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MLB Awards Predictions: Picking the MVP, Cy Young and Rookies of the Year

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With baseball returning to a full 162-game schedule, the awards races will once again take on their familiar narratives. After all, Mike Trout is the front runner to win his fourth AL MVP. But there are also new things to consider this time around. Two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom might actually rack up his fair share of wins as the ace of the best Mets team—on paper—since 2015.

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

Bold Predictions for the 2021 Season

Mike Trout smiles while in the Angels dugout

American League MVP

Tom Verducci: Mike Trout, OF, Angels. Sure, it’s not exactly going out on a limb. But it seems too obvious to ignore. The best player in baseball has posted an adjusted OPS of 168 or better nine straight qualified seasons. Only Ty Cobb ever did that. So there’s that. There’s also the possibility we get to watch Trout surrounded by a healthy Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani for a full season for the first time. And can you believe Trout turns 30 this year? That means he will be entering his best home run years.

• Stephanie Apstein: Mike Trout, OF, Angels. Sorry, it's just hard to pick against the best player in the history of the game here. I might have tried to be different and gone with White Sox left fielder Eloy Jiménez, but he tore his left pectoral muscle and is now out five to six months. So I'll stick with this old standby.

• Emma Baccellieri: José Ramírez, 3B, Cleveland. Ramírez carried his strong second-half from 2019 into 2020, and if he keeps it going in 2021, the third baseman might finally be able to crack an MVP. (He's been a finalist in three of the last four seasons.) Ramírez, when he's at his best, can still offer a combination of homers and steals that's hard to match.

• Will Laws: Mike Trout, OF, Angels. Last year marked the first season Mike Trout didn't add any black ink to his Baseball Reference profile. It might seem like a good time to go off the beaten path with a pick here as everyone's favorite amateur weatherman enters his age-29 season. But Trout is still the runaway betting favorite to win his fourth MVP in 2021 for a reason. Various players may be able to outperform him over a 60-game sample—when even his floor is a Hall of Fame pace—but he's still likely to rise to the top of the field in a full season.

• Matt Martell: Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees. Torres was my AL MVP pick before last season, and I'm running it back again this year. Why? His struggles in 2020 can be attributed to missing time and playing through injuries. He also said he was not in playing shape when he returned from the pandemic shutdown because he didn't have access to team facilities to work out. He is a mature hitter, with a great feel for the strike zone, and he's still improving at the plate. Don't forget he hit 38 home runs as a 23-year-old in 2019. There are concerns about his defense at shortstop, but his glove has looked much smoother this spring.

• Nick Selbe: Mike Trout, OF, Angels. Trout can't win the MVP every year, but he can enter each season with the best MVP odds. The soon-to-be 30-year-old has shown us nothing to question his status as the best player in the league, and with the Angels perhaps within striking distance of a playoff spot, Trout taking home his fourth MVP award would be a fitting narrative.

• Michael Shapiro: George Springer, OF, Blue Jays. A loaded Blue Jays lineup could result in Springer leading the league in runs scored, and he should bash plenty of homers in Dunedin, Fla., and Toronto. Springer will emerge as a trendy MVP pick if Toronto is in striking distance of the AL East crown in September.

fernando tatis jr.

National League MVP

Tom Verducci: Ronald Acuña Jr, OF, Braves. Only four players last year averaged an exit velocity of 92.3 mph (postseason included) and a sprint speed of 28.8 feet per second: Acuña, Trout, Randy Arozarena and Fernando Tatis Jr. Only 23, and close to going 40/40 in 2019, Acuña is about to really take off. Biggest hint: Last season he improved his walk rate from 10.6% to 18.8%.

• Stephanie Apstein: Mookie Betts, OF, Dodgers. He can hurt you so many ways. If he's not hitting, he's stealing bases and home runs. He'll be the Dodgers' MVP over the next few years, and I think he'll be the league's, too.

• Emma Baccellieri: Juan Soto, OF, Nationals. Soto's 218 OPS+ last year represented a number achieved in a season by just six other hitters: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig. It was such a stellar performance from him that I'm left wondering just what he would have done over the course of a full, "normal" season. But with any luck, we'll get the answer to that in 2021, and if it's even remotely in the ballpark of what he did in 2020, it should be enough for MVP.

• Will Laws: Fernando Tatís Jr., SS, Padres. Last year's fourth-place finisher led MLB in average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage and barrels per plate appearance while cutting down his strikeouts and improving his walk rate from his 2019 Rookie of the Year campaign. He also plays a terrific, flashy shortstop, separating him on the defensive end from the guy I was very close to choosing, Juan Soto. The stage is set for Tatís to take the league by storm after signing the longest contract in the sport's history, and he'll get the lion's share of the credit if the Padres challenge the Dodgers in the NL West.

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• Matt Martell: Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers. Seager is the best offensive player at the deepest position in baseball. He also is the best hitter on a Dodgers team that could be the first repeat World Series winner in two decades.

