Quickly

  • As baseball's stretch run gets underway, we zoom in on the incredibly tight National League races for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.
By Emma Baccellieri
September 05, 2019

We’re into the home stretch now, so it’s time for one last in-season round of Awards Watch. (This post is just for the National League; American League awards watch can be found here. Last month’s NL awards ballot lives here.) Get ready for close races all across the board.

This piece picks 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.

MVP

1. Christian Yelich, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Last Month: 2)

.326/.422/.672 (555 PA), 43 HR, 93 RBI, 73 BB, 26 SB (2 CS), 175 OPS+, 6.4 WAR

This one is close. We’ve said this on every edition of this awards ballot; it’s been close all season. But, now, it’s really, truly, seriously close. The Yeli-vs.-Belli race gives you two players with highly similar offensive production to date. From there, voters’ evaluational preferences may lean toward defense (Belli) or stolen bases (Yeli) or the slightly better offense (Yeli) or even the classic pick of the one on the better team (Belli). It’s so close! Pick either!

...But, here, as we consider the choice that voters are most likely to make, not the choice that’s objectively the “best” (if such exists here), we’ll go with Yeli, as it’s pretty hard to turn down the player with a best-in-baseball 1.093 (!) OPS.  

2. Cody Bellinger, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last Month: 1)

.308/.412/.651 (584 PA), 44 HR, 104 RBI, 86 BB, 11 SB (5 CS), 174 OPS+, 8.2 WAR

Really, think of this one more like “No. 1.45” and “No. 1.55,” rather than “No. 1” and “No. 2.” Belli’s case is just as strong as Yeli’s; it’s just different. It’s thankfully easy to look at defense here, since the two play the same position—and Belli has clearly been better, markedly so, by just about any defensive metric or edition of the eye test. This gives him the lead in WAR. (For what it’s worth, his lead in FanGraphs WAR is smaller, at 7.3 to 7.1, but it’s still there, as is his lead in Baseball Prospectus’ WARP, at 7.6 to 6.0.) By any of these, Belli has been the more complete player. The question is just how much that will matter to voters.

3. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals (Last Month: 5)

.338/.417/.636 (549 PA), 32 HR, 114 RBI, 57 BB, 3 SB (1 CS), 161 OPS+, 6.0 WAR

Already, Rendon was having the best season of his career. And then he hit August. Last month, Rendon hit .394/.450/.712, the best month of any player in the National League, a monster effort to launch him into the fringe of the MVP conversation. If he can somehow maintain this in September, he… well, won’t crash the conversation, but he’ll make it that much more interesting.

4. Ketel Marte, 2B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (No. 3)

.328/.387/.591 (582 PA), 30 HR, 85 RBI, 48 BB, 9 SB (2 CS), 146 OPS+, 6.6 WAR

Marte’s case is anchored by his up-the-middle defense, which is sterling, and newly matched this season by some real pop in his bat. (And less crucial, but still worth noting: He’s the National League’s hit leader, with 173.)

5. Ronald Acuña, Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves (Last Month:  4)

.282/.365/.514 (642 PA), 36 HR, 92 RBI, 65 BB, 33 SB (8 CS), 120 OPS+, 4.8 WAR

Will we see 40-40? It’s only been done four times (1988 Jose Canseco, 1996 Barry Bonds, 1998 Alex Rodriguez, and 2006 Alfonso Soriano), but Acuña’s now in striking distance of making it five. The 21-year-old’s power-speed threat is unmatched.

6. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies (Last Month: 9)

.297/.358/.555 (573 PA), 30 HR, 76 RBI, 45 BB, 19 SB (8 CS), 116 OPS+, 5.7 WAR

Story followed a lukewarm July (.784 OPS) with a scorching August (1.078 OPS), while his premium shortstop defense remained top-notch. Just… don’t think about anything else that the Rockies did in August. For everyone’s sake.

7. Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals (Last Month: Not Ranked) 

.299/.406/.581 (564 PA), 32 HR, 98 RBI, 85 BB, 12 SB (1 CS), 145 OPS+, 5.0 WAR

Soto has followed his strong 2018 with an even stronger 2019, further established by his tear through August. Now please take a moment to reflect on the fact that he’s still not even 21.

8. Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets (Last Month: 7)

.267/.367/.593 (594 PA), 45 HR, 105 RBI, 63 BB, 1 SB (0 CS), 151 OPS+, 4.6 WAR

Any MVP case here is anchored by the typical caveat of one-dimensional-slugging-first-baseman, but, man, Alonso is an incredibly fun one-dimensional-slugging-first-baseman. And, you know, baseball’s home run leader.

9. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Atlanta Braves (Last Month: Not Ranked)

.262/.381/.535 (578 PA), 34 HR, 82 RBI, 86 BB, 3 SB (2 CS), 129 OPS+, 5.1 WAR

This isn’t Donaldson’s 2015 MVP season, but it’s a serious resurgent effort from the 33-year-old—with the return of his characteristic bat and solid defense at the hot corner. 

