We’ve entered into the dark night of the sports calendar for me — the long winter the precedes that February date when pitchers and catchers report for next season. With no baseball to watch and no substantive free-agent signing rumors to digest, it’s time for a look back on the MLB season that was.
Way back on Opening Day, I made my predictions for the upcoming season. (For the original article, go here
.) In the AL, I pegged the Yankees, Indians, and Astros to win their respective divisions with Boston and Minnesota emerging as Wild Card winners. I was wrong about Minnesota — and I sure didn’t see the A’s winning 97 games — but I nailed the other playoff teams. Sure, I had the Yankees winning their division — I also didn’t see this particular Red Sox team becoming one of the best teams we’ve ever seen — but overall, this looks pretty good in hindsight.
In the National League, I prognosticated the Nats, Cubs, and Dodgers as division winners with St. Louis and Arizona as your wild card teams. Only the Cubs and Dodgers made the playoffs and only L.A. won their division as I predicted. In the East, I expected the Braves to still be a year away — as did most folks, Braves fans included. But their young talent played up early and the Nationals were inconsistent all season long. Out West, I erroneously marked Colorado down as a 2017 one-hit wonder. Of course, all they did was go out and win a wild card spot and oust the Cubs from the playoffs. I truly thought the Cardinals would contend and they were in it until the final week of the season, but Milwaukee filled that spot and looks poised to contend for the next several seasons.
Here are my hardware previews. These are the guys I would vote for if I had a vote in the upcoming MLB honors.
American League MVP
Throughout the postseason, broadcasters hailed Boston’s Mookie Betts as the likely A.L. MVP. For good reason: he led the majors in batting average and slugging percentage. He was tied for the lead in runs scored. He had a 30-30 season for one of the best teams in MLB history. So he’ll probably win the award.
But if I had a vote, I’d cast it for Mike Trout. Simply put, he’s the best player in the game and it feels wrong to give this award to anyone else. Trout actually edges out Betts to lead the majors in OBP, thanks to being intentionally walked more than any player in the game. He also leads the majors in OPS, the single-metric most sabermatricians use to gauge a hitter’s true value. He put up his own power-speed combo numbers (39HR, 24SB) to boot. In fact, his WAR is comparable to Betts’ while accruing 50 fewer at-bats. Take Betts out of the Boston lineup and they still score plenty. Take Trout out of the Angels lineup and they’re the worst team in baseball.
Honorable mention also goes to Jose Ramirez for a fantastic season in Cleveland, but if I had a vote, I would cast it for Trout.
American League Cy Young
Before he missed a few weeks down the stretch, I thought this was an easy vote for Chris Sale. But the time he missed in August and September really impacted his season totals: only 158 IP, which seems a little light for a Cy Young winner.
That essentially makes this a four-man race: Sale, Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, and Blake Snell.
Verlander and Kluber are the volume producers here. Both aces threw over 200 innings. Both allowed less than one baserunner per inning. Verlander struck out 290 batters in his first full season in Houston while Kluber went 20-7 for the Indians. Both hurlers have ERAs under 3.00. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish between the two — they were both truly excellent all season long.
Then there’s Sale, who struck out more batters per 9 innings than any pitcher in baseball. Despite pitching 60 fewer innings than either Verlander or Kluber, Sale’s WAR is actually higher, due to the fact that his ratio statistics are so much better. His 0.86 WHIP would have led the league and his 2.11 ERA would have been second if he had amassed enough innings to qualify. Sale didn’t pitch as much as some other aces this year but when he took the mound, he was dominant.
And then there’s Blake Snell, Tampa’s seemingly out-of-nowhere wunderkind ace. Snell led the majors in wins with 21 — and yes, that still ought to count for something, even if it was an overvalued statistic when I was growing up. Anyone who can win 20+ ball games on THAT team deserves some hardware consideration. Snell’s 1.89 ERA led the league and he recorded over 200 strikeouts in 180 innings. Snell’s season was superb and, in the wake of Sale’s late season DL stint, I think he pitched well enough to win this award. He’d get my vote.
American League Rookie of the Year
Shohei Ohtani. What he did was really, really special. It’s a shame his elbow injury will keep him off the mound for the next year or so. Not since Babe Ruth has a player been this kind of two-way threat.
National League MVP
In early September, I would have argued for Matt Carpenter in this space due to two factors. One, there was no clearcut favorite among the NL contenders. But just as importantly, Carpenter was the catalyst for the Cardinals’ second half sprint back into contention. After being left for dead midseason, the Cardinals caught fire in July and August and were in Wild Card contention until the last week of the season.
But that last week still counts and St. Louis completely disappeared while the Brewers stormed their way to the top of the division, earning the #1 seed in the NL playoff bracket. And they were led by Christian Yelich, who led the league in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. He scored 118 runs and stole 22 bases. Honorable mention goes to Javier Baez and Freddie Freeman for great seasons on contending clubs. But this award deservedly goes to Yelich.
National League Cy Young
Jacob DeGrom. Max Scherzer. Aaron Nola. You could really make an argument for any of the three. Scherzer won 18 games and led the majors with 300 strikeouts. Nola won 17 games for a contending Phillies squad and led the majors in WAR for pitchers with 10.5. And DeGrom compiled a sparkling 1.70 ERA. How he only won 10 games is a testament to the complete ineptitude of the Mets lineup all year long.
So I have no idea who wins this one. Scherzer has already won three of these awards, which may help him or may hurt him. All three hurlers topped the 200 innings threshold (something only seven NL pitchers accomplished in this era of the bullpen) and all three surpassed 200 strikeouts. If I had a vote, I’d cast it for DeGrom. But I wouldn’t argue if any of the three were to win.
National League Rookie of the Year
It’s a shame we can’t recognize the greatness of both Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Juan Soto, because both of these young outfielders really deserve to be praised. Both of them had AMAZING rookie seasons. Awards like this were created to honor this kind of greatness. But unless something fluky happens and they happen to tie, only one will walk away with the award. In that case, I’d have to give it to Acuna. Not only do his counting stats speak for themselves, but he served as a sparkplug atop the Atlanta lineup, leading them back to the playoffs. Expect both of these outfielders to be fixtures in the National League East for the next decade.