Monday, May 27, 2024

MLB first-quarter awards: Will Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani split MVP votes? Plus Cy Young, Rookie of the Year

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Though there are a few stragglers, most teams in Major League Baseball hit the 40-game mark within the last several days, so while there’s no exact 25% barrier, we’re roughly a quarter of the way through the 2024 season. Time flies and all that, but we aren’t here for that sort of discussion. Instead, we’re here to take a quick look at where the major individual awards stand. Let’s do just that. 

Who would win the MVPs, Cy Youngs and Rookies of the Year if voting were held right now?

American League MVP

Just below the top tier, there are a handful of strong candidates like Marcus Semien, Steven Kwan, Salvador Perez and Ryan Jeffers (yes, for real). 

I’ve got a top four that has separated itself from the pack right now, though, in Bobby Witt, Jr., Gunnar Henderson, Juan Soto and Kyle Tucker

Witt leads the league in WAR and runs scored while slashing .298/.366/.509 (148 OPS+) with 11 doubles, five triples, five homers, 21 RBI and 15 steals. The Royals are a contender, too, and that always helps. 

Henderson has emerged as the best player on arguably the best team in the league in the Orioles. He’s one off for the league lead in total bases and is second to Witt in WAR. He has 12 homers and 27 RBI with six stolen bases and three triples and a 158 OPS+

Soto has made a gigantic difference in the Yankees‘ team-wide approach. They were 12th in on-base percentage last season and are first this season. Soto is the league leader in OBP at .413 while hitting .313 and sporting a robust 170 OPS+. He has nine homers and 34 RBI along with 28 runs. 

Tucker leads the majors with 13 homers and also leads the AL in OPS, OPS+ (184). He’s the leader in total bases. He has 29 RBI and 28 runs with six stolen bases. The Astros being a major disappointment probably hurts him here. 

I think I’d vote for Witt, but it’s damn close and I said I was going to try and figure out who would win the voting if it were held right now, so … 

The pick: Juan Soto, Yankees

National League MVP

We’ll name check a few others so there’s a bit more variety, but this right now is a two-man race and both play for the same team. We’ll throw some credit in the direction of William Contreras, Ketel Marte and Alec Bohm. Elly De La Cruz is building toward becoming an MVP. Marcell Ozuna leads the league in homers and RBI and several decades ago that alone would’ve probably been enough. 

This is Shohei Ohtani vs. Mookie Betts right now, though. 

Betts: .345/.441/.563, 182 OPS+, 60 H, 11 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 28 RBI, 37 R, 8 SB, 30 BB, 20 K, 3.4 WAR

Ohtani: .361/.427/.680, 206 OPS+, 61 H, 16 2B, 1 3B, 12 HR, 30 RBI, 34 R, 9 SB, 21 BB, 36 K, 2.8 WAR

The separation point in WAR is an important one. Ohtani is a DH only while Betts has been providing excellent defense both at second base and shortstop. Keep in mind, he was a career right fielder until the Dodgers got in a middle infield bind last season. Now he gets positive marks at both positions. That’s insane value whereas Ohtani provides none on the defensive end. That’s gotta be the deciding factor. 

The pick: Mookie Betts, Dodgers

American League Cy Young

The chalk pick heading into spring training was Gerrit Cole, but once he went down with injury the field completely opened up and it shows. We have a litany of either unexpected or relatively unknown contenders, too. In the FanGraphs’ version of WAR, Tarik Skubal, Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck are tied for the lead. In the Baseball Reference version, Crawford, Seth Lugo and Ronel Blanco are the top three. The top five in ERA? Lugo, Skubal, Blanco, Houck and Crawford. 

How about that? How fun. 

Lugo right now has a sizable lead in ERA (1.66 to Skubal’s 2.02), leads in wins and innings pitched while sitting sixth in WHIP. It’s close and there are arguments for several others, and I could see a strong push for Skubal, but I think Lugo would take it. 

The Royals have only had three Cy Young winners in history (Bret Saberhagan, twice, David Cone and Zack Greinke). 

The pick: Seth Lugo, Royals

National League Cy Young

Some expected names like Tyler Glasnow and Zack Wheeler deserve a mention as well as some unexpected names like Javier Assad and Reynaldo López, too. Keep an eye on the likes of Chris Sale, Logan Webb and Yoshinobu Yamamoto as well. I think this is a three-man race between Ranger Suárez, Dylan Cease and Shota Imanaga, though. 

Suárez: 7-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 55 K, 8 BB, 54 IP, 2.5 WAR

Cease: 5-3, 2.45 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 68 K, 17 BB, 55 IP, 1.8 WAR

Imanaga: 5-0, 0.96 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 51 K, 8 BB, 46.2 IP, 2.5 WAR

I think Cease slots third and it’s anyone’s guess who would win between the top two here. I’ll guess the Cubs‘ newcomer who has helped steady the rotation through things like the Justin Steele injury, but I could be wrong. It’s awfully close. 

The pick: Shota Imanaga, Cubs

AL Rookie of the Year

Heading into the season, pretty much everyone believed the winner would come from the Wyatt Langford, Evan Carter and Jackson Holliday group. None of the three would be in the mix right now. 

Simeon Woods Richardson has made only five starts for the Twins, but he’s been great. Luis Gil of the Yankees in his eight starts has been excellent at run and hit prevention, though he leads the majors in walks. Orioles slugger Colton Cowser has six homers and 20 RBI in only 124 plate appearances. He’s slugging .500. Blue Jays utility man Davis Schneider is having a good year and still has rookie eligibility. Wenceel Pérez of the Tigers has only played in 25 games but has been very good so far. 

However.

A’s closer Mason Miller still has rookie eligibility. He didn’t accrue enough service time last season to knock him off the list. In 14 appearances, he has a 0.98 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 38 strikeouts, five walks and 18 1/3 innings while having closed all eight of his save chances successfully. As such, it’s a blowout. 

The pick: Mason Miller, Athletics

NL Rookie of the Year

It’s rare to have the field controlled by pitchers to this extent, but it looks like the best of the position-player field would be Jackson Merrill and he’s having a really good year, slashing .290/.340/.399 while admirably handling center field after only having moved there in the spring. Still, Imanaga and Yamamoto are the clear-cut top two while Jared Jones of the Pirates deserves mention as well. I already chose Imanaga over Yamamoto, so that would surely remain the case here. 

I suppose some would argue whether or not Imanaga and Yamamoto should even count here, but they are rookies in Major League Baseball by rule. 

The pick: Shota Imanaga, Cubs

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