MLB preview: Predicting MVP, Cy Young winners - Sports Illustrated

MLB Preview: Picking This Year's MVP and Cy Young Winners

This year is going to be all about weird and wild stat lines.
Author:
Publish date:

This season is going to be overloaded with bizarre stat lines. Every player is limited to a sample size about one-third of what they're used to, so some great players will produce depressing numbers while relative no-names insert themselves into the MVP race. It's going to be weird. It's going to be wild. Let's all just be grateful we're getting any baseball at all, OK?

SI's MLB experts are here with predictions on the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards.

Aaron Judge standing with a bat

American League MVP

• Tom Verducci: Mike Trout, OF, Angels. He’s just too good, especially now with Anthony Rendon behind him in the lineup. Turning 29 in August, this shortened season might be the peak of his career.

• Stephanie Apstein: Mike Trout, OF, Angels. Look, crazy things can happen over a 60-game season, but it's hard to pick against this guy, especially with Mookie Betts out of the league.

• Emma Baccellieri: Mike Trout, OF, Angels. Sometimes, the best choice is the most obvious one. But to back that up... FanGraphs projects only two position players to accumulate more than 2.5 WAR in 60 games: Trout and Alex Bregman. Trout's worst 60-game rolling WAR over the last three seasons? 2.5. In other words, Trout's statistical worst is expected to be equal to baseball's absolute best for 2020. (His best 60-game rolling WAR over that stretch, meanwhile, was 5.4. Watch out.)

MORE: Check out this year's MVP betting favorites.

• Connor Grossman: Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees. If Judge can stay healthy–a big if–he has the power to hit an eye-popping amount of home runs over 60 games. It helps to be on the Yankees, too.

• Matt Martell: Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees. The starting shortstop on the AL's best team is coming off a strong sophomore campaign: .278/.337/.535 with 38 homers, 90 RBIs, 128 OPS+ and 3.6 fWAR. The pressure could hardly be higher for the Yankees in this year's 60-game sprint. Look for Torres, now 23, to continue thriving in the spotlight.

• Michael Shapiro: Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians. There remain questions regarding just how many games Mike Trout will play in 2020, opening the door for a new MVP favorite. Francisco Lindor could carry an oddly under-the-radar Cleveland club to the AL Central title. Lindor is capable of hitting 20 dingers and stealing 20 bases. He may lead the AL in runs. Expect a big year in Cleveland as Lindor's impending free agency looms over the franchise.

Bryce Harper running

National League MVP

• Tom Verducci: Cody Bellinger, OF/1B, Dodgers. Last year, in his age-23 season, Bellinger increased his walk rate and cut his strikeouts significantly. He is also a premier defender with one of the best outfield throwing arms.

• Stephanie Apstein: Mookie Betts, OF, Dodgers. Congratulations to Mookie Betts on finally being in a different league from Mike Trout.

• Emma Baccellieri: Juan Soto, OF, Nationals. Soto will turn 22 this October, which would make him the youngest winner of the award in modern baseball history, a few months ahead of Vida Blue's record from 1971. (If Bryce Harper seemed insanely young during his MVP campaign in 2015—Soto will be a full year younger here.) It's an impressive record to land, but if anyone is used to showing off skills beyond his years, it's Soto.

• Connor Grossman: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies. He's been so good for so long—he has to win the league's top award eventually, right? Hopefully the lackluster team around him doesn't drown his case.

• Matt Martell: Bryce Harper, OF, Phillies. Entering his second season in Philadelphia, the 27-year-old superstar should now be acclimated to his new home and ready to do what he does best—soak up the spotlight and dominate in the most impactful moments. In 56 games from July 26 through Sept. 29 (66 days)—last year's equivalent stretch to this season—Harper slashed .268/.380/.581 with 18 home runs in 198 at-bats, good for one homer per 11 ABs. If he has a similar performance this year and the Phillies secure their first postseason berth since 2011, Harper will take home the MVP award for the second time in his first nine seasons. 

• Michael Shapiro: Mookie Betts, OF, Dodgers. A repeat of Betts' 2018 campaign could be in store in Los Angeles. The former Red Sox star will top the National League's best lineup, feasting on first pitches with plenty of protection behind him. Betts should lead the league in runs for the third straight year, and a batting title is certainly in play.

Shane Bieber throws a pitch

American League Cy Young

• Tom Verducci: Charlie Morton, RHP, Rays. In the Rays’ first 60 games last year, Morton was 7-0 with a 2.30 ERA. At 36, he doesn’t need to worry about pacing himself overt 30 starts.

• Stephanie Apstein: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees. This is going to be a weird season for pitchers, who will likely be more prone to injury than ever before, but Cole is a horse who hasn't been hurt since 2016. He's at the peak of his powers.

• Emma Baccellieri: Shane Bieber, RHP, Indians. With due apologies to Gerrit Cole—hey, anything can happen in a short season!—Bieber's breakout 2019 established him as a clear ace, thanks to his improved performance against lefties, and he seems perfectly positioned to do even more in 2020. 

MORE: Check out this year's Cy Young betting favorites.

