With the Fall Classic coming to an end, it's time for MLB to pass out some hardware to the game's best
The World Series may be over and the Chicago Cubs have finally exorcised their century-long demons, but the Major League Baseball calendar is never-ending. This week the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will make their announcements for the American and National League awards – Rookie (Nov. 14) and Manager (Nov. 15) of the Year, Cy Young (Nov. 16), and MVP (Nov. 17.)
The voting took place before the postseason began so playoff performances from the likes of aces Jon Lester and Corey Kluber or managers Terry Francona and Buck Showalter were not taken into account. These are strictly regular season awards.
AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer (P, DET); Tyler Naquin (OF, CLE); Gary Sanchez (C/DH, NYY)
At first glance, one may be quick to pick the Yankees’ Sanchez for AL ROY. After the 23-year-old Dominican crushed 20 home runs in a little more than a month (Aug. 10-Sept. 27), and essentially single-handedly kept the Yankees’ postseason hopes alive for weeks, I’d say that is a fair vote. But over the course of the entire season, Detroit’s Fulmer had the greater impact. The former Mets prospect made his way to Detroit last July as part of the Yoenis Cespedes trade and has found a role as the perfect No. 2 starter behind ace Justin Verlander. Fulmer ranked third in the AL in ERA (3.06) and seventh in WHIP (1.12) while finishing in the top 20 in strikeout percentage (20.4) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (13.1).
Prediction: Michael Fulmer
NL Rookie of the Year: Kenta Maeda (P, LAD); Corey Seager (SS, LAD); Trea Turner (2B/OF, WAS)
All three candidates put together impressive rookie campaigns, but Seager’s performance was truly special. The 22-year-old was outstanding both at the plate and in the field, hitting .308/.365/.512 with 26 home runs and 105 runs, all while being a top-10 overall defender in the NL. Seager finished his rookie campaign second in WAR in the NL behind the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, making him the runaway Rookie of the Year winner.
Prediction: Corey Seager
AL Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister (TEX); Terry Francona (CLE); Buck Showalter (BAL)
Both Showalter and Banister had great seasons as managers. Bannister led the Rangers to back-to-back division titles and a 95-win season, while Showalter’s Orioles kept pace in the lauded AL East all season with essentially no starting pitching, earning a wild card berth.
But the clear winner for AL Manager of the Year is Francona. After 81 wins and a third-place finish in the AL Central a season ago, Francona led the Indians to their first World Series since 1997. Although the votes were cast prior to the postseason, the fact that this Cleveland ball club was able to win the AL Central by eight games without its best player, Michael Brantley, a banged-up rotation, and not much slugging in the lineup, speaks volumes about Francona’s ability as a manager.
Prediction: Terry Francona
NL Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker (WAS); Joe Maddon (CHC); Dave Roberts (LAD)
This race may be too close to call. Maddon lead the best team in baseball all summer long, but anything fewer than 95 wins and the Cubs may have been considered a disappointment. Baker was able to step in and guide the Nationals to a 95-win season, 12 more than 2015 with essentially the same roster — a true testament to just how poor of a manager Matt Williams was.
My best guess says that Roberts will win this award. Roberts led Los Angeles to 91 wins and the NL West title in his first season, making him and Tommy Lasorda as the only rookie Dodgers managers to win the division in their first year at the helm. Roberts proved he can do more than just keep his team afloat in tough times, as the Dodgers were without ace Clayton Kershaw for two months, and a bevy of other starters all season long, yet still set the pace in the NL West for most of the summer.
Prediction: Dave Roberts
AL Cy Young Winner: Corey Kluber (CLE); Rick Porcello (BOS); Justin Verlander (DET)
The AL Cy Young Award comes down to a toss-up between Kluber and Verlander — both former award winners who rebounded nicely this season.
