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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Projecting the 2018 MLB MVP and Cy Young Award Winners

Each Major League Baseball team still has over 40 games left to play in the regular season, as the playoff race is starting to truly take shape. Even though a lot can happen during that roughly quarter of the season, let’s take a look at my picks (at this point in the season) for some of the major end of the season awards.
American League MVP- Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox: With apologies to the amazing Mike Trout, the forever king of WAR (and Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez), this award should go to the best player on the best team. If the difference in play between Betts and Trout was wider, this wouldn’t be my pick, but the Sox outfielder has nearly matched his Angels counterpart, hitting a league-leading .340 with 26 home runs, 58 RBI and 22 stolen bases. He has also scored 93 runs in 95 games and is possibly the best defensive right fielder in the game.
Betts’ bWAR currently stands at 7.1, which is a notch behind Trout’s 7.8. However, he has appeared in 14 fewer games and his team is on pace for 114 wins while the Angels currently languish in fourth place in the American League West with a .500 record. Barring anything drastic changing, Betts seems like a safe bet to get some new hardware for his mantel this autumn.
National League MVP- Javy Baez, Chicago Cubs: Things get a little tougher to pick when moving over to the Senior Circuit. While a number of players have legitimate cases, nobody is running away with it. My pick is Baez, the engine of the Chicago Cubs, which is the best team in the league. The 25-year-old is a transcendent defender who has played all over the infield this year, hitting .298 with 25 home runs, a league-leading 88 RBIs and 19 stolen bases.
Lorenzo Cain of the Milwaukee Brewers (5.3) and Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals (5.2) both have a higher WAR than Baez (4.9), but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. A significant portion of Cain’s value has come from excellent defense, meanwhile Carpenter’s season has been buoyed by red-hot surge that came after he was hitting .140 as late as May 15th.  Baez is perhaps the most exciting player to watch in baseball, and appears to be taking the leap to superstar status while possibly earning his first MVP.
American League Cy Young- Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox: Assuming he is not significantly hampered by a recent minor injury that has shelved him for a short period, this award should be Sale’s to lose. He is 11-4 in 22 starts and leads the American League with a 2.04 ERA, 207 strikeouts, a 216 ERA+ and 2.07 FIP. His primary competition are two guys in Cleveland—right handers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer; and two guys in Houston—right handers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. All four have been terrific this year and pitch for likely division winners, but they have been a notch below Sale.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Sale will be himself and avoiding a second half fade that has plagued him during his career. The slender lefty has lit it up in the first half of seasons to the tune of a combined 69-26 record and 2.66 ERA. However, he has found the going tougher in second halves as evidenced by his 33-36 mark and 3.21 ERA.
National League Cy Young- Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals: Before getting into Scherzer, a special shout out to New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom, who has a league-leading 1.77 ERA and 2.20 FIP. However, his team is so putrid, he will struggle to get to 10 wins (he currently has six). Despite his utter dominance, New York is just 9-14 in games he has started. He has been great, but with Scherzer being at a similar level, the tie has to be broken for the pitcher performing at for a team still playing meaningful games (barely in Washington’s case).
Scherzer is 15-5 with a 2.28 ERA in 24 starts, leading the league in wins, innings pitched (161.2) and strikeouts (216). For good measure he also leads in WHIP (0.897). If he wins the Cy Young would be his third in a row and fourth of his career, cementing his eventual enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His one likely opponent is young Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola, who is having a great season, but would have to have a 1988 Orel Hershiser-type run to end this season in order to have any realistic chance to take down Scherzer at this point.

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