Beyond MVPs and NL rookie, it’s tough to pick
It’s the final weekend of the season, and I don’t want to choose award winners in all these important categories.
Yes, there are layups (hello, National League MVP). But man, how to decide on so many of these? Here goes. NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
Through Friday, Harper led the National League in old-school stats (batting average at .331, runs at 117, tied in homers at 41) and those more progressive (tied in on-base percentage at .461, leading slugging percentage at .646 and on-base-plus-slugging at 1.107). Yes, Yoenis Cespedes had an enormous impact on the division winning Mets. Sure, the Nationals’ season didn’t work out as expected. Absolutely, Joey Votto’s second half for the Reds (.368 batting average/.543 on-base percentage/ .632 slugging percentage) is staggering. But there’s really only one viable candidate here, and it’s Harper.
NL Cy Young: Zack Greinke, Dodgers
You could put Greinke and teammate Clayton Kershaw in a bag with Jake Arrieta of the Cubs, reach in and pick one and not be wrong. Through Friday, they rank 1-2-3 in the NL in ERA (Greinke at 1.68, Arrieta at 1.77, Kershaw at 2.16), walks and hits per innings pitched (Greinke at 0.852, Arrieta at 0.865, Kershaw at 0.886) and opponents’ batting average (Arrieta at .184, Greinke at .187 and Kershaw at .194). Those numbers might give Greinke the slight advantage. But Kershaw’s 294 strikeouts are the most for any pitcher since 2002. Arrieta’s best arguments are old school: He leads baseball with 22 wins, and his second half (12-1, 0.75 ERA, a nohitter) helped push the Cubs into the postseason. Kershaw’s best arguments are new school: He led the NL in FIP (fielding independent pitching) and xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching. So I’ll go with Greinke because of ERA and WHIP and because I’m not ready to issue Cy Young awards on FIP and xFIP.
NL rookie of the year: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Ah, a breather. Through Friday, the third baseman led all rookies in homers (26), runs scored (86) and RBI (99), and he has done it in the heart of the lineup, batting second, third, fourth or fifth. His .368 on-base percentage and .492 slugging percentage are better than any NL rookies with more than 300 plate appearances. It’s Bryant.
AL MVP: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
Advanced metrics, particularly wins above replacement ( WAR), love Donaldson, but there’s no consensus this season: FanGraphs (fWAR) has it as a dead heat through Friday at 8.8, while baseball-reference (bWAR) takes the Angels’ Mike Trout (9.1-8.9). Both have 41 homers. Donaldson’s 123 RBI are 10morethan the next-best AL player. (Trout, in the Angels’ less-potent lineup, has 89). But Toronto is ending the longest postseason drought in the majors, and it’s impossible to think the Blue Jays would have done the same without the everyday intensity of their new third baseman.
AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel, Astros
Another impossibly close race, this one between Keuchel and David Price of the Blue Jays (and previously the Tigers). In mid-September, as Houston seemed to be gagging away a postseason berth — Keuchel allowed nine earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in a loss at Texas — Price seemed like he wouldbe the choice. In11 starts for Toronto, to whom he was dealt on July 30, he went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.009 WHIP with 87 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. He’s the ace that staff needed, and his 2.45ERA over his entire season leads the AL. But Keuchel has been essential to the Astros’ turnaround, and since that start against Texas, he has put Houston back on track. He won each of his three starts since and allowed hitters a .192 average along the way. His ERA (2.48) is negligibly behind Price’s, his WHIP (1.017) the best in the league, and his innings total (232) the highest in baseball. The Astros aren’t in the playoffs— yet. If they make it, Keuchel’s role will have been as important as anybody’s.
AL rookie of the year: Francisco Lindor, Indians
It would be so easy to write in Carlos Correa of the Astros and just walk away. We’re talking about the two most promising young shortstops in the game, both 21. What has Correa done to lose this title, anyway? He had hit 22 homers and slugged .520 through Friday, better than Lindor (12and.487), and driven in 67 runs (to Lindor’s 51) in roughly the same number of plate appearances. Lindor has Correa in batting average (.317 to .282) and OBP (.357 to .348) but not OPS (.868 to .844). And look at how much a good game from these two meant to their teams. In the 49 wins in which he appeared, Lindor hit .365 with a .601 and 1.011 OPS; in the 48 losses, those numbers were .263, .358 and .650, respectively. In the 48 wins in which Correa appeared, he hit .328, slugged .605 and had a 1.005 OPS; those dropped to .235, .422 and .727 in losses. But we’ll lean toward Lindor — slightly — because of his defense, which is both spectacular and consistent. Inthe end, though, it’s yet another category in which there’s no wrong choice.