• Connor Grossman: Lucas Giolito, RHP, White Sox. The 26-year-old righty took a big step forward last year, and put together a stretch of 12 starts that could win him the Cy Young if he replicated it this season: 9-1, 77 1/3 innings, 2.09 ERA, 92 strikeouts.

• Matt Martell: Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Rays. Glasnow was the best pitcher in the American League last season before a right forearm strain landed him on the injured list for nearly four months last May. Through his first eight starts, he was 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA, 55 strikeouts, nine walks and three home runs in 48 1/3 innings. That kind of run this season could secure the Cy.

• Michael Shapiro: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees. Cole is the most likely pitcher to make some form of history in 2020. He could possibly chase an undefeated record alongside a juggernaut roster, and he should beat former teammate Justin Verlander for the strikeout crown. Cole's 2020 alone could make $324 million a worthy investment for the Yankees.

Jacob deGrom throwing a pitch

National League Cy Young

• Tom Verducci: Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers. Few pitchers in baseball have a better combination of velocity and spin on multiple pitches. He has started 53 MLB games and lost only eight of them, while winning 22.

• Stephanie Apstein: Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals. It's tempting to pick Jacob deGrom here—he's won the last two—but Flaherty has the more generous schedule, getting to pitch against the AL and NL Centrals. And Flaherty was electric last year, especially in the postseason, and he's never been injured.

• Emma Baccellieri: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals. After picking up World Series MVP last October, Strasburg has a chance to grow his hardware collection this year by finally adding a Cy Young.

• Connor Grossman: Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets. deGrom devoured opponents in his last 12 starts last year, holding batters to a .173 average and 1.54 ERA. Those 12 starts are the equivalent of the entire 2020 season. It'll be a third straight Cy Young for the  Mets righty.

• Matt Martell: Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals. Last year, July 26 through Sept. 29—the equivalent to this year's 66-day stretch—he went 7-2 with a 0.92 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 88 innings across 13 starts. With another dominant run in 2020, the 24-year-old Flaherty will secure his place among the top five starters in the game.

• Michael Shapiro: Jacob deGrom RHP, Mets. It's hard to bet against deGrom. He struck out 524 batters in the last two seasons, sporting a 2.05 ERA across 421 innings. The battle of New York aces could be the most exciting subplot of 2020.

Luis Robert holding a bat

American League Rookie of the Year

• Tom Verducci: Luis Robert, OF, White Sox. He already has the security of a six-year contract. He also has speed, power and a deep lineup around him. La Pantera destroyed the minors last year in a 30-30, 1.001 OPS year.

• Stephanie Apstein: Luis Robert, OF, White Sox. The White Sox outfielder's power is already legendary. In a short season, opponents may not have time to adjust to him. And I like his style—earlier this week, he liked his own highlight video on Instagram during a game.

• Emma Baccellieri: Luis Robert, OF, White Sox. After signing a serious contract extension this winter, Robert's hype is high. But with his combination of speed and power, the 22-year-old outfielder seems more than able to answer the call. (And if RoY isn't him? Look out for fellow rookie teammate Nick Madrigal.)

• Connor Grossman: Jesús Luzardo, LHP, A's. Luzardo shined in his first taste of the big leagues late last year, and no matter if he starts the season out of the bullpen or rotation, he should pick up where he left off.

• Matt Martell: Luis Robert, OF, White Sox. On Saturday, the dynamic centerfielder smacked two home runs in the White Sox' intrasquad game—the first to deep center into the shrubbery, the second a Frank Thomas-like blast to the last row of seats in the left field bleachers. Robert, who turns 23 on Aug. 3, is also an elite defender and baserunner. He's one of the main reasons why the future is so bright on the South Side of Chicago.

• Michael Shapiro: Luis Robert, OF, White Sox. Apologies for the chalk pick, but the crop of AL candidates outside of Robert isn't particularly enticing. Jesus Luzardo has the talent to win the award, though his innings and starts could limit a potential run at Rookie of the Year.

Gavin Lux running

National League Rookie of the Year

• Tom Verducci: Gavin Lux, 2B, Dodgers. Make it a clean sweep for the Dodgers. Remember when the Dodgers refused to trade Lux for Felipe Vázquez of the Pirates? Lux has a quick, powerful stroke that should produce power without sacrificing a high average.

• Stephanie Apstein: Gavin Lux, 2B, Dodgers. The Dodgers second baseman can hit that ball. Check out this stat line from 49 games in Triple A last year: .392/.478/.719. Yeah.

• Emma Baccellieri: Gavin Lux, 2B, Dodgers. With his bat and his speed, Lux stands out at the top of a loaded system for the Dodgers.

• Connor Grossman: Joey Bart, C, Giants. With Buster Posey opting out of this season, the Giants should afford his heir every opportunity to play this season. Bart may not start the year in the bigs, but it shouldn't be long before San Francisco's top prospect is in the squat.

• Matt Martell: Gavin Lux, 2B, Dodgers. With a well-rounded offensive approach and solid glove, expect Lux to join teammates Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager as the third Dodgers player to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award in the past five seasons.

• Michael Shapiro: Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers. The 6'6" righty fanned 32 batters in 34 2/3 innings last season, and his stuff has been electric in summer camp. If the Dodgers dominate the National League, May could rack up wins and strikeouts as he battles teammate Gavin Lux for Rookie of the Year.