By Zane Harding and Max Smith
There are many good moments in the MLB season to take a step back and take a look at various awards races. Some people choose the midway point of the season as teams all approach 81 games played, others choose the All-Star break—yet at M-SABR, our Presidents have arbitrarily picked August 13 to make their year-end award selections as the season enters its home stretch.
Editor’s note: all stats are up-to-date as of the start of play on August 13th.
Zane: Max, it’s been a while since we picked our All-Star teams, and for some reason, this feels like the right time to assess the end of season award races, reflect on our pre-season picks, and highlight some of the guys that could still make a late season push. You ready?
Max: Let’s do this.
AL MVP: Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox
Zane: Let’s get things rolling with the AL MVP. I’ll tell you what, Miguel Cabrera clearly deserved the 2012 MVP over Mike Trout, and there’s a compelling argument to be made for Julio Daniel Marti–
Max: Let me cut you off right there Zane. I know where you fall on the epic Trout’s 10 fWAR vs. Miggy’s Triple Crown debate of 2012, but this is 2018 and while Trout once again leads the league in fWAR and this time it’s JD Martinez making a Triple Crown push, neither of those guys makes the top two of my ballot. Though your (probably joking) JD argument is not too far fetched since you’ve already narrowed it down to the right team.
Zane: You’re right, you’re right. Mookie Betts is this year’s MVP. Betts has played in 9 fewer games than Trout and 15 fewer games than Jose Ramirez, but he has been far more efficient. He has a wRC+ of 192, 20 points higher than Ramirez’s 172 mark and two points higher than Trout’s 190 mark. But while Trout has been about even with Betts as a hitter, he has been worth four fewer runs as a fielder according to Fangraphs’ defensive component to WAR, which ranks Trout as 1.1 runs above average and Betts as 4.9 runs above average. The biggest difference between Betts, Trout, and Ramirez, however, is their performance in high leverage spots. Betts has posted an incredible 263 wRC+ in high-leverage spots this year (and a .682 ISO, which is absolutely insane). Trout, meanwhile, has a .043 ISO in high-leverage spots and a 120 wRC+. All Trout does is walk in high-leverage spots, while Betts hits bomb after bomb. Ramirez has posted a .438 ISO and 218 wRC+ in high-leverage spots, but that’s still small compared to Betts.
Max: For all you visual learners out there feeling a little overwhelmed by those high-leverage numbers, this breathtaking, 10-minute video of what genuinely has to be one of the greatest at-bats ever should make Zane’s argument pretty clear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g59FR48AJNM
Beyond that my thoughts are as follows: ever since Mike Trout entered the league, voters have been faced with the same annual conversation. Every year, Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and every year the Angels lose. And every year, with Trout’s team struggling, people come up with another candidate on a winning team having a slightly worse season than the Melville Meteor. Not this year though. Mookie has simply been better than Trout, and so has his team. Give him the MVP.
NL MVP: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
(Editor’s Note: Max Brill picked Freeman as his MVP in the preseason. Yes, he was the editor who edited this piece.)
Max: Welcome to the downing part of this article. While the AL features an MVP race for the ages and has eight of the top ten players in baseball by fWAR, our NL contestants have yet to eclipse five wins respectively. Granted, if Matt Carpenter had been playing the way he has since May 15th all season—at which point he was sitting at a .140 average—he would be running away with this one and perhaps even challenging the AL front-runners. But instead, it is looking like a three- horse race between Carpenter, Nolan Arenado and Freddie Freeman (sorry Jacob deGrom, the record is too bad and Scherzer is simply too close in the Cy Young race for him to actually win MVP). With their respective fWAR’s sitting at 4.9, 4.8 and 4.7, my vote goes to the man leading the charge for the up-and-coming Braves over Carpenter’s incomplete season, and another Coors inflated offensive masterpiece from Arenado. Zane, thoughts?
Zane: This one is tough with nobody’s season really screaming “MVP.” Arenado is doing his annual 29 HR, 82 RBI, and NL-best third base defense, and Carpenter has been other-worldly hot. Freeman makes a lot of sense, but I’m just hoping someone separates themselves from the pack. In the meantime though, Freddie’s .320 average, 148 wRC+, and 31.1 line drive percentage give him the edge.
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox
Zane: So, let’s make things clear before we move forward. WAR is nothing more than an approximation and if two guys are virtually equal in it, you have to look at the players’ other stats to decide who was better. Trevor Bauer and Chris Sale have been similarly amazing in 2018 to date, each sitting right around six fWAR with fewer than 30 starts under their belts, but Sale has been better. In two fewer starts, Sale has posted 219 strikeouts (compared to Bauer’s 214), has a lower ERA, FIP, and xFIP (1.97/1.95/2.27 compared to Bauer’s 2.22/2.38/3.11), and he is walking one batter fewer per nine innings than Bauer. This race isn’t as close as it seems. Sale is the guy.
