By mid-August, the race for MLB's major awards usually starts coming into focus, with clear top contenders emerging, if not a favorite. While there's still time for things to alter the race—a hot streak down the stretch, an injury, a slump, etc.—we checked in with our experts for their current picks to take home the AL and NL MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year, and why.
AL Most Valuable Player
Stephanie Apstein: Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox
I tend to default to Mike Trout, but it’s hard to ignore the season Betts is having. I thought Trout had the edge as recently as the end of July, but he hasn’t played since Aug. 1 due to right wrist inflammation; in that time Betts has a .449/.557/.816 slash line.
Ben Reiter: Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox
Betts and his teammate J.D. Martinez have already combined for an incredible 13.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs, with a month and a half left. But Betts actually edges J.D. Martinez in OBP and slugging percentage, and is obviously a far better defender, tipping the MVP to him over not only Martinez but another pair of teammates, José Ramírez and Francisco Lindor of the Indians.
Jon Tayler: Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox
Injury has once again conspired to rob Mike Trout of a deserving MVP award, as the wrist injury that landed him on the disabled list last week will likely spell his doom in this race despite a typically bonkers season from him (.309/.459/.624, 30 homers, a 195 OPS+, 7.8 bWAR, and superlative defense in centerfield). Instead, this now feels like a two-horse race between a pair of diminutive yet powerful players: Betts in Boston, and José Ramírez in Cleveland. The pair are neck-and-neck: Betts has the slight edge in bWAR, 8.2 to 7.8, while Ramírez leads in fWAR, 8.0 to 7.9; Ramirez has more homers, 36 to 27, and a few more steals, 27 to 24; Betts has him beat in all three slash stats and holds a considerable edge in both OPS+, 193 to 173, and wRC+, 193 to 175 (and leads the majors in that latter category) albeit in 57 fewer plate appearances. In the end, I think Betts’s role on the best team in baseball games will trump Ramírez's contributions. But either would be a deserving winner.
Connor Grossman: Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox
A simplified new-school approach: Betts leads the AL in OPS and baseball-reference’s version of WAR. A simplified old-school approach: Betts is the most well-rounded, talented player on the best team in baseball. The biggest obstacle to Betts taking home this award is his teammate, J.D. Martinez, who might win the AL Triple Crown. There’s an interesting argument whether two teammates can cannibalize each other’s point totals (see: 2009 NL Cy Young) but I don’t envision a scenario in which Martinez or Betts don’t win MVP. My money’s on Betts at this point.
NL Most Valuable Player
Stephanie Apstein: Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals
This is the hardest decision of the bunch and the most likely to change down the stretch. It seems weird to give it to a pitcher on a team that has underachieved as much as the Nationals have, but Washington is 17–8 in his starts and 44–53 otherwise. And he’s hitting .288! Other contenders, such as the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain and the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter, fall short for me.
Ben Reiter: Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals
The three-time Cy Young winner is having his greatest season yet, with career-bests in ERA (2.19), WHIP (0.883) and strikeout rate (12.1 per nine). Especially considering no NL hitter is having a truly extraordinary year (though Matt Carpenter is close), Scherzer’s the choice.
Jon Tayler: Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets
Unlike the AL, where you can make an argument for half-a-dozen players (beyond Betts and Ramirez, there are viable cases for Francisco Lindor, J.D. Martinez, Matt Chapman and Trout, if he comes back and does his Galactus-eating-planets thing), the NL lacks a true standout. That’s particularly true on the hitter side of things. Freddie Freeman leads all Senior Circuit hitters in fWAR, but his 5.0 figure is hardly the mark of an all-time season. By bWAR, that honor belongs to Lorenzo Cain, but most of that value has come through his brilliant defense in centerfield; his .301/.391/.423 line is excellent but not eye-popping. The best season at the plate probably belongs to Matt Carpenter, who exploded in the second half and leads the NL in homers (33) and OPS+ (162). But the transcendent years belong to the pitchers—specifically, Max Scherzer, deGrom and Aaron Nola. My vote, then, is for deGrom. His 1.81 ERA is a marvel, as is his 7–7 record; were he on any team but the abysmal Mets, he’d be chugging toward 20 wins. But in him, you have a true definition of MVP: someone who excels no matter his surroundings.
Connor Grossman: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
Admittedly, this race is still too close to call in mid-August. Arenado has continued his run as one of the National League’s preeminent players, leading the Senior Circuit in OPS while sitting in the top five for the Triple Crown categories. That doesn’t factor in his stellar defense at third base, either. Given the crowded field of candidates that no one seems to have broken free from, this might be the year Arenado can finally rise to the top of the ballot. He entered this year averaging 40 home runs and 131 RBIs from 2015–17. Honorable mention goes out to Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who could easily walk away with this hardware as well.
AL Cy Young
Stephanie Apstein: Chris Sale, SP, Red Sox
Trevor Bauer was in the mix until he hit the DL this week, but if Sale can stay healthy, history suggests he’ll just use the time to pull away. Even as the Red Sox treat him carefully to avoid burning him out, he has struck out a horrifying 13.5 batters per nine.
Ben Reiter: Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians
After his start on Aug. 6, in which he struck out 11 Twins in six shutout innings, Bauer made sure to point out that he led the league in more than innings pitched. Unfortunately for him, he’s on the DL indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right leg, meaning that either Chris Sale or Bauer’s teammate Corey Kluber will likely end up with the Cy—but Bauer’s my pick right now.
