The All-Star break is the perfect time to pause and have some baseball discussions. We can argue about the merits of All-Stars and the players that were snubbed, dream of potential trades that can put our teams over the top, and try to project which squads will break through from here to a deep playoff run. And of course, we can also start to wonder who will win the most prestigious end-of-season awards.
With roughly 55% of the season in the books, there is a lot of baseball to be played, but also a lot of baseball already in the bank, and that can help us a lot when it comes to predicting who will hold the hardware by November. Today we take a look at those player who are front-runners in the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year races, and also try to predict who has the best chance of earning these awards by season's end (all WAR stats refer to Fangraphs’ version).
NL Rookie of the Year – Joc Pederson
When the filthy rich Dodgers shipped Matt Kemp out of town, they did so because they’d finally have a true center fielder. After a brief cup of coffee to close out 2014, Pederson has emerged as a force for LA in 2015, becoming a three-true-outcomes monster in 2015, with 45.7% of his plate appearances ending in either a homerun, walk, or strikeout. Even with his low .230 batting average, Pederson’s penchant for patience has elevated his OBP to a nifty .364, which is 15th in the National League.
While a 35-game stretch from April 27 to June 3 seemed to lock Pederson’s status as the ROY (15 homers, 1.030 OPS), his numbers since have dipped tremendously, with Pederson dropping below the Mendoza Line with only 3 dingers. If he continues to be miscast as a leadoff hitter, his RBI totals will suffer and probably fall behind in the race. However, his overall body of work in the first half deserves the praise.
Honorable Mentions: Kris Bryant, Matt Duffy, Chris Heston.
End of Season Pick: Bryant. Despite his controversial late call-up, Bryant has been as good as advertised with the Cubs, with 12 homers and 51 RBI to go along his .376 OBP. Bryant has managed to be a tad more consistent, and that will help build his case, as well as his status as a middle-of-the-order slugger that has also played solid defense.
AL Rookie of the Year – Devon Travis
While the NL rookie class has the aforementioned pair of potential future stars, the AL has been mostly filled with solid players, but nobody that stands out immensely. Among them, Travis may be the best choice if only because he has been great when he’s managed to stay on the field. He leads all AL rookies in batting average, doubles, OBP, slugging, and WAR. However, he has done it in only 191 at-bats, as a disabled list stint cost him 37 games.
Upon his return, Travis has been solid, but still a few steps below the torrid start he had to 2015, when he became one of the key cogs for the Toronto offensive machine. If he can stay healthy, he remains a good candidate for the award, though the competition is starting to catch up.
Honorable Mentions: Roberto Osuna, Lance McCullers, Carlos Correa, Steven Souza Jr.
End of Season Pick: Correa. Despite coming up until June the 8th, Correa has been a force for the Astros, justifying his pedigree as a former #1 draft pick. In 32 games with the big club, Correa has 17 extra-base hits, 5 stolen bases, and a positive grade playing shortstop. If Houston holds on to win the division, Correa’s case will be only enhanced, as he projects to be the AL’s best rookie candidate to have a star trajectory in the league.
NL Cy Young – Max Scherzer
Picking any kind of Cy Young so early in the season can be a silly task, as we know how often they are usually decided in the stretch run. The NL has no fewer than 5 worthy candidates, so I’m going with the guy that has been the most dominant for several stretches. Scherzer’s middling 10-7 record can be explained by a low run support and 4 starts with at least 4 earned runs allowed, but he also owns the league’s lowest FIP for a starter, and leads all pitchers in WAR. Scherzer also has 150 strikeouts in 132 innings, and a minuscule 0.78 WHIP.
Scherzer also posted what can be considered the most emblematic pitching performances of the first half, with a 1-hitter followed by an almost perfect no-hitter that saw him post a combined 197 Game Score. While you could be swayed by Zack Greinke’s ridiculous 1.39 ERA, Scherzer’s final start before the break, an 8.2-inning, 4-hit masterpiece in Baltimore, served as the tiebreaker.
Honorable Mentions: Greinke, Gerrit Cole, AJ Burnett, Clayton Kershaw.
End of Season Pick: Scherzer. While some of Greinke’s peripheral stats scream of fluke (.233 BABIP allowed, 89.5% strand rate), Scherzer is striking out more batters than ever while slashing his walk totals and homers to career-low levels. As Washington improves as a team, more wins should come for Scherzer, who could be primed to become one of the few to win a Cy Young in both leagues.
AL Cy Young – Chris Sale
Sale has pitched for arguably the most disappointing team of 2015, with the White Sox also having a terrible defense, to boot. And still, the lefty has managed to regain his status as the best pitcher in the AL, with a league-leading 157 strikeouts that were boosted by tying Pedro Martinez’s record of 8 straight starts with at least 10 K’s. In fact, 10 of Sale’s 17 starts have featured at least 10 strikeouts, with six of them having at least 12. Sale also leads the league in WHIP and WAR, and his team is 11-6 in his starts (.647), and 30-39 when he doesn’t (.435).
Sale has an outside shot at 300 K’s, which could be the milestone that seals his first Cy Young award. However, he’ll certainly expect better support from his teammates, as the AL also has a logjam at the top of the Cy Young race, and even wins could make a difference in the end.
End of Season Pick: Sale. I just see him getting so close to 300 punchouts that his case will be built on it despite a lack of flashy win totals. However, it will be close as Keuchel has a real shot of winning 20 for a division winner, and he is leading the AL in innings pitched, while being a close second in ERA.
NL MVP – Bryce Harper
Remember before the season when Harper was voted by his peers as MLB’s most overrated player? Well, all he has done in 2015 is rake, entering the All-Star break with a batting profile full of black ink and Bondsian numbers. Harper leads the league in OBP (.466), slugging (.707), and has a 220 OPS+. Harper also leads the NL in WAR by more than a full win, already surpassing what he did in 2013 and 2014 combined.
By this point, it seems as if only an injury or a severe performance regression could be the only things that can stop Harper, who is still only 22 and had to wait until his fourth full season in the big leagues to face a pitcher younger than he is.
End of Season Pick: Harper. The bet is off the board in many Vegas sports books.
AL MVP – Josh Donaldson
Just like the AL and its playoff races, the competition for the MVP is one that should be defined until the end of the year. In what has been a miserable year for Oakland, it all becomes worse when you consider how little they got for Josh Donaldson, who has emerged as one of the league’s best players for his all-around play. Donaldson enters the break with 21 homers and 65 RBI, along with the league’s best defensive performance at third base.
In a Toronto team that needs every ounce of offense and defense to offset its terrible pitching, Donaldson has been the brightest spot, and is projected to keep it up from here to September. The key for Donaldson may come if he is able to guide the Blue Jays to their first playoff berth in 20 years.
End of Season Pick: Trout. At this point, it seems that Trout is reaching Barry Bonds-like levels of performance, which make him an MVP contender almost automatically year after year. After 3 seasons averaging nearly 10 WAR, Trout is already at 5.5 for the year, with a power barrage leaving him tied atop the AL lead with 26 homers. By the end of the season, he should clearly be the top player in baseball, again.