Max: Could not agree more. Beyond that, I am a firm believer that historic greatness should be rewarded as much as possible, and the 2018 Red Sox are displaying exactly that. They might come up just shy of the Mariners’ 116 win record, but even topping 110 with an offense led by four players with 3+ fWAR already in the aforementioned Betts (7.8) and Martinez (4.7), Andrew Benintendi (4.4), and Bogaerts (3.8), and Sale’s 6.0 fWAR dominance puts them in rarefied air.
NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
Max: Saying this after watching him dominate on Sunday Night Baseball hurts almost as much as watching the Nationals blow that exact same game, but Max Scherzer should not win the NL Cy Young. He very well might because his 15-6 record, 2.19 ERA, 2.63 FIP and MLB-leading 227 strikeouts at (12.11 K/9) are not only incredible in their own right, but almost all better than his 2017 Cy Young numbers.
With that being said, Mad Max has not been the best pitcher in his own division. Jacob deGrom—despite his 6-7 record, which is another reason voters might end up giving this one to Scherzer anyways—is having the season of a lifetime and leads Scherzer with 5.8 fWAR to 5.5, and not only that. His 1.77 ERA and 2.21 FIP are both tops in the NL, and his 2.79 xFIP trails only Patrick Corbin. DeGrom is pitching out of his mind, and he should be rewarded.
Zane: Speaking of NL East pitchers though, it would be a shame not to mention the season Aaron Nola is having. The young ace of the Phillies is putting it all together and if his 2.28 ERA and minuscule 0.47 HR/9 are a sign of things to come, he will eventually get a Cy Young of his own.
(Editor’s Note #2: The presidents got it all wrong. Yovani Gallardo deserves the NL Cy Young more than Jacob DeGrom)
AL ROY: Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels
Zane: There are very few things in life more enjoyable than watching Shohei Ohtani play. In fact, I can’t think of any at the moment. Ohtani posted 1.1 fWAR as a pitcher before shifting to full-time hitting due to an injury, and even though he has not played every game as a hitter and is penalized by WAR for being a designated hitter, he has still posted a 1.5 fWAR at the plate. Sure, he has only hit .175 against left-handed pitchers this year, but Ohtani is batting .312 with 12 home runs and 23 total extra-base hits in just 141 at-bats against right-handed pitchers. Ohtani is a force of nature and absolutely deserves the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Max: This is where I would like to point out that my preseason pick for AL ROY was Ohtani from the start while Zane went with Willy Adames, so please factor that in next time we release our M-SABR President Power Rankings. Either way, M-SABR members, and even our readers probably know at this point how much we love Ohtani. So even though Gleyber Torres has been outstanding for the Yankees with an impressive 18 home runs and a wRC+ of 133 that trails only Juan Soto and Ohtani amongst Rookies, Shohei’s uniqueness and sizable combined fWAR lead make this a pretty clear choice. Onto the NL.
NL ROY: Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals
Max: There are very few things in life more enjoyable than watching Juan Soto play. In fact, the only one I can think of at the moment is watching Shohei Ohtani play. (Editor’s Note: Did you know Shohei Ohtani can pitch and hit?) Yet while unlike his AL counterpart, our NL Rookie of the Year ONLY hits, what Soto has done at only 19 is truly historic.
Zane: That’s right, Max. Juan Soto has posted a .305/.423/.551 triple-slash in 2018, is walking nearly as much as he strikes out (17.1% walk percentage and 18.1% strikeout percentage) and has already posted a 2.5 fWAR despite some rough defensive metrics. He has 14 home runs in only 70 games, as well. Sure, the numbers could come back down to earth, but then again, maybe not. He has a .341 BABIP in the majors this year but posted a BABIP well above that mark at most of his minor league stops (.364 at AA, .340 at A+, and .405 at A this year/.373 last year). At only 19 years old, Soto has been called the greatest teenage hitter in major league history, and with good reason. Soto is the runaway winner in the National League.
Max: Thank you for taking over there Zane. I didn’t want to have all of that sound too biased coming from a diehard Nationals fan, but words cannot express my excitement about Childish Bambino and the joy he brings into my daily life. Bryce Harper might leave, but Soto’s future could not be brighter.
Zane: Agreed. (Though I can’t help but wonder what his nickname will be when he’s, say, 35. Then again, we still call Ken Griffey Jr. “The Kid.”)
Tune in at the end of the season for Max and Zane’s final picks.