Jon Tayler: Chris Sale, SP, Red Sox
This finally looks like Chris Sale’s year. The lefty missed out on his first Cy Young last year when he faded down the stretch and was overtaken by Indians ace Corey Kluber. In response, Sale somehow found a new level: He leads the AL in ERA (1.97), WHIP (0.85), strikeouts per nine (13.5), strikeouts (219), ERA+ (222) and bWAR (6.6). That separates him from a crowded field including Kluber, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and, until a recent injury that will probably kill his surprising Cy campaign, Trevor Bauer.
Connor Grossman: Chris Sale, SP, Red Sox
During the unofficial “Pitcher I Hate to Face” voting, Sale won in a landslide. If further justification is required, his one earned run allowed over his last seven starts (44 innings) should suffice. Or his league-leading WHIP, WAR, K/9, opponents’ batting average and strikeout total (tied). It’s his race to lose.
NL Cy Young
Stephanie Apstein: Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals
It’s hard to pick a statistic to illustrate Scherzer’s dominance this season. He has 227 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings (both MLB leaders), he has a .883 WHIP, he strikes out 5.68 batters for every one he walks. Personally, I like that his worst outing was six innings of four-run, four-strikeout ball against the Marlins back in May.
Ben Reiter: Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals
With apologies to Aaron Nola and Jacob deGrom, this one should be unanimous.
Jon Tayler: Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets
The same rationale for my MVP pick holds here. deGrom is having a season for the ages, and it would be criminal not to reward him. Nola is actually tops in the NL in bWAR among pitchers, and Scherzer has the edge in WHIP, strikeouts per nine, strikeouts, and innings pitched. But deGrom deserves this for, if nothing else, continuing to shine despite being stuck with the Mets. They’ve already wasted his talent; voters shouldn’t do the same.
Connor Grossman: Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets
This award could flip-flop with each start deGrom and Nationals hurler Max Scherzer make. They’re 1–2 in almost every relevant pitching category. Watching every Tim Lincecum start in 2008–09, I have a soft spot for uber-talented pitchers stuck on teams out of the playoff hunt. Scherzer also sits in this boat, but the Mets have just been absurd this year. So absurd, in fact, SI’s Jack Dickey dove into deGrom’s run at history by winning so few games and pitching so well. Scherzer may very well win. My vote goes to deGrom.
AL Rookie of the Year
Stephanie Apstein: Shohei Ohtani, P/DH, Angels
My guess is that the Yankees’ Miguel Andújar will win this, and it’s hard to argue with the year he’s had. But let me try: Ohtani’s WAR is comparable, and until he hurt his UCL, he pitched and hit. There is a case for just honoring the person who sits at No. 1 on the WAR list. But this is the most impressive baseball feat most of us have seen in our lifetimes, and I say if he’s close statistically, we should reward the wonder Ohtani stirs up in us.
Ben Reiter: Miguel Andújar, 3B, Yankees
He’s an extra base machine—19 homers, 34 doubles—and the time that Gleyber Torres and Shohei Ohtani lost to injury makes him the ROY.
Jon Tayler: Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Angels
This race, once so promising when Ohtani looked like Babe Ruth come again and when Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres was bashing homers left and right, has deflated in the last couple months. Ohtani’s elbow injury has kept him off the mound all summer and likely will for the rest of the year. Torres hurt his hip, missed nearly a month, and has struggled since coming back. Things would look different if the White Sox and Blue Jays would quit holding back Eloy Jiménez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the minors for obvious service time reasons; either would have been a welcome jolt to this award chase. Ultimately, Ohtani’s impact and potential stand out here.
Connor Grossman: Miguel Andújar, 3B, Yankees
First it was Shohei Ohtani’s award to lose. Then Gleyber Torres’s. Now it’s Andújar's, who’s jumped ahead of his teammates thanks a second-half slide from Torres, who’s hit an 11-for-71 skid since the All-Star break. Andújar has settled into the Yankees lineup rather easily, slashing .294/.326/.520 through 110 games this season. We’ll see if Torres can find his early-season form to make more of a race out of this.
NL Rookie of the Year
Stephanie Apstein: Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
With apologies to the Cardinals’ Harrison Bader, it’s basically a two-horse race between Soto and the Braves’ Ronald Acuña at this point. In addition to having the better slash line, Soto walks more, strikes out less and has the lower batting average on balls in play, suggesting that he’s actually been getting a bit less lucky.
Ben Reiter: Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
Ronald Acuña’s recent surge has him breathing on the neck of Washington’s own wunderkind, but Acuña hasn’t quite passed him yet, for me. Kind of incredible that the Nationals might sweep the major awards and miss the playoffs.
Jon Tayler: Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
Braves slugger Ronald Acuña is making a run for the crown, if he can avoid more cheap shots at the expense of scrubs like Jose Ureña, but for now, this award belongs to Soto. He isn’t just having a terrific season at .293/.416/.534 with a 148 OPS+ in 323 plate appearances; he’s having arguably the best season a teenager has ever had in major league history. At 19, he’s already a fully-formed force at the plate. NL Rookie of the Year honors may be just the first of a long list of awards in what promises to be a special career.
Connor Grossman: Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Braves
This race is going to be fun to watch over the season’s final six weeks. Two phenoms below the legal drinking age, Acuña and Nats outfielder Juan Soto, duking it out in the same division. Soto has been a revelation for Washington, assimilating to the big leagues easily and becoming a steady bat for the Nationals. Acuña’s season hasn’t been quite as linear, but he’s exploded offensively this month (eight homers, 16 RBIs and a 1.265 OPS). He’s not going to produce as the same rate he has been, but if he can channel even a portion of his current hot streak then he’s my pick to win it.