It’s MLB awards week! Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year have been announced for both leagues, with the Cy Young awards coming on Wednesday and the crown jewel — each league’s MVP — announced Thursday.
We’ve been heading in this direction over the past decade, but it’s now official: The Most Valuable Player Award has become, to the delight of analytics aficionados across baseball land, the best player in the league award. Traditionally, the writers based MVP honors on some sort of undefined fusion of on-field performance and team performance. The MVP winner usually — but not always — came from a playoff team.
This season, none of the six finalists reached the postseason. This is especially glaring with the National League finalists, as Bryce Harper‘s Phillies finished 82-80, Fernando Tatis Jr.’s Padres finished 79-83 and Juan Soto‘s Nationals went 65-97. At least the Phillies finished with a winning record — barely. This will be the first time since 1987, when Andre Dawson of the Cubs and George Bell of the Blue Jays won, that both MVP winners failed to reach the postseason. The only other two times this happened since the BBWAA began voting in 1931 were 1977 (George Foster and Rod Carew) and 1978 (Dave Parker and Jim Rice).
So the debate is essentially over. That doesn’t mean it makes it any easier to select the winner.
Here are the latest results and analysis from awards week, along with our ESPN MLB experts’ picks — and be sure to check back as this page will be updated as each award is handed out. — David Schoenfield
National League Manager of the Year
Winner: Gabe Kapler, Giants
Final tally: Kapler, Giants 143 (28 first place votes); Craig Counsell, Brewers 75 (1); Mike Shildt, Cardinals 25 (1); Brian Snitker, Braves 21; Dave Roberts, Dodgers 6
ESPN MLB experts’ picks: Kapler 13 votes (unanimous choice)
Bradford Doolittle’s take: The Giants used the general lack of respect prognosticators had for their chances this season as a rallying cry. But let’s be real: Virtually no one saw San Francisco as a playoff team when the season began, much less as a team that would win more games than any other in the marquee franchise’s history.
Kapler wasn’t just a figurehead in all of this. He actually did stuff, perhaps more than any skipper in terms of pinch-hitters, pitching changes and all the things involved with getting the most from your active roster on a day-in, day-out basis.
The bottom line is that the Giants entered the season with an over/under for wins of 74.5, per Caesars Sportsbook. They won 107. No, it wasn’t all Kapler, but this is as slam dunk of a Manager of the Year choice as you’re going to get.
That said: One of these years, Counsell needs to win this award, because he’s on the shortest of lists as the best manager in the game. This is his third time finishing second.
Here’s how my EARL leaderboard had it (EARL is an estimate of how a team’s win total relates to its run differential and projected strength of roster):
1. Gabe Kapler, Giants (14.5)
2. Mike Shildt, Cardinals (5.8)
3. Craig Counsell, Brewers (5.2)
4. Joe Girardi, Phillies (2.6)
5. David Bell, Reds (2.4)
American League Manager of the Year
Winner: Kevin Cash, Rays
Final tally: Cash, Rays 109 (19 first-place vote); Scott Servais, Mariners 71 (5); Dusty Baker, Astros 33 (2); Charlie Montoyo; Blue Jays 23 (3); Alex Cora, Red Sox 16 (1); Tony La Russa, White Sox 15; AJ Hinch, Tigers 3
ESPN MLB experts’ picks: Cash 5 votes, Servais 5, Baker 3
Bradford Doolittle’s take: Whenever I trot out the EARL metric, I always underscore that it should be taken with a grain of salt. The truth is, we don’t have a great way to quantify what a manager does and even with the award, there isn’t a lot of clarity about what we’re actually voting on.
Cash is a great manager and now the first back-to-back Manager of the Year winner since Bobby Cox in 2004-05. He gets a boost from the Rays’ uncanny ability to win on a shoestring budget, and he deploys his roster game by game to exploit every advantage he can uncover.
The Rays had a lot of turnover from their 2020 AL pennant-winning squad, especially on the pitching staff, and that’s another boost to Cash’s case. Still, the fact of the matter is the Rays do a great job of finding talent and improving talent. It’s not like Cash was winning with Triple-A players.
Given where the Mariners finished in relation to their preseason expectations, and in terms of their overall run differential, it’s surprising, to me at least, that Servais did not get more than five first-place votes in the balloting.