• Nick Selbe: Juan Soto, OF, Nationals. At 22 and already the best hitter in the National League, Soto could have made a run at the award last season had he played the full 60 games. Soto has cemented himself as one of the best young hitters in league history, and it's only a matter of time before the hardware starts coming in. The NL East will be highly competitive this year, so Soto will need to continue his mashing ways for the Nats to stay in the hunt.

• Michael Shapiro: Juan Soto, OF, Nationals. Perhaps teams will pitch around Soto to a degree, but this is a player who could very well win the slash-line triple crown. A Bonds-esque OBP may be too jarring for voters to ignore.

Projecting the 2021 Standings

Aug 3, 2020; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at Yankee Stadium.

American League Cy Young

Tom Verducci: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees. Cole has finished second, fourth twice and fifth in Cy Young Award voting but never won it—reminiscent of Curt Schilling (three seconds, one fourth, no wins) and Mike Mussina (one second, two fourths, three fifths, no wins). Competition is thin. Because of innings limits coming off a short season, you will see a record low in MLB qualified pitchers (current low over a 162-game season: 57 in 2018). Cole is an elite workhorse.

• Stephanie Apstein: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees. It says quite a bit that his 2.84 ERA was regarded as something of a disappointment in his first season in New York. But this is his first real season—162 games, fans, regular-sized playoffs. He's built for this.

• Emma Baccellieri: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees. It feels a little unbelievable Cole hasn't yet won a Cy, but it stands to reason that if he just keeps doing exactly what he has been doing, he'll run into one eventually.

• Will Laws: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees. I still think Cole was robbed by ex-Astros teammate Justin Verlander—well, really, the Cy Young voters—in 2019, when he led the league in ERA, ERA+, strikeouts and FIP. Nevertheless, he's racked up top-five finishes in each of the last three years without taking home the hardware. I'm confident Cole can figure out how to keep the ball in the yard more often during his second year in pinstripes, which should be aided by a regression to the mean after he ranked sixth last season in home run to fly ball rate.

• Matt Martell: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees. Remember the last time we saw Cole pitch over a 162-game season? With the Astros in 2019, he went 20–5 and led the majors with 326 strikeouts and a 185 ERA+. Expect him to do that again this year.

• Nick Selbe: Lucas Giolito, RHP, White Sox. Giolito followed up his breakout 2019 season with a strong showing in 2020. He upped his strikeout and ground ball rates while cutting down on his home runs allowed. Giolito mostly scrapped using his curveball last season, which was a good call after opposing batters hit .318 against it in 2019. He's shown great command of his other three pitches and appears poised to lead Chicago's staff in what should be a banner year.

• Michael Shapiro: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees. New York's ace appears to be firing on all cylinders in spring training, and he could cross 300 strikeouts once again in 2021. A healthy Cole remains the Cy Young favorite.

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Mets ace Jacob deGrom and the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo are both dealing with back issues heading into the 2020 MLB season.

National League Cy Young

Tom Verducci: Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers. It’s always difficult to pick against Jacob deGrom of the Mets, especially when Buehler will not accumulate the same volume of work as deGrom. The Dodgers budget for a seven-month season, which often means a six-man rotation, extra rest and abbreviated starts. But Buehler, 26, has reached a physical peak in terms of strength and a mental peak in terms of various ways to set up and put away hitters.

• Stephanie Apstein: Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets. Finally, it seems the Mets may have put together a team worthy of him. He's going to be so much fun to watch with Francisco Lindor playing behind him and giving him run support.

• Emma Baccellieri: Luis Castillo, RHP, Reds. There are just two NL pitchers who have posted an ERA+ of at least 140 and a K/9 of at least 10 in each of the last two seasons: Jacob deGrom (duh), and Luis Castillo. He'll have to cut his walk rate to be in the conversation for Cy Young—and there was a downward trend there from 2019 to 2020—but I think an award-worthy season is within reach for him with the right breaks.

• Will Laws: Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets. Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish faced easy schedules in the central division schedule alignment last year, so take their outstanding 2020 outputs with a grain of salt. I really want to pick San Diego's Dinelson Lamet, who allowed one earned run or fewer in nine of his 12 starts last year and never gave up more than three. But the 28-year-old Dominican hurler missed the Padres' playoff run with an elbow injury, which kept him out of spring training until Wednesday, and he won't be built up in time for Opening Day. So I'll go with the two-time Cy Young winner who's touched 102 mph in spring training to boost an already unheard of velocity increase.

• Matt Martell: Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals. Jack Flaherty had a down year last year in numbers only. One bad start (nine runs in three innings) inflated his ERA to 4.91—it was 3.13 in his other eight outings. And because of the Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak, Flaherty waited 26 days to make his second start after getting the ball on Opening Day. He also pitches in the NL Central, the worst offensive division in the league. Look for Flaherty to have a better year than the one he had in 2019, when he posted a 2.75 ERA and led the NL with a 0.968 WHIP.

