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Awards Watch: Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich Are Setting Up Epic MVP Race

It's only May, yes. But we have enough of a sample to stack candidates for baseball's major awards. The NL MVP race is full of familiar names but we can't say the same about the current Cy Young balloting.

It’s way too early to have any concrete idea of the likely winners of this year’s awards. But it’s still plenty of fun to speculate, and so we’re diving in. On Monday; SI’s Jon Tayler took the AL; today, we have the NL.

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 National League leader; stats in italics and bold indicate MLB leader.


1. Cody Bellinger, OF/1B, Dodgers

.431/.508/.890 (132 PA), 14 HR, 37 RBI, 5 SB (3 CS), 19 BB, 264 OPS+, 3.5 bWAR

Bellinger leads the NL in just about every significant stat, yes, but even that doesn’t fully capture just how hot he’s been. His WAR total (3.5) is already more than 80% of the way up to his figure from his Rookie of the Year (4.2) season in 2017, in less than one quarter of the games played. The closest full-season comparison for his current performance, per OPS+, is 2002 Barry Bonds—you know, if 2002 Barry Bonds’ slugging percentage had been more than a hundred points higher. Bellinger’s been walking more, striking out less, hitting fewer groundballs and more line drives. He’s doing everything right, basically, and… nothing wrong. He’s looked like the best hitter in baseball so far, and it hasn’t been close. And indulge us just this one “on pace for” stat: Bellinger is on track to total 76 home runs.

2. Christian Yelich, RF, Brewers

.353/.460/.804 (124 PA), 14 HR, 34 RBI, 6 SB (0 CS), 20 BB, 223 OPS+, 2.1 bWAR

The 2018 MVP has looked even better in 2019. If not for Bellinger, he’d be laying an easy claim to the title of hottest hitter in baseball right now. If you’ll indulge just one more “on pace for”... the one above applies here, too, because Yelich and Bellinger are tied for baseball’s lead in homers. (Bellinger, unfortunately for Yelich, just has a leg up on everything else.) The closest full-season comparison for Yelich’s current performance may not be 2002 Barry Bonds, but it’s 1957 Mickey Mantle, and, really, when you’re generating comps like this, it’s hard to get hung up on the difference.

3. Javier Báez, SS, Cubs

.302/.341/.612 (123 PA), 9 HR, 22 RBI, 2 SB (1 CS), 7 BB, 142 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR

Báez is repeating everything that earned him second place in last year’s MVP—glove wizardry, lightning instincts, defensive versatility—while hitting better than he ever has. He’s slugging. He’s lifting the ball in the air more. And he’s even boosting his walk-to-strikeout ratio to a career high, no small feat for the notably BB-averse infielder.

4. Paul DeJong, SS, Cardinals

.342/.403/.607 (129 PA), 5 HR, 2 SB (0 CS), 10 BB, 167 OPS+, 2.2 bWAR

Now it starts to look a little weird. (Hey, it’s April.) The 25-year-old is combining solid defense at shortstop with a truly impressive breakout season at the plate.

5. Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets

.292/.382/.642 (123 PA), 9 HR, 0 SB (0 CS), 14 BB, 178 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR

The Mets rookie has been hitting better than has any rookie since Shoeless Joe Jackson. When you’re in “hasn’t happened in more than a century” territory, you know it’s good.

6. Ronald Acuña Jr., LF, Braves

.276/.392/.495 (128 PA), 6 HR, 2 SB (0 CS), 18 BB, 134 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR

Acuna is repeating everything that made him last year’s Rookie of the Year—but now with improved plate discipline, and (hopefully) with the benefit of a full season of good health.

7. Christian Walker, 1B, Diamondbacks

.307/.381/.614 (113 PA), 7 HR, 3 SB (0 CS), 12 BB, 151 OPS+, 1.1 bWAR

Another one that would have sounded deeply weird a month ago! But Walker’s monster breakthrough at the plate—after years of bouncing between Triple A and The Show—is enough to earn him a spot on the back half of this list.

8. Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals

.272/.398/.467 (113 PA), 4 HR, 5 SB (0 CS), 16 BB, 133 OPS+, 1.6 bWAR

Wong has met with great success at the plate after starting to lift the ball in the air more. Paired with his ability to make eye-popping plays on defense, this puts him on the radar here.

9. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres

.300/.360/.550 (111 PA), 6 HR, 6 SB (2 CS), 8 BB, 144 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR

Tatis is, sadly, on the IL, after an unfortunate split.  In 27 games of his rookie season so far, though, it’s been more than apparent that he’s truly special. He’s jumped out as easily the best hitter so far for the Padres, and even among the best in the NL; if he pops back to form as quickly as possible, this missed week will hardly even register.

10. Trevor Story, SS, Rockies

.280/.344/.517 (131 PA), 7 HR, 6 SB (2 CS), 9 BB, 110 OPS+, 1.3 bWAR

The shortstop’s been stealing bases and socking homers at nearly equal rates (30-30 Club, anyone?), but he’s likely to get dinged by the factor so often used against hitters from Colorado—home-road splits.

Missed The Cut

Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves

Michael Conforto, OF, Mets


Cy Young

1. Luis Castillo, SP, Reds

3-1 (7 GS), 1.45 ERA, 50 K, 17 BB, 2 HR, 307 ERA+, 2.2 bWAR

Castillo has allowed just seven runs in seven starts, while striking out nearly 30% of batters, giving him some of the gaudiest stats in the NL. Some of this can be expected to fade—it’s unlikely that his home run rate will stay this low, and his walk rate isn’t especially encouraging—but for now, it puts him on the top of the list.

2. Zach Davies, SP, Brewers

3-0 (7 GS), 1.38 ERA, 21 K, 13 BB, 2 HR, 319 ERA+, 1.2 bWAR

Davies isn’t particularly flashy. He tops out at 90 mph, he doesn’t rack up many strikeouts, he doesn’t have any pitches simply begging to be GIFed. But, so far this year, he’s been crazy effective, leading the league in a slew of stats. Any ERA under 1.50 is going to catch some attention, even if it doesn’t come with eye-popping stuff.

3. Joe Musgrove, SP, Pirates

1-2 (5 GS), 2.06 ERA, 31 K, 7 BB, 1 HR, 203 ERA+, 1.2 bWAR

Musgrove’s days of looking destined for the bullpen feel long gone. With a deep arsenal, he’s stepped out as one of the most effective pitchers in the National League so far in 2019. There are some marks against him, sure—he’s off to a losing record, and two starts off the pace of the league’s leaders, which can hold sway voters over the course of a season—but each of his starts has been a quality one, and he’s been limiting runs better than just about anyone.

4. Caleb Smith, SP, Marlins

2-0 (5 GS), 2.17 ERA, 37 K, 7 BB, 3 HR, 181 ERA+, 1.1 bWAR

If you’d been asked in spring training to name the pitcher least likely to be in the running for the Cy Young, “Miami Marlins fifth starter” would have felt like a wonderfully logical answer. Now? Not so much. Smith has struck out more than a third of batters faced; the only other starter in the NL to do so has been Max Scherzer, whose ERA has been nearly double Smith’s.

5. German Márquez, SP, Rockies

3-2 (7 GS), 2.93 ERA, 43 K, 10 BB, 5 HR, 171 ERA+, 1.6 bWAR

Marquez has been throwing his slider more, and with great success—45% of swings on the pitch are a miss. He’s been throwing it slightly harder, too, but it hasn’t taxed him yet: He leads the NL in IP.

Missed The Cut

Kirby Yates, RP, Padres

Patrick Corbin, SP, Nationals

Felipe Vázquez, RP, Pirates


Rookie of the Year

1. Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets

.292/.382/.642 (123 PA), 9 HR, 0 SB (0 CS), 14 BB, 178 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR

Remember Aaron Judge’s rookie season? 171 OPS+, 52 HRs, MVP runner-up? Yeah, Alonso’s on track to blow past that. He’s bound to taper off some, but given that he’s been this insanely good in his very first month of exposure to major league pitching, it’s entirely possible that he keeps it going.

2. Chris Paddack, SP, Padres

2-1 (6 GS), 1.91 ERA, 35 K, 9 BB, 2 HR, 214 ERA+, 1.1 bWAR

The sweetness of his change-up is matched only by the sweetness of his hair and his nickname (“The Sheriff”).

3. Fernando Tatis, Jr., SS, Padres

.300/.360/.550 (111 PA), 6 HR, 6 SB (2 CS), 8 BB, 144 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR

No club has as much young talent as San Diego, and no player has been as electric here as Tatis.

Missed The Cut

Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers

Victor Robles, CF, Nationals

Mike Soroka, SP, Braves