Verlander’s best days looked to be a thing of the past after his 2014 season where he posted a 4.54 ERA followed by an injury-plagued ‘15. But the Detroit ace has reinvented himself. Gone are the days of Verlander touching 100 mph in the eighth inning. Although the fastball velocity may be diminished, this season Verlander threw a higher percentage of four- and two-seam fastballs, added more velocity to his slider, and quit throwing his changeup so much. Instead of simply throwing pure heat past hitters, Verlander learned to pitch to his 33-year-old body’s abilities and the result could be his second Cy Young award.
The 2016 numbers between Kluber and Verlander are as close to identical two pitchers can have, but Verlander has the slightest of edges in strikeouts per nine innings (10.04 vs. 9.5), strikeout percentage (28.1 vs. 26.4), batting average against (.204 vs. 214), and WHIP (1.00 vs. 1.06). Both aces are more than deserving of another Cy Young to add to their mantle, but my gut says Verlander walks away with a narrow victory over Kluber.
Prediction: Justin Verlander
NL Cy young Award: Kyle Hendricks (CHC); Jon Lester (CHC); Max Scherzer (WAS)
Scherzer might be the beneficiary of the Cubs’ success. Hendricks and Lester both put together Cy Young-worthy seasons, and both have arguments to be the winner, which very well could lead to split votes from the BBWAA — giving the award to Scherzer, who also is rather deserving.
Hendricks, a ground ball pitcher who doesn’t throw more than 91 mph, led all of MLB in ERA (2.15), had a lower walk rate (5.8 percent), home run rate (0.72 HR/9) and batting average on balls in play (.252) than the other two finalists. Scherzer pitched 25 more innings than Lester, and 40 more than Hendricks, running away with the MLB strikeout crown (284). But on the flip side, Mad Max surrendered 20 more runs than both Cubs pitchers and allowed 10 more home runs than Lester, and 16 more than Hendricks.
While Scherzer and Hendricks certainly have arguments to win, Lester may be best suited for the award this season. His numbers (2.44 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 197 K) certainly back up his candidacy, especially in the second half of the season (14 starts, 1.76 ERA, 0.935 WHIP, .192 batting avg). But perhaps the manner in which he pitched sets him apart. Where Hendricks is strictly a ground ball, weak contact pitcher, and Scherzer is pure power, Lester was a bit of both in 2016. Lester was the best in the NL this season in how he attacked opposing lineups, something that the numbers may not portray so obviously.
Prediction: Max Scherzer
AL MVP: Jose Altuve (2B, HOU); Mookie Betts (RF, BOS ); Mike Trout (CF, LAA)
Altuve and Betts both have very convincing arguments for the AL MVP award. Both are outstanding, young players who change the game both at the plate and in the field every single day. But, as long as Trout is playing, the MVP is his to lose until further notice.
Trout already has one MVP award to his name, and quite frankly, has been robbed of two others (2013, ’15) — and honestly, I can make a stout argument his rookie season (’12) was MVP-worthy as well. This season Trout slashed .315/.441/.550 with an OPS of .991, 123 runs, 29 HR, 100 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases.
Just give him the trophy already.
Prediction: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Kris Bryant (3B/OF, CHC); Daniel Murphy (2B, WAS); Corey Seager (SS, LAD)
This NL MVP race should be a runaway win for Bryant, the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year. Bryant led the league in WAR (8.4) and runs (121) while hitting .292/.385/.554 with a .939 OPS, 39 HR and 102 RBIs — all while playing plus defense at multiple positions (3B, LF) and playing everywhere on the diamond except second base, catcher and pitcher at some point this season.
Seager’s numbers (as noted above) are outstanding, especially for a rookie, and watching him compete with Bryant for future MVPs will be a treat for years to come — something that MLB needs to relentlessly market and push.
The Daniel Murphy offensive renaissance that began last October ran rampant in 2016 (.347/.390/.595,.985 OPS, 47 doubles, 25 HR, 104 RBIs). For was improved as Murphy is at the plate, his defense at second base is still a well-noted liability. If Murphy could have stayed healthier down the stretch, he certainly would have given Bryant a tougher battle for MVP.
Prediction: Kris Bryant
— Written by Jake Rose, an avid baseball fan who also is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Corey Seager photo courtesy of Getty Images)