Boston siphoned all the drama out of a Red Sox-Yankees race with a 30–6 midseason run that opened a 10-game gap. Since then the only theatre left in the Sox’s season has been whether they can top the 1912 team’s franchise record 105 wins, and whether Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez is their best candidate to win American League Most Valuable Player.
Martinez is Boston’s resident hitting guru who might miss out on a Triple Crown season because of Betts, who held an 10-point lead in batting average with 15 games to play. But look beyond the Green Monster and you’ll find Mike Trout of the Angels, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor of the Indians, Alex Bregman of the Astros and Matt Chapman of the A’s also with MVP credentials.
Indeed, drama is slathered all over the six major player awards—MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in both leagues. Rare is the season like this one when all six awards lacked a heavy favorite.
If you like uncertainty, this is your year. Can Javier Baez become the first MVP with the lowest on-base percentage (.327) since another Cub, Andre Dawson, won it in 1987? How do you choose from among NL first basemen Matt Carpenter of St. Louis, Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona and Freddie Freeman of Atlanta?
Is it really possible that a pitcher with a losing record, and who ranks 21st in the NL in wins, will win the Cy? Should Justin Verlander win his second Cy, Corey Kluber his third or Max Scherzer his fourth?
Ballots from selected members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are due before postseason play begins. Results are announced in November. But why wait? I’ve got answers to your questions right here.
AL MVP: Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Muse over the multifarious might of Mookie: Betts floats around the toughest rightfield in baseball as if on gossamer wings, runs the bases with stunning quickness, and, at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, is the greatest pound-for-pound slugger in baseball. Betts will become the shortest player to slug over .600 since Roy Campanella in 1953 and, with two more steals and one more homer to complement his .340 batting average, will become the first 30-30 batting champion. His all-around game for the best team in the league edges him past Trout.
In a crowded field, Yelich gets the nod over Goldschmidt, who was hitting .208 as late as June 3 and might not see October, and Nolan Arenado of Colorado. Only Goldschmidt ranks higher than Yelich in weighted On Base Average and Win Probability Added. Only Charlie Blackmon has scored more runs. Yelich has played all three outfield positions, stolen 19 bases in 23 tries, went more than one game without getting on base just once, and has been money when it mattered most: .328 off relievers, .313 in late and close spots, and .310 with runners in scoring position, including a ridiculous .440/.517/.780 slash line in two-out RISP situations.
The shoulder injury to Chris Sale of Boston opened a door for Snell, and he came rushing through like one of his 98-mph fastballs. Only Sale had a lower ERA (1.90) and a lower OPS allowed (.572) than Snell, and Snell will own at least a 17-inning advantage in volume. Bonus points to Snell for the most unhittable pitch in baseball: he threw 274 curveballs this year low to his glove side (i.e., down and in to righties) and never allowed a hit. Batters went 0-for-55 trying to hit it.
Cover up the freakishly misleading won-lost record (10–9), and deGrom wins clearly. At 1.70, his ERA gap over Max Scherzer (-.83) and Aaron Nola (-.75) is too big to ignore. He did so while facing 78% of his batters with the score tied or within one run—bearing a ton more stress than Scherzer (55%) or the average big league pitcher (51). Nobody in the league threw more starts of at least seven innings with two runs or fewer.
AL Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Since the award begin in 1947, only five rookies have slugged more than .590 over at least 300 plate appearances. All won the award: Bob Hamelin, Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun and Aaron Judge. Ohtani is the sixth – and, oh, yeah, he also posted a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts, becoming the first player since Ruth to hit 15 homers and pitch 50 innings. Miguel Andujar of the Yankees has the edge in volume, but Ohtani’s once-in-a-century two-way gig gives him the huge edge in WAR (3.9-1.8).
NL Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
You’ll need spelunking gear to find separation between the two extraordinary rookie outfielders in the NL East, Acuña, 20, and Soto, 19, of Washington. Soto has slight edges in RBI, walks, batting average and OPS in what might be the greatest season in history by a teenager. Acuna gets the nod because he has more speed (more stolen bases) and power (more home runs and total bases) and is the better defender (which helps explain his edge in WAR, 4.3-2.8).