Here’s how my EARL leaderboard had it:
1. Scott Servais, Mariners (13.0)
2. Alex Cora, Red Sox (5.5)
3. A.J. Hinch, Tigers (4.5)
4. Kevin Cash, Rays (3.8)
5. Aaron Boone, Yankees (1.3)
Also: 12. Dusty Baker, Astros (-2.3)
National League Cy Young
Announced Wednesday, Nov. 17
ESPN MLB experts’ picks: Wheeler 6 votes, Scherzer 4, Burnes, 3
Schoenfield’s take: There would have been a time in the not-so-distant past when Julio Urias would have won based on his 20 wins and solid ERA, but voters now look beyond wins and focus on ERA, FIP, strikeout rate, walks and home runs (and WAR). Burnes has the edge if you look at those secondary metrics, as his 1.63 FIP (fielding independent pitching) was the lowest by a starter since Pedro Martinez in 1999. Burnes led the NL in ERA (2.43) and FanGraphs WAR (7.5) as well as ERA+, K’s per nine and home runs per nine, and was second to Scherzer in walks per nine. The knock against him: He went 11-5 and pitched just 167 innings, which would be the fewest for a non-reliever Cy Young winner (not counting 2020).
Scherzer finished 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA and appeared to be the favorite — with Jacob deGrom long out of the race due to his season-ending injury in July — heading into his final two starts. But he allowed 11 runs over 10⅓ innings and his ERA rose from 2.08 to 2.46. That perhaps opened the door for Wheeler, who has the bulk advantage with his 213⅓ innings, most in the majors and a whopping 46 more than Burnes. He finished 14-10 with a 2.78 ERA — in front of a bad Phillies defense — and led in Baseball-Reference WAR (7.6) and was second in FanGraphs WAR (7.3).
Overlooked: Walker Buehler of the Dodgers ranked second in Baseball-Reference WAR and third in FanGraphs WAR while teammate Urias went 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA.
American League Cy Young
Announced Wednesday, Nov. 17
ESPN MLB experts’ picks: Ray 10 votes, Cole 2, Lynn 1
Schoenfield’s take: This might come down to how voters value Ray’s season. Baseball-Reference has him leading with 6.7 WAR after he went 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA, leading the league in ERA, innings (193⅓) and strikeouts (248). FanGraphs looks at his inflated home run total (33) and credits him with just 3.9 WAR. Still, despite the home runs, Ray’s run prevention was excellent and, coming off his horrid 2020 season, he stands to become one of the unlikeliest Cy Young winners in history.
Detractors will point to two of his final three starts, with the Blue Jays trying to make the playoffs, when he lost to the Rays (three runs in 4⅔ innings) and then the Yankees in his final start (five runs, including four home runs, in 5⅓ innings). Cole, however, had a 6.15 ERA over his final five starts. Indeed, Cole’s ERA after the grip-substance crackdown was a mediocre 4.15 over the final four months. Then there’s this: Against the other three rivals in the AL East, Cole went 5-6 with a 4.52 ERA while Ray went 4-6 but with a 3.40 ERA. (Not to dismiss Lynn, who had a 2.69 ERA but pitched just 157 innings.)
Overlooked: Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi led in FanGraphs WAR.
National League MVP
Check out best moments at the plate and in the field from Phillies star Bryce Harper.
Announced Thursday, Nov. 18
ESPN MLB experts’ picks: Harper 8, Soto 4, Tatis 1
Schoenfield’s take: This is one of the weakest MVP races in a long time. Soto led NL position players with 7.0 WAR, but he put up his huge second-half numbers with the Nationals out of the playoff race and his overall power numbers (29 home runs, 20 doubles) are a little soft for an MVP winner, although his .465 OBP reigns supreme. Tatis led the NL with 42 home runs and hit .282/.364/.611 and drove in 97 runs in 130 games — the key figure being the 32 games he missed. If he had played 150 games, he likely goes 30-30 (he finished with 25 steals) and leads the NL in WAR (he finished at 6.5). He also struggled at shortstop with 21 errors in 102 games (after making just three in 57 games in 2020), eventually moving to the outfield to save wear and tear on his shoulder.
So maybe that makes Harper the favorite after he hit .309/.429/.615 with 35 home runs and led the NL in OPS, slugging and doubles. He carried the Phillies in the second half, hitting .338/.476/.713, and hit 19 home runs and drove in 46 runs the final two months to keep the Phillies in the race. On the other hand, Harper drove in just 84 runs, as he hit with less power with runners on base, and he hit .191 with just three RBIs in 19 games against the Braves, the team the Phillies had to beat to win the division.