10. Javier Báez, SS, Chicago Cubs (Last Month: No. 6)

.281/.316/.532 (560 PA), 29 HR, 85 RBI, 28 BB, 11 SB (7 CS), 112 OPS+, 4.7 WAR

Báez has cooled from last season’s breakout (which made him runner-up for MVP), but his deal is the same as ever—premium defense, speed, and versatility.

Cy Young

1. Max Scherzer, Nationals (Last Month: 2)

9-5 (23 GS), 148 ⅔ IP (6.5 IP/GS), 2.60 ERA, 1.016 WHIP, 207 K, 28 BB, 7.4 K/BB, 13 HR, 180 ERA+, 5.7 WAR

This race is just about as close as MVP, and it’s even more chaotic. Scherzer’s case is tarnished by his time on the IL, his performance has recently fell a bit, and he’s far behind other contenders in innings pitched. (But, crucially, he’s still qualified for end-of-year titles, if only barely.) And yet he’s still been dominant. His K/BB is the 15th best in MLB—ever. He’s a WAR leader in both Baseball-Reference’s runs-allowed-based model and FanGraphs’ FIP-based model. (Scherzer’s 2.27 FIP is the lowest in baseball.) His case isn’t perfect, but it’s seriously strong.

2. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (Last Month: 1)

12-5 (26 GS), 161 ⅔ IP (6.2 IP/GS), 2.45 ERA, 1.058 WHIP, 142 K, 24 BB, 5.9 K/BB, 15 HR, 169 ERA+, 4.0 WAR

Ryu’s only key statistical point is in ERA. But if you’re going to lead baseball in only one metric, ERA is a strong one (for award ballots, at least), and a sub-2.50 ERA is going to be eye-grabbing, even if it isn’t backed up by any other flashy numbers. He’ll likely benefit from his lead over the other contenders in wins, too—but if he continues to slip the way that he’s done in his last few performances, maybe none of this will matter. 

3. Mike Soroka, Braves (Last Month: 5)

11-3 (25 GS), 152 ⅔ IP (6.1 IP/GS), 2.53 ERA, 1.100 WHIP, 119 K, 35 BB, 3.4 K/BB, 10 HR, 183 ERA+, 5.3 WAR

For context, Soroka’s best-in-baseball ERA+ is better than that of rookie Jose Fernandez, rookie Dave Righetti, or rookie Roy Oswalt. Which plays well for him in Rookie of the Year, certainly, but it’s enough to play for Cy Young, too.

4. Jacob deGrom, Mets (Last Month: 3)

8-8 (28 GS), 176 IP (6.3 IP/GS), 2.76 ERA, 1.045 WHIP, 220 K, 42 BB, 5.2 K/BB, 18 HR, 149 ERA+, 5.4 WAR

The National League’s strikeout leader isn’t quite replicating his remarkable Cy Young run from 2018, but he’s certainly staying close enough to it to land on this list. 

5. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (Last Month: Not Ranked)

16-5 (28 GS), 179 IP (6.4 IP/GS), 3.47 ERA, 1.039 WHIP, 215 K, 43 BB, 5.0 K/BB, 20 HR, 135 ERA+, 5.2 WAR 

Strasburg’s candidacy is old-school—a workhorse with wins—but he’s solid, if not stellar, in more modern metrics, too.

Rookie of the Year

1. Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets (Last Month: 3)

.267/.367/.593 (594 PA), 45 HR, 105 RBI, 63 BB, 1 SB (0 CS), 151 OPS+, 4.6 WAR

And, finally, another strikingly close race. Alonso-vs.-Soroka largely comes down to a matter of preference; “baseball’s home run leader” and “historically great pitching performance” are, as always, tricky to measure against each other. But Alonso gets the boost for now—the home run crown, after all, is hard to beat.

2. Mike Soroka, SP, Atlanta Braves (Last Month: 2)

11-3 (25 GS), 152 ⅔ IP (6.1 IP/GS), 2.53 ERA, 1.100 WHIP, 119 K, 35 BB, 3.4 K/BB, 10 HR, 183 ERA+, 5.3 WAR

Since 1972, there have been eight rookie pitchers with an ERA below 2.55. Seven won Rookie of the Year. The eighth is Soroka.

3. Fernando Tatis. Jr., SS, Padres (Last Month: 1)

.317/.379/.590 (372 PA), 22 HR, 53 RBI, 30 BB, 16 SB (6 CS), 150 OPS+, 4.1 WAR

Here lies Tatis’ tremendously fun rookie season, sadly cut short by a back injury, done before its time—yet still strong enough to give him the edge here over the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds.

You May Like

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)