- If only for a moment, Cody Bellinger is making a run at Babe Ruth's single-season WAR record. It's not likely Bellinger will stay quite this good, but at the very least he's pacing the early NL MVP race.
It’s been a month since our last check on the awards race, which means that it’s time for a refresh. Yes, it’s still way too early—but it’s also still plenty of fun to speculate. And (spoiler alert!) Cody Bellinger is still the easy favorite for MVP.
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. We used baseball-reference's version of WAR below.
1. Cody Bellinger, OF/1B, Dodgers (Last Month: 1)
.378/.464/.760 (223 PA), 20 HR, 52 RBIs, 7 SB (3 CS), 33 BB, 219 OPS+, 5.3 WAR
Well, here’s the bad news: Bellinger has cooled off a bit in the last two weeks. And the good news: Bellinger’s version of “cooling off” is a 1.126 OPS, only the fourteenth best hitter in baseball during this stretch. Quelle horreur. Don’t worry, though—he’s still the league leader in every meaningful statistic, most of them by a comfortable margin, and he’s still on pace to… break Babe Ruth’s single-season record for WAR. (We know, we know, “on pace to,” but when it’s no longer April and it’s “on pace to break record that has looked essentially unbreakable for nearly a century,” it’s worth noting!)
2. Christian Yelich, OF, Brewers (Last Month: 2)
.314/.425/.714 (212 PA), 21 HR, 44 RBIs, 10 SB (1 CS), 32 BB, 190 OPS+, 2.7 WAR
Yelich is currently hitting even better than he did during his MVP 2018. (Regression who?) His walk-to-strikeout rate is higher than it’s ever been, and he’s hitting the ball in the air more than ever before, which has helped give him a share of the league lead in home runs. Unfortunately, he’s doing all of this alongside Bellinger, which keeps him stuck in second place for now.
3. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies (Last Month: Not Ranked)
.333/.382/.625 (238 PA), 15 HR, 46 RBIs, 1 SB (1 CS), 19 BB, 143 OPS+, 2.7 WAR
Here’s where April’s Awards Watch gets shaken up. With a slow start to the season, Arenado didn’t even make the last list (although he was my preseason pick!) and he finished the month hitting only slightly above league average, uncharacteristically low. Recently, though, he’s looked just like himself, which is to say, insanely good. With a 228 OPS+ in May, he’s shot up to his usual level of performance. Maybe it’s finally his year—after a fifth-place finish for MVP in 2016, fourth place in 2017, and third in 2018, he’s on track for… well, at least second place in 2019.
4. Paul DeJong, SS, Cardinals (Last Month: 4)
.290/.391/.505 (235 PA), 8 HR, 26 RBIs, 4 SB (0 CS), 29 BB, 138 OPS+, 2.8 WAR
DeJong has had a tough last week, slumping with a hitless streak—but when you start the season as hot as he did, you can afford to hit a bad patch without falling too far down the leaderboard.
5. Javier Báez, SS, Cubs (Last Month: 3)
.307/.350/.573 (234 PA), 13 HR, 34 RBIs, 2 SB (2 CS), 15 BB, 136 OPS+, 2.6 WAR
Baez is hitting even better than he did during last year’s breakout… even boosting his walk rate above 6%, which, for him, is truly impressive.
6. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates (Last Month: Not Ranked)
.345/.409/.718 (232 PA), 18 HR, 51 RBIs, 0 SB (1 CS), 23 BB, 195 OPS+, 2.7 WAR
Here’s another one who wasn’t on last month’s list. Over the last few weeks, though, Bell has jumped out as a bona fide slugger, with 11 home runs in May—though the fact that he’s otherwise a pretty typical first baseman won’t do too much to help him stand out to voters.
7. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (Last Month: Not Ranked)
.283/.403/.576 (231 PA), 13 HR, 35 RBIs, 1 SB (0 CS), 33 BB, 152 OPS+, 2.3 WAR
Bryant returned on Wednesday from a few games out with a head injury, and in case anyone forgot just how good he is while he was gone, he was quick to remind them with his thirteenth home run of the season.
8. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs (Last Month: Not Ranked)
.289/.404/.589 (228 PA), 15 HR, 42 RBIs, 2 SB (1 CS), 26 BB, 155 OPS+, 2.1 WAR
Rizzo has been setting personal bests across his stat sheet this year. And less relevant to his case for MVP, but still vaguely impressive (?), he currently leads baseball in being hit by a pitch, which puts him on track to be the league leader in this category for the third time in five seasons.
9. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (Last Month: Not Ranked)
.308/.398/.561 (246 PA), 13 HR, 32 RBIs, 0 SB (1 CS), 147 OPS+, 2.0 WAR
Freeman is the longest tenured member of Atlanta’s infield, and he’s been its strongest so far, too. He’s dancing around a career year as a hitter, which just might be enough to top his career high finish for MVP, last year’s fourth place.
10. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals (Last Month: Not Ranked)
.320/423/.660 (182 PA), 10 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB (0 CS), 175 OPS+, 1.9 WAR
Rendon is behind the rest of the pack in playing time after an early-season elbow injury—and his case is also hurt by the fact that he’s on one of the weakest teams in the NL—but the best performance of his career so far has done just about as much to counter those factors as anything can.
Missed The Cut
Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets (Last Month: 5)
Ronald Acuna, Jr., OF, Braves (Last Month: 6)
Michael Conforto, OF, Mets (Last Month: Not Ranked)
1. Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers (Last Month: Not Ranked)
7-1 (10 GS), 1.65 ERA, 62 K, 4 BB, 6 HR, 254 ERA+, 2.3 WAR
Ryu is finally enjoying a season free from injury—okay, mostly free, as he missed one start earlier in the year with a groin injury—which has brought the best results of his career, and, so far, the best in the NL. He leads in the crucial categories of wins, ERA, and ERA+, although his most impressive number just might be his walk rate, as he’s given only four free passes all season. If he can stay healthy, he could be in for something special.
2. Zach Davies, Brewers (Last Month: 2)
5-0 (11 GS), 2.19 ERA, 42 K, 19 BB, 6 HR, 203 ERA+, 2.0 WAR
Davies placed second in the last round of this ranking, and everything that was true then is true now, too. He’s still the same pitcher—not particularly flashy, rarely tops 90 mph, doesn’t rack up many strikeouts. And he’s still been hyper-effective, second only to Ryu in ERA and ERA+. Davies might not be conventionally thrilling to watch, but he’s putting up some numbers that are legitimately award-worthy.
3. Luis Castillo, Reds (Last Month: 1)
5-1 (12 GS), 2.45 ERA, 82 K, 32 BB, 5 HR, 187 ERA+, 1.9 WAR
After a pair of rocky starts, Castillo’s stats don’t look quite as obscene as they did a week and a half ago. Given how strong he started, though, they’re still pretty remarkable. (Or most of them are, at least—the walk rate was already concerning here, and it’s now even more so.) Still, Castillo has a sub-2.50 ERA, along with the highest strikeout percentage of any of these five finalists, thanks in large part to one of the nastiest changeups in baseball.
4. Patrick Corbin, Nationals (Last Month: Not Ranked)
5-2 (11 GS), 2.85 ERA, 81 K, 22 BB, 8 HR, 159 ERA+, 3.2 WAR
For most, the key concern entering this season for Corbin was that his newly increased reliance on his slider in 2018 would spell disaster in 2019. It hasn’t. Instead, he’s staying healthy and enjoying the best season of his career so far—and still throwing the slider for nearly a third of his pitches, getting whiffs on nearly half of its swings.
5. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks (Last Month: Not Ranked)
6-2 (12 GS), 2.78 ERA, 73 K, 11 BB, 10 HR, 163 ERA+, 2.5 WAR
At 35, Greinke has had to adjust to stay effective; this season, for the first time in his career, his fastball has averaged below 90 mph. But he’s made seemingly every adjustment he’s needed—namely, depending on his changeup more than ever—and it’s working, putting him on track for his best season since his Cy Young runner-up 2015.
Missed The Cut
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (Last Month: Not Ranked)
Luke Weaver, Diamondbacks (Last Month: Not Ranked)
Caleb Smith, Marlins (Last Month: 4)
Rookie of the Year
1. Mike Soroka, SP, Braves (Last Month: Not Ranked)
5-1 (8 GS), 1.07 ERA, 46 K, 15 BB, 1 HR, 418 ERA+, 1.9 WAR
In eight starts this year, Soroka has yet to allow more than one earned run in a game. He had a slightly late start to the year, which puts him off the leaderboards for Cy Young—he probably won’t make up that ground as the season wears on, as Atlanta seems likely to closely monitor the innings of the 22-year-old—but otherwise, he’d be climbing that list, too.
2. Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets (Last Month: 1)
.264/.338/.624 (222 PA), 19 HR, 43 RBIs, 0 SB (0 CS), 157 OPS+, 2.3 WAR
After his torrid April, Alonso has into a merely better-than-average May—enough to have bumped him off the list for MVP, but it still has him front-and-center for RoY. (Of course, that’s an easier position to grab when Fernando Tatis, Jr., has been out for a full month on the IL.)
3. Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers (Last Month: Not Ranked)
.315/.366/.517 (161 PA), 4 HR, 27 RBIs, 2 SB (0 CS), 133 OPS+, 2.0 WAR
In a Dodgers outfield with plenty of options, Verdugo wasn’t necessarily a lock to earn steady playing time. But he’s broken through to show that he deserves it, and then some, looking far more comfortable at the plate than he did in his brief exposure to big-league pitching in 2018.
Missed The Cut
Chris Paddack, SP, Padres (Last Month: 2)
Austin Riley, OF, Braves (Last Month: Not Ranked)
Fernando Tatis, Jr., SS, Padres (Last Month: 3)