It can seem silly, after just one month of play, to start figuring out your awards frontrunners, and it quickly becomes evident why. For every reassuring presence of Mike Trout or Justin Verlander in an MVP or Cy Young rundown, you’ll get a dozen out-of-nowhere guys off to the best starts of their lives. Those hot Aprils frequently turn into run-of-the-mill Mays, underscoring the need to be patient when it comes to making your MVP hot takes.
Yet all the same, with roughly a fifth of the season in the books, why not see exactly who’s off to the best start for all three major awards? Today, I’ll run down the early MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year contenders in the American League, which ranges from the expected (Trout) to the truly surprising (Hunter Dozier?).
This piece will pick 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 American League leader; stats in italics and bold indicate MLB leader.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels
.305/.496/.585 (115 PA), 6 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB/1 CS, 28 BB, 191 OPS+, 2.3 bWAR
The best player in baseball is, shockingly, still the best player in baseball. He also continues to do ludicrous Trout things, like not striking out any more. Seriously: His strikeout rate is a career-low 11.3%, as is his 2.6% swinging-strike rate—which, by the way, is the second best in the league. Like a super-advanced AI, Trout keeps finding and eliminating flaws, inching closer and closer to perfection.
2. Matt Chapman, 3B, Athletics
.284/.385/.578 (122 PA), 8 HR, 19 RBI, 0 SB/1 CS, 15 BB, 159 OPS+, 1.4 bWAR
In a non-Trout universe, Chapman is probably your clubhouse leader for MVP honors. Like his AL West counterpart, Chapman has cut down on the whiffs, slashing his strikeout rate by over half from last season (23.7% to 11.5), and upped the walks. He’s also hitting for more power, on pace for 43 home runs. And he remains a peerless defender at third. That’s not enough for first, but Chapman could be this year’s Mookie Betts or Jose Altuve—the man who hangs with Trout all season and gets the contender bump from voters while Trout’s Angels flounder.
3. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
.349/.444/.699 (99 PA), 7 HR, 17 RBI, 0 SB/1 CS, 14 BB, 201 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR
This is where things start to get weird. A former first-round pick, Dozier kicked around the minors for five years before getting a semi-regular spot with the Royals last season. He showed close to nothing in that time, putting up a ghastly 28% strikeout rate, playing mediocre defense and finishing with -1.3 WAR.
Well, here we are in 2019. Dozier is absolutely clobbering the ball, ranking in the top 5% of the majors in average exit velocity (93.7 mph) and boasting a hard-hit rate of 47.6%. Like Trout and Chapman, he’s reduced the strikeouts, is taking far more walks, and also upped his contact rate. Some of this is luck—a .375 batting average on balls in play won’t last forever—and he’s nowhere near the defender that Trout and Chapman are. But while Dozier may fall off the pace, for now he’s firmly in the MVP conversation.
4. Jorge Polanco, SS, Twins
.337/.390/.632 (105 PA), 5 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB/1 CS, 8 BB, 167 OPS+, 1.6 bWAR
Speaking of surprises: Polanco cracks the top five as arguably the AL’s best shortstop so far, narrowly edging out…
5. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
.385/.404/.604 (94 PA), 5 HR, 16 RBI, 10 SB/0 CS, 2 BB, 168 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR
Anderson falls behind Polanco thanks to his inconsistent defense and putrid walk rate (2.1%); the latter (along with a ridiculous .448 BABIP) augurs poorly for this hot streak continuing.
6. Joey Gallo, LF, Rangers
.259/.385/.647 (104 PA), 9 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB/0 CS, 18 BB, 158 OPS+, 1.2 bWAR
Gallo remains a windmill, with a 16.7% swinging-strike rate that’s sixth highest in the majors, but the Rangers will happily take that when he’s doing everything else so well.
7. Alex Bregman, 3B, Astros
.281/.411/.472 (112 PA), 4 HR, 13 RBI, 2 SB/0 CS, 19 BB, 139 OPS+, 1.3 bWAR
Bregman’s plate discipline (his 17.0% walk rate is fourth best in the majors) and sterling defense keep him in the MVP conversation despite some relatively weak power numbers.
8. Eddie Rosario, LF, Twins
.255/.305/.643 (105 PA), 11 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB/0 CS, 7 BB, 143 OPS+, 1.4 bWAR
You can argue that the AL’s home run leader should be higher up the list, but Rosario is a one-dimensional player on offense right now, boasting power but not much else.
