Award week starts next Monday. The Nationals have two representatives in contention: Juan Soto, who hit an opposite-field homer in the MLB Japan All-Star Series on Friday morning, as a Rookie of the Year candidate and Max Scherzer making his annual appearance among the Cy Young finalists.
Soto’s race is preposterously tight. Scherzer’s is more clear, as is the MVP balloting. Let’s breakdown what’s happening:
NL Rookie of the Year
Announced Monday, Nov. 12, 6 p.m., MLB Network
Ronald Acuna Jr., LF, Braves
Juan Soto, LF, Nationals
Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
This race is strange.
Soto worked as the clear favorite for a large chunk of the summer. He came up unexpectedly, stunned everyone with his demeanor and power, then became the clear front-runner for the award.
Acuna began to close, then seemingly passed, Soto as the Braves pushed to the top of the National League East. By the end of the season, he was often labeled the clear favorite. The Sporting News overwhelmingly named Acuna the NL Rookie of the Year in mid-October, and he is the odds-on favorite here. Bovada lists him at 1/3 to win.
It should be closer. Acuna and Soto are neck-and-neck across a flood of categories. Soto’s OPS was .923. Acuna’s .917. Acuna’s OPS-plus 144; Soto’s 142. Baseball Reference lists Acuna with the higher WAR. Fangraphs lists Soto with the higher WAR. Baseball Prospectus also tags Soto’s WAR (WARP in their case) higher, though it’s close.
This list goes on, and we’ll cover it in detail Monday after the announcement when I explain my ballot. Anyone who took a thorough look found what is basically a toss-up.
Oh, and hi Walker Buehler. Good season.
NL Manager of the Year
Announced Tuesday, Nov. 13, 6 p.m., MLB Network
Bud Black, Rockies
Brian Snitker, Braves
Craig Counsell, Brewers
A strange sight during the All-Star Game in the District this season: Bud Black walking back toward the manager’s office in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
The corner room which has doors to the hallway and a back door to the clubhouse was almost his. Black appeared set to take over for Matt Williams before the entire process became so out of whack the person eventually hired, Dusty Baker, said at his opening press conference he thought he was out of the running before a shift brought him to town.
That mess led to Black being hired in Colorado, where he has excelled since 2017. The Rockies won 91 games this season. The hitting was standard. But, the pitching has improved since the former MLB starter took over as manager.
Black is an amusing figure. When working on a story about Black back when he was the presumptive hire in Washington, I talked to former big league pitcher Mark Gubicza. He relayed a story about how Black used to grunt when he threw a changeup in an attempt to deceive hitters. This from a man predominantly throwing 88-mph fastballs.
Snitker was in charge of the Braves’ resurgence this season. He parlayed their unlikely division title into a two-year contract extension in October. Fivethirtyeight.com gave Atlanta a 15 percent chance on Opening Day to make the postseason (the Nationals had a 73 percent chance, ahem). To win the division the Braves had an eight percent chance to win. They did both.
Counsell, a key figure in an excellent baseball/humanity book, “The Chicken Runs at Midnight”, managed the Brewers to the NL Central title with an, at times, unconventional approach. Jesus Aguilar turning into a thing helped.
Whoever wins, congratulations. This is so subjective, Bovada doesn’t even put odds out on it.
NL Cy Young
Announced Wednesday, Nov. 14, 6 p.m., MLB Network
Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets
Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies
Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals
No one on this list needs to grunt to fool hitters. Though, Max Scherzer tends to grunt a lot.
This announcement is expected to end Scherzer’s two-year run as the reigning Cy Young winner in the National League and prevent him from becoming one of five pitchers in history with four or more Cy Young Awards. That’s all thanks to deGrom.
Scherzer had a case for much of the season. But once deGrom’s workload caught up to his, it became clear he should win after what is fair to call a modern-day chapter of Bob Gibson’s 1968 season that forced the mound to be raised.
Gibson delivered a 1.12 ERA that season. DeGrom finished at 1.70 this year, though their FIPs, 1.77 for Gibson, 1.98 for deGrom, and WHIPs, 0.853 for Gibson and 0.912 for deGrom, were similar.
DeGrom allowed more than three earned runs once in 32 starts. That was April 10. If Scherzer wants to pinpoint one day that may have taken him out of the race, he can look at Sept. 14 in Atlanta. His ERA jumped .22 following a four-inning outing in which he allowed six earned runs. It was his worst start of the year.
Would a good start there have changed the outcome of this race? Probably not. But, it would have made it much tighter. Instead, this is deGrom’s hardware. Bovada has deGrom as the 1/5 favorite here.
Announced Thursday, Nov. 14, 6 p.m., MLB Network
Christian Yelich, OF, Brewers
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
Javier Baez, IF, Cubs
Yelich did voters a favor in September when he delivered a 1.307 OPS in the midst of the NL Central playoff race. He walked 24 times and struck out 15 that month. He even stole six bases in seven attempts.
Pulled together with the rest of his season, Yelich’s .326/.402/.598 line and quality defense should deliver the MVP award to him.
Yelich was a solid player before the All-Star break. He, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, Aguilar and Josh Hader were all in D.C. to play in the All-Star Game. Yelich’s .823 OPS at the time did not have him in demand during the week. He was more just a part of stories, mainly the ones that circled back to chastise Derek Jeter for strip-mining the talent in Miami.
But, his second half was potent. Yelich carried a 1.219 OPS after the All-Star break. The Brewers went from 2.5 games out of first at the break, to six games back in late August, to winning the division in game 163 on Oct. 1.
Baez played with his usual flash and style (more of this, please) while upping his power numbers to jump into the list of finalists. He also struck out with impunity, which is standard in this era, beating his OBP down to just .326.
Arenado continued to be Anthony Rendon’s foil. His offensive numbers received the typical Coors Field boost (1.105 OPS at home, .772 on the road), his glove and arm again did amazing work in the field. Arenado has won six consecutive Gold Gloves and gone to four consecutive All-Star Games. Rendon — who had a higher OPS-plus, which adjusts for a player’s ballpark, this season — is yet to receive either accolade.
Bovada has this as yet another layup. Yelich is a 4/9 favorite.
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