Major League Baseball just announced the top-three finalists for the various awards voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. If you want a run-down of who’s involved, click here. In this article, I’m going to go over who I think should win each of the four awards with a winner from each league.
AL Rookie of the Year: P/DH Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Even ignoring what he did on the mound, Ohtani outperformed Andújar and Torres, though he had only 367 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, Ohtani posted weighted on-base average of .390 compared to the .361 of Andújar and .349 of Torres. The AL average is .317. Here’s a primer on wOBA for the uninitiated.
Ohtani, of course, was also a pitcher and a great one at that. In 10 starts before suffering an injury, the 24-year-old posted a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 22 walks in 51 2/3 innings. We rarely see two-way players in baseball anymore, and especially not ones that are significantly above-average in both ways. Per Baseball Reference, Ohtani was worth 2.7 WAR as a batter and 1.2 WAR as a pitcher in what amounted to essentially two-thirds of a season. It remains to be seen if Ohtani starts a trend in which more players are capable as both pitchers and position players — probably not — but he was a historically unique player in 2018.
NL Rookie of the Year: OF Juan Soto, Nationals
Personally, I don’t think a ROY, MVP, or Cy Young Award winner has to come from a contending team. It unfairly punishes players who happen to be drafted by, traded to, or sign as free agents with cellar dwellers, often through no fault of their own. Mike Trout is already one of the greatest players ever to play baseball, but he has taken just 15 postseason trips to the plate in his eight-year career. That’s not Trout’s fault and it’s unfair to withhold an award from him because Jered Weaver, for instance, had a bad year.
Anyway. I’m going with Soto over Acuña and Buehler, even though Soto’s Nationals threw in the towel in August. FanGraphs has Soto and Acuña close in many categories, including WAR where both tied at 3.7 (Buehler is at 3.3). I don’t think there’s an objectively correct choice between Soto and Acuña. Soto, however, did it all at one year younger. Soto’s winning the award as a teenager might entice some teams to stop playing service time games with their top prospects, like the Braves did with Acuña and the Cubs with Kris Bryant. Probably not, but a man can dream.
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Athletics
BBWAA awards are voted on before the start of the postseason, so the fact that Cora won the World Series as a rookie manager shouldn’t be considered. For me, I tend to view the MOY award as rewarding a manager who defied expectations. The Red Sox have one of baseball’s largest payrolls and were always expected to be contenders in the AL East. Melvin led the self-proclaimed small-market Athletics from 75 wins in 2017 to 97 in 2018, the club’s highest win total since 2002. Sadly for the A’s, they played in the same division as the 103-win Astros, so they had to settle for a Wild Card berth and were quickly pushed out by the Yankees.
NL Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker, Braves
I sold the Brewers short in my preseason predictions, but a lot of people didn’t, so I think Snitker did the better job among the three candidates. Vegas put the Braves’ over/under at 74.5 wins. They won 90 games. Though still technically in a rebuilding mode, the Braves’ young core gelled much quicker than anticipated, getting big seasons from Acuña as well as Johan Camargo, Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz, and Arodys Vizcaino, among others. Snitker also really seemed to resonate with his players, including veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman.
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Astros
Chris Sale didn’t finish in the top-three, presumably, due to late-season health issues. He finished with 27 starts and 158 innings. The gap between Sale and candidate Blake Snell (180 2/3 innings) is about the same innings-pitched gap between Snell and the other candidates, Corey Kluber (215 innings) and Justin Verlander (214 innings). Snell had the lowest ERA of the three finalists at 1.89 to Verlander’s 2.52 and Kluber’s 2.89. But I’m of the opinion that 214 innings of 2.52 ERA ball is better than 180 2/3 innings of 1.89 ERA ball. Perhaps in the era of “the opener” strategy, which the Rays have championed, eating innings isn’t as big of a deal for a starter, but Verlander pitched into the sixth inning in 31 of his 34 starts. Snell did it 22 times in 31 starts.
NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, Mets
The Phillies fan in me really wants to make a case for Aaron Nola. And there is a case to be made: the Phillies’ defense was so awful that Nola faced significantly more adversity than his competition did. However, deGrom’s season was historically great. He became the second pitcher to finish with a 1.70 ERA or lower since 1996 (Zack Greinke also did it in 2015 with a 1.66 ERA). In fact, it had only been done four other times prior to that dating back to 1969: twice by Greg Maddux as well as by Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan.
AL MVP: OF Mookie Betts, Red Sox
This is one of the rare seasons where Mike Trout is legitimately not the MVP. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference have Betts in the lead in WAR 10.4 to 9.8 and 10.9 to 10.2, respectively. Both sites as well as Statcast paint Betts as a better defender than Trout. Betts also picked up a slight edge with his base running. Is Betts a better player than Trout overall? No, but strictly in 2018, he was.
NL MVP: OF Christian Yelich, Brewers
The NL MVP race between Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, and Javier Báez looks close, but it shouldn’t be. The trio finished within four home runs of each other and within one RBI of each other. But Yelich had the lead in all three triple-slash categories (and OPS, of course). Arenado also played half his games in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, so for me, he finishes a distant third. Báez’s defense doesn’t make up for the gap in offense. Both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs seem to be in agreement, crediting Yelich with 7.6 WAR. They put Báez at 6.3 and 5.3, respectively, and Arenado at 5.6 and 5.7, respectively.