9. Trey Mancini, RF, Orioles
.355/.405/.618 (121 PA), 6 HR, 14 RBI, 0 SB/0 CS, 10 BB, 172 OPS+, 1.0 bWAR
Mancini leads the Junior Circuit in hits and total bases, but his awful defense takes a big chunk out of his overall value.
10. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
.365/.426/.596 (115 PA), 5 HR, 20 RBI, 5 SB/1 CS, 9 BB, 159 OPS+, 1.4 bWAR
Andrus is amid a blazing start to the year, though it’s built on a lot of luck (a .432 BABIP and home-run-to-fly-ball rate of 22.2%—the latter 17 points above his career average).
Missed The Cut
J.D. Martinez, OF/DH, Red Sox
Yoan Moncada, 3B, White Sox
Daniel Vogelbach, 1B/DH, Mariners
1. Tyler Glasnow, SP, Rays
5–0 (6 GS), 36 IP, 1.75 ERA, 38 K, 7 BB, 3 HR, 248 ERA+, 1.3 bWAR
Thanks to a brilliant first month, Glasnow holds the Cy Young top spot heading into May. The Rays’ righty has the AL’s second-lowest ERA, and he pairs it with a 27.7% strikeout rate that ranks 12th in the majors. The only knock against him is his relatively low innings total, as he’s 4 2/3 innings behind the No. 2 man on this list. That may add up over time, but for now, it’s not significant enough of a gap to make a big difference.
2. Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians
3–1 (6 GS), 40 2/3 IP, 1.99 ERA, 45 K, 19 BB, 3 HR, 233 ERA+, 1.8 bWAR
Bauer’s ERA is fourth best in the league (third once the injured Matt Shoemaker, whose season is over, falls off the qualified list), and he’s tied for the second-most innings, trailing only Mariners southpaw Marco Gonzales. Control has been a big problem for the Indians’ righty, though: He handed out six free passes in his most recent start, giving him a walk rate over double Glasnow’s. That gives the edge to the latter, but this should be a close race all season long.
3. Marcus Stroman, SP, Blue Jays
1–3 (6 GS), 37 2/3 IP, 1.43 ERA, 36 K, 14 BB, 0 HR, 309 ERA+, 1.5 bWAR
On the one hand, Stroman doesn’t deserve a losing record. The Jays have scored one run or less in three of his starts, and the bullpen blew his latest excellent effort, seven shutout innings against the A’s on Friday. On the other hand, given his unimpressive strikeout rate (23.8%) and the fact that he’s somehow allowed zero home runs in a year where the ball’s been flying like crazy, you could argue that Stroman doesn’t deserve a sub-2.00 ERA either. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but he still gets a top-three place on the ballot after the first month.
4. Mike Minor, SP, Rangers
3–2 (6 GS), 40 2/3 IP, 2.88 ERA, 39 K, 12 BB, 5 HR, 176 ERA+, 1.7 bWAR
Minor, who owns the AL’s only complete game and shutout, has been untouchable since a brutal Opening Day start (six runs in 4 2/3 innings), but his peripherals—particularly a mediocre 25.0% strikeout rate and a high fly-ball ratio—suggest this won’t last.
5. Justin Verlander, SP, Astros
4–0 (6 GS), 38 IP, 2.61 ERA, 46 K, 9 BB, 6 HR, 167 ERA+, 1.4 bWAR
Like Minor, Verlander can blame one bad start for blemishing his overall line, but he’s been excellent aside from that turn and is a better bet to stay in the top five than his fellow Texas hurler.
Missed The Cut
Blake Snell, SP, Rays
Rookie of the Year
1. Brandon Lowe, 2B, Rays
2. Willians Astudillo, C, Twins
3. Daniel Vogelbach, 1B/DH, Mariners
Lowe—who debuted in 2018 but just missed the rookie cut-off with 129 at-bats—has been one of the league’s best hitters, slashing .291/.347/.581 with six homers, a 146 OPS+ and 1.2 bWAR. The portly Astudillo is more than a walking meme, slashing .327/.340/.531 (and, just like he did in the minors, neither walking nor striking out, with just one free pass and one whiff so far). And Vogelbach, the lovable large baseball lad, has a gaudy .732 slugging percentage along with eight homers. Lowe gets the edge for now thanks to his positional versatility and overall excellence, and though he may well fall away once Vladimir Guerrero Jr. gets going, he and the rest of this group could end up making this race far closer—and better—than predicted.
Missed The Cut
Brandon Brennan, RP, Mariners
Ty Buttrey, RP, Angels
Spencer Turnbull, SP, Tigers