As we wait a few weeks (read: months) for the hot stove season to heat up, let’s put the finishing touches on the 2019 season. As expected, Mets first baseman Pete Alonso and Astros DH Yordan Alvarez won the Rookie of the Year awards. But how will the MVP and Cy Young voting shake out? SI’s Emma Baccellieri rolled out her National League Awards ballot Monday, and below you can find mine for the American League.
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 bold and italics indicate MLB leader. We used Baseball-Reference's version of WAR below.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
.291/.438/.645 (600 PA), 45 HR, 104 RBI, 11 SB (2 CS), 110 BB, 185 OPS+, 8.3 WAR
Trout’s season-ending injury in early September made this race much closer than it otherwise would’ve been. When Alex Bregman reached the 40-homer plateau and surpassed Trout in WAR, I was momentarily willing to buy into the narrative that Bregman brought more value to the 107-win Astros. But Trout led the majors in OPS+ for the fourth straight season, and set career highs in home runs (45) and slugging percentage (.645). He was the only AL player with at least 40 home runs, an on-base percentage better than .400 and a slugging percentage above .600. He's the MVP.
2. Alex Bregman, 3B/SS, Houston Astros
.296/.423/.592 (690 PA), 41 HR, 112 RBI, 5 SB (1 CS), 119 BB, 162 OPS+, 8.4 WAR
Bregman's case shouldn’t be overlooked, though. He was the only Astro to play in at least 150 games, and when Carlos Correa went down again with a recurring back injury, Bregman seamlessly slid over from third to shortstop. His elite blend of power, contact and plate discipline made him the hardest player on his team to get out. He was the only player in the majors to hit at least 30 home runs while recording more walks than strikeouts. Most seasons, Bregman would win the MVP with the ease of one of his long home run strolls around the bases. But if anything is certain, Bregman will definitely use not winning the award as fuel to be even better in 2020.
3. DJ LeMahieu, 1B/2B/3B, New York Yankees
.327/.375/.518 (655 PA), 26 HR, 102 RBI, 5 SB (2 CS), 46 BB, 136 OPS+, 6.0 WAR
LeMahieu was the one constant for a Yankees’ roster decimated by injuries all season–and he wasn’t even in their Opening Day starting lineup! LeMahieu, who entered the year a below-average hitter in his first eight seasons (92 OPS+), posted career highs in hits, runs, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS+ and total bases. And the three-time Gold Glove second baseman also played first and third throughout the season depending on which Yankee regular injured that day.
4. Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland Athletics
.285/.369/.522 (747 PA), 33 HR, 92 RBI, 10 SB (8 CS), 87 BB, 138 OPS+, 8.1 WAR
From defensive liability to Gold Glove finalist. From strong potential to elite performance. This was the year Semien put it all together and became the most valuable player on the 97-win A’s. He was one of five major leaguers to play in every game this season.
5. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
.292/.383/.591 (556 PA), 39 HR, 96 RBI, 6 SB (2 SB), 67 BB, 150 OPS+, 6.2 WAR
If not for a hamstring strain that cost him a month on the IL, Springer might’ve been the Astro finishing directly behind Trout this year. By far his best season, Springer set career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+, home runs, RBI and WAR, and he did all this despite playing in just 122 games, his fewest since 2015.
6. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
.309/.384/.555 (698 PA), 33 HR, 117 RBI, 4 SB (2 CS), 76 BB, 140 OPS+, 5.2 WAR
Whether the Red Sox trade Mookie Betts this winter or not, they have their shortstop of the future locked up through the 2025 season. Bogaerts signed that extension with Boston following the team’s 2018 World Series win, the second he’s won with the Sox, and he responded to the additional six years/$120 million with his best season to date. Alas, career highs from Bogaerts in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS+ and WAR were not enough for the Sox to reach the playoffs.
7. Nelson Cruz, DH, Minnesota Twins
.311/.392/.639 (521 PA), 41 HR, 108 RBI, 0 SB (1 CS), 56 BB, 166 OPS+, 4.3 WAR
Cruz is an inspiration to everybody who hopes their 30s go much better than their 20s, and his age-36 season was his finest offensive one yet. The veteran presence on a young Twins team, Cruz belted 41 homers and had a career-best 166 OPS+. Minnesota was a talented group with a lot of powerful young hitters, but it’s hard to imagine the Twins winning 101 games without Cruz.
8. Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics
.267/.351/.545 (547 PA), 36 HR, 91 RBI, 0 SB (0 CS), 51 BB, 137 OPS+, 5.1 WAR
Why Matt Olson over Matt Chapman? One, Olson had the better offensive year of the two Oakland cornerstones. Two, look at where the Athletics were before Olson returned from the early season injury he suffered in the Tokyo series and after he returned: Before May 7, Oakland was 15-21 and in fifth place in the AL West. From that day on, the A’s went 82-44 and made the playoffs.
9. Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox
.311/.361/.555 (702 PA), 32 HR, 115 RBI, 8 SB (8 CS), 48 BB, 133 OPS+, 5.3 WAR
I remember sitting in the Yankee Stadium press box in 2017 when Devers, then a rookie, ripped a game-tying, 424-foot opposite-field homer off Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning. That was one of only five homers Chapman has allowed in his career off a fastball with a velocity of at least 100 mph. That raw talent Devers showed in that one plate appearance came together this season, when he had 201 hits, 32 home runs, and led the AL with 54 doubles and the majors with 359 total bases.
10. Carlos Santana, 1B, Cleveland Indians
.281/.397/.515 (686 PA), 34 HR, 93 RBI, 4 SB (0 CS), 108 BB, 136 OPS+, 4.5 WAR
Back home in Cleveland after one year in Philly, Santana provided consistent offense when Jose Ramirez went cold for the entire first half of the season. He set career highs in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. And, he had the same number of walks as strikeouts.
1. Justin Verlander, RHP, Houston Astros
21-6 (34 GS), 223 IP (6.6 IP/GS), 2.58 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 300 K, 42 BB, 7.14 K/BB, 36 HR, 179 ERA+, 7.8 WAR
The Cy Young-Cy Old debate won’t come to a close this week when the winner of the award is decided, and really, there is no definitive answer as to which Astros ace was better in 2019. My take: Verlander was the best pitcher for the entirety of the season, while Gerrit Cole had the best four-month stretch of any pitcher of the last decade. But, this is the award for the best AL pitcher of the year, and with that, it should go to Verlander.
2. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Houston Astros
20-5 (33 GS), 212 1/3 IP (6.4 IP/GS), 2.50 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 326 K, 48 BB, 6.79 K/BB, 185 ERA+, 6.8 WAR
How good was that four-month stretch for Cole? Over 22 starts from May 27-September 29, Cole went 16-0 with a 1.78 ERA, a 0.81 WHIP and 226 strikeouts. If the Cy Young does in fact go to Verlander, Cole will get the best consolation prize imaginable—the largest contract to a pitcher in MLB history.
3. Charlie Morton, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
16-6 (33 GS), 194 2/3 IP (5.90 IP/GS), 3.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 240 K, 57 BB, 4.21 K/BB, 146 ERA+, 5.0 WAR
Trained in the art of Astroball, Charlie Morton took his talents to Tampa and continued to dominate hitters with his curveball-fastball combo. His first season since leaving Houston was his best yet, with career highs in innings, wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and ERA+.
4. Shane Bieber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
15-8 (33 GS), 214 1/3 IP (6.4 IP/GS), 3.28 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, 259 K, 40 BB, 6.48 K/BB, 144 ERA+, 4.9 WAR
Remarkably, Bieber was the No. 5 starter in Cleveland’s rotation when the season began. His first appearance of the year actually came in relief. But the 24-year-old Bieber was by far the team’s best starter. Not Justin, who also won All-Star Game MVP, led the league with just 1.7 BB/9, and he led the majors with three complete games and two shutouts.
5. Lance Lynn, RHP, Texas Rangers
16-11 (33 GS), 208 1/3 IP (6.3 IP/GS), 3.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 246 K, 59 BB, 4.17 K/BB, 141 ERA+, 7.6 WAR
Lynn gets the nod here over his teammate Mike Minor because he struck out more guys and allowed fewer walks and home runs. Both had great seasons, but Lynn was better.