If the American League MVP race doesn’t provide as much intrigue as usual this year, at least the Cy Young competition still offers some controversy. Here are my AL picks for the three player awards, with the NL selections to follow on Tuesday.
1. Mike Trout
2. Michael Brantley
3. Robinson Cano
4. Victor Martinez
5. Adrian Beltre
6. Jose Altuve
7. Josh Donaldson
8. Jose Abreu
9. Adam Jones
10. Jose Bautista
Trout wasn’t quite as good this year as he was the previous two, but he’s still the AL’s best player and he’ll finally get his much deserved first MVP award, thanks to the Angels’ ascension. It’s not a particularly close race for first. Trout was third in the AL in OPS behind Martinez and Abreu, but the margin was minuscule. In fact, in OPS+, they graded out at 169 for Abreu, 168 for Martinez and 167 for Trout. And if Trout wasn’t as valuable defensively or on the basepaths as he was in previous years, he still obviously had much more value there than Martinez or Abreu.
Brantley is the clear No. 2 in my mind: 156 games with the AL’s seventh best OPS, plus 23 steals in 24 attempts. WAR isn’t fond of his defense, but I don’t find any fault with him in left field. It gets a whole lot more difficult to separate the candidates after that. Both versions of WAR favor Donaldson and Alex Gordon because of their defense. I’m going Cano third because he was a better hitter than both and still an above average defensive second baseman in my mind. Martinez comes in fourth despite his total lack of defensive value; it was just an awesome offensive season. Particularly nice is that he grounded into a modest 17 double plays, despite the fact that he’s slower than molasses, he was always putting the ball in play (just 42 strikeouts) and he so often had Miguel Cabrera on first base ahead of him.
Abreu’s lack of defensive value, combined with his early DL stint, drops him to eighth on my ballot, though I’m guessing he’ll finish third behind Trout and Martinez when the actual results are revealed in November.
Tough to leave off the list were Kyle Seager, Gordon and both Cy Young candidates.
AL Cy Young
Felix Hernandez: 15-6, 170 H, 68 R, 56 ER, 16 HR, 248/46 K/BB in 236 IP
Corey Kluber……: 18-9, 207 H, 72 R, 64 ER, 14 HR, 269/51 K/BB in 235 2/3 IP
That’s awfully, awfully close.
Fangraphs WAR, which is based strictly on homers, strikeouts and walks, obviously favors Kluber. Baseball-reference WAR, which isn’t FIP based, also prefers Kluber.
The ERA crown went to Hernandez, who finished at 2.14 after having four earned runs from his next-to-last start taken away over the weekend (it was his own error that led to the runs, and yes, it was clearly an error). Kluber finished at 2.44. Even with the extra four earned runs, Hernandez would have come in at 2.28, though he would have lost first place to Chris Sale at 2.17.
As for Sale, I’m discounting him from this discussion. He was more effective than either Felix or Kluber, but he finished 60 innings shy of both. The other two pitched 33 percent more than Sale did.
Hernandez led the AL with a 0.915 WHIP. Kluber’s was a much more pedestrian 1.095.
Kluber faced the tougher competition; his opposing batters had a .715 OPS, whereas Hernandez’s came in at .704.
In the end, I think this comes down to defense. The Mariners’ had the second best defensive efficiency in baseball, behind only Oakland. The Indians ranked 25th. That goes a long way towards explaining how Kluber gave up 37 more hits despite recording 21 more strikeouts and surrendering two fewer homers.
If you buy into that — that the gap between Seattle’s defense and Cleveland’s defense was that huge — then you have to give the Cy Young Award to Kluber. If you don’t, then you might prefer Hernandez. Personally, I don’t think the Mariners’ defense was quite that good — the outfield was something of a mess until Austin Jackson arrived and Brad Miller isn’t anything special at short — but I do believe the Indians defense was that bad and perhaps worse. For that reason, I’m throwing my support behind Kluber. It’s still close, but I think it’s the right call.
4. Jon Lester
5. Max Scherzer
AL Rookie of the Year
2. Dellin Betances
3. Collin McHugh
A year ago, I had Jose Iglesias edging 3 1/2 months of Wil Myers atop my ROY ballot. Neither of those seasons would have cracked the top five for AL rookies this year.
Just look at the starting pitching options:
Collin McHugh: 11-9, 2.73 ERA, 157/41 K/BB in 154 2/3 IP
Yordano Ventura: 14-10, 3.07 ERA, 153/68 K/BB in 179 IP
Masahiro Tanaka: 13-5, 2.77 ERA, 141/21 K/BB in 136 1/3 IP
Matt Shoemaker: 16-4, 3.04 ERA, 124/24 K/BB in 136 IP
Marcus Stroman: 11-6, 3.65 ERA, 111/28 K/BB in 130 2/3 IP
Roenis Elias: 10-12, 3.85 ERA, 143/64 K/BB in 163 2/3 IP
Jake Odorizzi: 11-13, 4.13 ERA, 174/59 K/BB in 168 IP
Only one of them can make the cut, and I’m choosing McHugh. Betances was probably the AL’s best reliever, or at least he and Wade Davis were 1 and 1a. Abreu was Abreu. Honorable mention goes to Danny Santana and Kevin Kiermaier on the offensive side. Santana hit .319 and swiped 20 bases in 405 at-bats. Kiemaier’s .263-10-35 line in 331 at-bats doesn’t look like anything special, but he played some terrific defense in right and center.