• Nick Selbe: Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets. Like Trout, there may be years when pitchers have better seasons than deGrom, but I won't be convinced deGrom isn't the best pitcher in the National League until he gives me a reason to. The 32-year-old nearly won his third straight Cy Young in 2020 and led the NL in strikeouts for the second year in a row. He tallied at least 200 innings each year from 2017-19 and didn't miss a start last season, so he's as safe a choice as there is to reclaim the award in 2021.

• Michael Shapiro: Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets. The game's best pitcher is somehow getting better as he reached 102 mph this spring. With an improved Mets roster flanking him, this is deGrom's award to lose.

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Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Randy Arozarena (56) runs the bases after hitting a home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning of game four of the 2020 World Series at Globe Li.fe Park

American League Rookie of the Year

Tom Verducci: Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays. Is he legit? Consider teams such as the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers game-planned to stop him in postseason play and couldn’t do it. He absolutely destroys fastballs. The only danger is if he gets impatient with the way teams avoid challenging him.

• Stephanie Apstein: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners. A few weeks into the season, conveniently after he can no longer accumulate enough days on the roster for a full year of major league service time, I expect the Mariners to call him up. And I expect him to rake.

• Emma Baccellieri: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners. Because Randy Arozarena feels just a little too obvious.

• Will Laws: Randy Arozarena, OF, RaysForecasting ROY races is exceedingly tough, as you never know how quickly rookies will adapt to big-league pitching and the adjustments they'll make when their weaknesses are exploited. But we have as good of an idea as we'll ever have with Arozarena. It's really difficult to choose anyone other than the guy who's already shown he has what it takes to rake against the best pitchers MLB has to offer on the sport's biggest stage.

• Matt Martell: Andrew Vaughn, 1B/OF, White Sox. With Eloy Jiménez out for at least five months, the White Sox are going to have Vaughn start in left field this season, even though he's primarily a first baseman. No matter, Vaughn can absolutely rake.

• Nick Selbe: Randy Arozarena, OF, RaysSometimes, it's best not to overthink things. Arozarena was October's breakout star and will get every opportunity to anchor the Rays' lineup from Day 1. It will be interesting to see how Arozarena adjusts to breaking balls after struggling against them during the 2020 regular season. After stealing the show last postseason, the 26-year-old won't catch anybody by surprise in 2021.

• Michael Shapiro: Andrew Vaughn, 1B/OF, White Sox. Before Jiménez got hurt, Vaughn was likely to be the White Sox' starting designated hitter, even though it's rare to see a rookie penciled in as an everyday DH. That's how good his bat is. Don't be shocked if we see a 30-homer season from the South Side's latest phenom.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Ke'Bryan Hayes

National League Rookie of the Year

Tom Verducci: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates. The son of former big leaguer Charlie Hayes crushed it in his 24-game cameo last season (.376, .442, .682). In that trial he hit .292 and slugged .667 against breaking pitches, always a good barometer of a young hitter’s potential. Hayes, 24, is an old-school line drive hitter.

• Stephanie Apstein: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates. He was so impressive in a tiny sample (1.124 OPS, 95 plate appearances) last season he got Rookie of the Year votes for it. Over a full season, he should be a stud.

• Emma Baccellieri: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates. Hayes got a few ROY votes last year after putting up a ridiculous 199 OPS+ in 95 plate appearances. But I'm most excited to watch his defense—just look at this!—and though he probably won't post another 199 OPS+, he has enough pop in his bat to keep up the strong performance at the plate, too.

• Will Laws: Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves: As I did with Arozarena in the AL, I'm going to go with the rookie who already showcased his talent to great effect in the playoffs. The former No. 3 overall pick recorded a 1.59 ERA last year in 10 starts, including four in the playoffs, where he shut out the Reds and Marlins before finally wavering a bit against the Dodgers' otherworldly plate discipline. Still, this is a 22-year-old armed with one of the game's most devastating changeups and already has an NLCS Game 7 start under his belt. Those are fine ROY credentials.

• Matt Martell: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates. Of Hayes's 65 batted balls last season, 55.4% of them registered an exit velocity of at least 95 mph, Statcast’s hard-hit threshold. He did that while also making frequent contact; he whiffed on just 18.1% of his swings, much lower than the MLB average (26.8%). The best player comparison for the contact skills Hayes displayed last season? Mike Trout, whose 55.1% hard-hit rate was the best among qualified hitters with such a low whiff-rate (19.5%).

• Nick Selbe: Sixto Sánchez, RHP, MarlinsSánchez was part of an exciting trio of young arms that helped lead Miami to the postseason in 2020. His upper-90s fastball and 96-mph sinker are the headline-grabbers from his arsenal, but it was his changeup that confounded opposing hitters the most last season, generating a .148 batting average against with a 28% whiff rate. Sánchez pitches to contact more than you might expect and generates a lot of ground balls. If he continues to refine the rest of his pitch mix, he's in store for another strong year.

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