats: .351/.411/.564, 14 HR, 32 RBI, 55 R

Last Two Weeks: .385/.444/.615, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 6 R

Puig hit .443/.473/.745 with eight home runs in his first 27 major league games. He has hit .300/.378/.465 with six home runs in 53 games since, which, if it was the only slash line in this comment, would look awfully impressive coming from a 22-year-old rookie in his second year in the United States. Puig's overall line coming from such a player is absurd, but not quite as absurd as Fernandez's line above coming from a 20-year-old pitcher who made the jump to the majors from High-A. If only the Baseball Writers Association of America would give this year's AL trophy to the NL runner up.

3. Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves (2)

Season Stats: 11-7, 3.01 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.3 K/9 (148 K), 3.52 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 129 ERA+

Last Two Weeks: 1-1, 3.65 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 11.7 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS

Teheran's rebound from a lousy 2012 season has been impressive. At 22, he has been a front-of-the-rotation starter for the best team in baseball, and his ERA over his last 23 starts has been 2.54, but he would need an even better finish to avoid being an also-ran in this race.

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