The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Tight Competition for MLB Post-Season Awards Expected

The MLB playoff teams are settled, although two tiebreaker games are scheduled for Monday to decide the final seeding in the National League.  There were a few surprises this season, with Oakland, Milwaukee and Atlanta becoming playoff teams for the first time in several years.  The other playoff teams were fairly predictable from the pre-season previews coming out of spring training.

While the individual post-season honors won’t be announced until after the World Series, it isn’t too early to speculate which players might take home the hardware for the Cy Young, MVP, and Rookie of the Year awards.  The competition for these honors is expected to be tight.  Of course, playoff performance by players is not considered in the voting by the baseball writers.

I’m going out on a limb early with my picks.  Several of them were not very predictable at the beginning of the season.

American League MVP

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) has become the standard for the metric used to evaluate the MVP candidates, because it represents the best overall assessment of players, factoring in all elements of performance by both position players and pitchers.  Want to guess who’s got the highest Offensive WAR this year?  Well, it’s the same guy who’s been the leader five out of the past six seasons--Mike Trout.  As a result, the Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder has finished first or second in the MVP voting in five of the last six seasons, winning the honor in 2014 and 2016.  There are strong arguments for him again this season, even though he missed more than 20 games due to injury.

However, when considering Total WAR, which adds in defensive performance, Trout is surpassed by Boston’s Mookie Betts, who led the league in runs scored, batting average, and slugging percentage.  Betts has been the most complete player this season, when also taking into account his base-running and fielding skills in the outfield.  His impact with the Red Sox, in perhaps their best season in history, has been immense.  He’s my pick for the AL MVP Award.

Two other players who received strong consideration by me are J. D. Martinez of the Red Sox and Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros.  Martinez filled the void in the Red Sox lineup, created by David Ortiz’s retirement at the end of 2016, for providing the big bat.  He finished with 43 HR and league-leading 130 RBI.  In many respects he allowed teammate Betts to be the type of versatile player he really is, versus Betts also having to be relied on to provide the thump in the lineup.  Bregman, who keeps getting better and better each year, was the Astros’ most consistent position player on perhaps the best team in the American League.  

American League Cy Young

The temptation for this award is to pick one of the tried-and-true aces who have been in strong consideration or won the award previously:  Boston’s Chris Sale, Houston’s Justin Verlander, and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber.  Kluber has won the award twice and Verlander once, while Sale has finished in the top five in the five previous seasons.  They each turned in masterful performances again this season, with all of them among the league leaders in ERA, strikeout rate, and WHIP.

Yet the hurler who gets my vote for the award is upstart Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays.  The 25-year-old has been a top prospect of the Rays for several years, but didn’t really stand out in his first two major-league seasons.  He finally put it all together this season with league-leading ERA (1.89) and ERA+ (217), while his 0.974 WHIP, and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings were among the leaders.  And if anyone still thinks number of wins is a useful metric, he led the league with a 21-5 win-loss record.  Snell had the highest WAR for pitchers.  He was a big reason Tampa Bay finished with their first winning season since 2013.  

American League Rookie of the Year

Going into the 2018 season, almost everyone was betting Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani would have the type of season that would make him a cinch for the Rookie of the Year Award.  Indeed, he started out with a bang, both at the plate and on the mound.  But then he began to have arm troubles in early June that led to his restriction by the team from taking the mound.  The Los Angeles Angels switch-player continued to appear in the lineup as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter that resulted in a credible slash line of .283/.361/.564 in 367 plate appearances.  He managed to hit 22 HR and 61 RBI.

However, the New York Yankees came up two pretty darn good rookie infielders this season:  Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.  Third baseman Andujar gets my vote for the ROY award based on his slash line of .297/.328/.527.  He held his own on the homer-happy Yankees team with 27 dingers, tied for second-most on the team, trailing only Giancarlo Stanton.  He also finished second on the team with 92 RBI.  While Torres was effective, too, with 24 HR, 77 RBI, and a .271 batting average, he was a notch below Andujar.

Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller (9-6, 3.08 ERA) was tops among rookie pitchers in the league.  

National League MVP

The top MVP candidates this season were relative newcomers for this type of honor.  Past winners like Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and Joey Votto, and perennial contenders like Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt were not at the top of the list this season.  Instead, Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, Chicago’s Javier Baez, and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman were the headliners.

Among the position players in the National League, those four players topped the list for WAR, and I’m going with the WAR leader Christian Yelich as the winner.  (See my blog post from last week about Yelich’s impactful season for the playoff-bound Brewers.)  Baez was a close second choice for me, as he’s been the Cubs’ most consistent player this season by combining power, speed, and sterling defense.  He led the team in HR (34) and stolen bases (21), while leading the league in RBI (111).  

National League Cy Young

This will likely be the closest race among the post-season awards this year, with Washington’s Max Scherzer, Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola, and New York’s Jacob deGrom all strong contenders.  In my blog post of August 26, I wrote about how these three aces have been 1-2-3 in most of the key pitching statistics.  If Scherzer were to win, it would be his third consecutive award and fourth overall in his career.  Nola had a career breakout season for the Phillies as he’s achieved his “ace” status with a rising Phillies club.

But I’m picking deGrom as the winner of this award for the best pitcher.  Despite his meager 10-9 win-loss record, he was lights out when it came to earned runs yielded (1.70) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.2).  He led all players (including position players) in the National League in WAR.  

National League Rookie of the Year

There will be a close two-man race between Washington’s Juan Soto and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. for recognition as the best rookie of the season.  The 19-year-old Soto was so good that he is making Nationals fans not worry as much about the possibility of losing their star player, Bryce Harper, to free agency at the end of this season.  Soto’s slash line defies his age:  .292/.406/.517 in 116 games.  He’s hit 22 HR and 70 RBI.  His season was reminiscent of former Red Sox rookie, 19-year-old Tony Conigliaro’s, in 1964.

However, I’m voting for Acuna, who is only 20 years old himself.  He had similar numbers to Soto:  .293/.366/.552, with 26 HR and 64 RBI in 111 games.  According to advanced stats, Acuna was a better fielder than Soto.  But the deciding factor for me was Acuna’s role in helping the Braves win the division title.  Perhaps it’s unfair to introduce team performance into my assessment, but I believe he was an important spark for the Braves throughout the season.

St. Louis outfielder Harrison Bader and Los Angeles pitcher Walker Buehler will get some consideration as well.

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