My MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year picks

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Here are my picks for the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards for each league. Obviously, these are all for fun. I’m not a BBWAA member and do not have ballots for any of these awards.

Feel free to flame away.

AL MVP
1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Robinson Cano
4. Adrian Beltre
5. Justin Verlander
6. Austin Jackson
7. David Price
8. Josh Hamilton
9. Adam Jones
10. Alex Rios

I put down my thoughts on Trout vs. Cabrera earlier this week. Cabrera is going to win the MVP, and I’m OK with that. I think Trout was pretty clearly the better player, but he did play in 22 fewer games after opening the season in the minors.

As for the rest, Cano’s awesome finishing kick thrust him from somewhere in the 7-10 range up to No. 3. That spot appeared likely to come down to Beltre vs. Hamilton a couple of weeks ago, but Hamilton’s disappearing act nearly knocked him off the ballot entirely.

I went for Jones over Matt Wieters as the token Oriole. I really wanted to give the last spot to Edwin Encarnacion, but I couldn’t quite justify it. Joe Mauer and Ben Zobrist were also in the running, but Rios had a pretty terrific season.

AL Cy Young
1. Justin Verlander
2. David Price
3. Felix Hernandez
4. Fernando Rodney
5. Chris Sale

Price had the ERA lead, the wins and the tougher schedule. Strictly on an inning-by-inning basis, I’d give him the edge over Verlander here. Still, I think the difference is pretty small and doesn’t make up for the fact that Verlander made the equivalent of four more starts that Price did. Considering the infield defense behind him, the fact that Verlander finished second in the league in WHIP and batting average allowed is pretty amazing.

AL Rookie of the Year
1. Mike Trout
2. Yu Darvish
3. Yoenis Cespedes
4. Jarrod Parker
5. Tommy Milone

Not only does it have maybe the greatest rookie ever at the top, but the AL class is so very deep. Scott Diamond, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Moore, Jose Quintana, Ryan Cook, A.J. Griffin, Manny Machado, Hisashi Iwakuma, Addison Reed, Sean Doolittle and Robbie Ross all made valuable contributions. Jesus Montero still projects very well too, though he was a disappointment this year.

NL MVP
1. Yadier Molina
2. Buster Posey
3. Ryan Braun
4. Andrew McCutchen
5. David Wright
6. Chase Headley
7. Aramis Ramirez
8. Aaron Hill
9. Joey Votto
10. Clayton Kershaw

I’ve flip-flopped a few times here.

Molina is the game’s best defensive catcher, and he started 22 more games behind the plate than Posey did this year. Yeah, he’s the worst hitter of the top six here, but it’s not by all that huge of a margin. He’s 87 points of OPS shy of Posey, 113 points shy of Braun.

One seemingly minor factor that swayed me in the end; Molina somehow hit into just 10 double plays this year. He came in at 21, 27, 19 and 21 the previous four years. It’s really a pretty amazing total given that he’s pretty slow, he hits plenty of grounders and he rarely strikes out. If Molina had made those 10-12 extra outs he usually does on twin-killings, I probably would have gone Posey first.

NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. R.A. Dickey
3. Johnny Cueto
4. Kris Medlen
5. Matt Cain

I spent pretty much the entire year believing Dickey was the choice here. And he still would have been if Kershaw had succumbed to his hip injury. Kershaw came back and made a couple of more starts, though, and he proved to be the best pitcher. He led in ERA, strikeout ratio and WHIP while pitching just six fewer innings than Dickey. He also faced the tougher schedule. Consider that his opponents OPS was .760, even though quality left-handed hitters often sat out against him. Dickey’s was .750, the lowest mark of the top five pure starters (including Gio Gonzalez, not including Medlen).

As for Medlen, his schedule was the weakest of the bunch. But he was amazing, amassing a 1.57 ERA in 138 innings. I think that’s quite a bit more valuable than what Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman did. I also think it trumps Gio Gonzalez’s performance. Gonzalez gave up 43 additional runs (40 earned) while pitching 61 1/3 innings more innings than Medlen. That’s a 5.87 ERA. In comparison, Medlen allowed 19 more runs (17 earned) in 75 1/3 innings more than Kimbrel pitched. That’s a 2.03 ERA.

NL Rookie of the Year
1. Bryce Harper
2. Wade Miley
3. Norichika Aoki
4. Todd Frazier
5. Wilin Rosario

Miley seemed to have this one in the bag for most of the year, but he went 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his final six starts. Harper, meanwhile, hit .330 with seven homers and 27 runs scored in 112 at-bats between September and October. It’s still terribly close, and I’ve gone back and forth on my choice a few times. It’s too bad they can’t tie.

As for Rosario, he was just too sloppy defensively to justify a higher spot. He did lead all major league catchers and rookies in homers, but I think Aoki and Frazier were more valuable this year.

Justin Verlander changed his mechanics to prolong his career

Justin Verlander mechanics
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.

As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.

Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”

Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012.  He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.

The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.