Overlooked: Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford was the best player (6.1 WAR) on the best team.
American League MVP
Check out some of the most electric moments from Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s career.
Announced Thursday, Nov. 18
ESPN MLB experts’ picks: Ohtani 13 votes (unanimous choice)
Schoenfield’s take: Really, the only question here is whether Ohtani will become the first unanimous AL MVP since Angels teammate Mike Trout won in 2014. His historic two-way season was one for the ages, something we haven’t seen since Babe Ruth more than 100 years ago. He was one of the best hitters and one of the best pitchers in the league and that’s no exaggeration. He hit .257/.372/.965 with 46 home runs, ranking third in home runs, second in OPS and slugging percentage, first in triples and fifth in stolen bases. As a pitcher he went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130⅓ innings. Among AL pitchers with at least 100 innings he ranked ninth in ERA, sixth in strikeout rate and sixth in lowest batting average allowed. Add it up and Ohtani easily led the AL with 9.0 WAR.
In most seasons, Guerrero would have a stronger case after chasing a Triple Crown and finishing at .311/.401/.601 with 48 home runs, leading the AL in OBP, slugging, home runs (tied with Salvador Perez), runs scored, total bases and adjusted OPS. He was the best hitter in the league. Semien will end up with his second top-three finish in the MVP voting in the past three seasons after finishing third with the A’s in 2019. He played every game for the Blue Jays, won a Gold Glove and his 45 home runs set a record for a second baseman.
Overlooked: Carlos Correa led AL position players with 7.3 WAR, edging out Semien’s 7.2.
National League Rookie of the Year
Winner: Jonathan India, Reds
ESPN MLB experts’ picks: India (11 votes), Rogers 2
Bradford Doolittle’s take: As expected. The metrics were close between the three NL finalists, but in the end, the final tally mirrors that of the AXE system from spots 1 to 4, and the Cardinals’ Edmundo Sosa edged out Anderson for the fifth spot by a fraction. India and Rogers were close enough statistically that it’s a slight surprise India took 29 of 30 first-place votes. Rogers threw only 23 innings after July 31, and it was after that point that India caught and passed him on the ROY pecking order.
As Johnny Bench mentioned while announcing the results of the NL balloting, India is the eighth Cincinnati player to win Rookie of the Year. He’s the first position player to do it for the Reds since Chris Sabo in 1988. Of the eight Reds Rookies of the Year, only Frank Robinson (128.8 in 1956) posted a better AXE while winning the honor. So that’s rarefied air for a player who should be a fixture at the keystone in Cincinnati for years to come.
Here’s how my AXE leaderboard (explained here) had it:
1. India (121.4)
2. Rogers (119.5)
3. Carlson (112.6)
4. Wisdom (110.1)
5. Sosa (108.7)
American League Rookie of the Year
Winner: Randy Arozarena, Rays
ESPN MLB experts’ picks: Arozarena 10 votes, Franco 3
Doolittle’s take: If there is one rookie in all of the big leagues this season whom you’d tab for future superstardom, it’s Franco. But it’s the Rookie of the Year award, not the Prospect of the Year award, and Arozarena is a deserving winner. The voting mirrored AXE’s computations for spots 1 to 4, with AXE preferring Boston’s Garrett Whitlock to Clase for the fifth spot. That Clase earned a first-place vote was the biggest surprise from the balloting results, but it’s nothing to get in a snit over.
Arozarena is really a Rookie of the Year for the time … an odd time. You think of winning the award as the first great moment of a player’s career, but in Arozarena’s case, there were quite a few before that. For example, he played in 25 postseason games for two different organizations in the seasons prior to his ROY campaign, and was MVP of the 2020 American League Championship Series. It’s strange and unique, and while Franco probably would have run away with the award if he’d been called up earlier, he wasn’t.
Arozarena and Luis Garcia filled key roles on division champions from start to finish, and it’s understandable that the voters wanted to reward that.
Here’s how my AXE leaderboard had it:
1. Arozarena (120.5)
2. Franco (116.0)
3. Luis Garcia (115.1)
4. Adolis Garcia (114.7)
5. Whitlock (113.5)