MLB Awards Race – Week of September 21

Who are the front-runners for the most significant individual awards?

As the season draws another week closer to its end, let’s take an updated look at the races for MLB’s most prestigious individual awards! Pete Ball (@PeteBBaseball) handled the AL, while Zach Hayes (@pinetarkeyboard) took care of the NL.


Leaders for the 2020 American League Most Valuable Player Award


1. José Abreu, CWS


39 18 53 0 .335 1.039 .423


I did not think anyone would actually pass Shane Bieber with such little time left, but Abreu has done it. The season he is having is just absolutely ridiculous. He was phenomenal last year and with essentially the exact same launch angle and just a tiny bit less of an average exit velocity, but this season Abreu has just been something else. He had five multi-hit games and three home runs just last week. His 53 RBI lead baseball and no one else even has 50. His .335 BA is second only to Trea Turner (.337, minimum 200 AB). His expected statistics backup what he has done this season and he has the White Sox within a few wins from clinching the AL Central. I think Abreu is taking the 2020 AL MVP home.


2. Shane Bieber, CLE


72.1 8 1 .889 112 1.74 0.86


Bieber is not out of this thing just yet. If he shuts down Abreu’s White Sox on Tuesday and Abreu has a sub-par week, Bieber could still easily win it. He has been incredible. However, over his last two starts he’s allowed six ER and three HR in 14.2 IP (3.80 ERA). The Ks were still outstanding and both outings were quality starts but that isn’t quite MVP level production, especially when you consider how Abreu has performed. Fortunately for Bieber, MVP is based on a full-season of work, not just two random starts in September. Nevertheless, this race is tight and Bieber will need to finish strong if he wants any chance at edging out Abreu or Mike Trout. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that Shane Bieber will be winning the AL Cy Young Award.


3. Luke Voit, NYY


39 21 49 0 .283 0.992 .406


Honestly, having Luke Voit only at number three feels… wrong? Voit now has the unbeatable help of DJ LeMahieu but for a while held the Bronx Bombers together by himself. The season he has had, especially recently, has been absurd. He leads baseball in HR, is second in RBI, fifth in TB, and his 39 R are tied for 10th. His .286 BA may feel high when you look at his career, but his xBA of .296 suggests he has maybe even been a tad unlucky in that department. Voit has been a rock for a team that seems to suffer more injuries than the rest of baseball combined. They fell all the way down to .500, but Voit has launched them back up the standings. He deserves as much MVP consideration as anyone in the AL.


Honorable Mention(s): Mike Trout, LAA; Jose Ramirez, CLE


Leaders for the 2020 American League Cy Young Award


1. Shane Bieber, CLE


72.1 8 1 .889 112 1.74 0.86


If Bieber is a real contender for AL MVP, he is a lock for AL Cy Young. Read the excerpt for Bieber under his MVP ranking above for more on his fantastic season.


2. Lance Lynn, TEX


78.1 6 2 .750 84 2.53 0.96


Lance Lynn has returned to dominance after an uncharacteristic six ER performances vs the Astros on September 3rd. Since then, he’s had three starts. He’s thrown 7.0 IP in all three and given up just a total of five ER, four BB, and 14 H in that stretch. Over those 21 innings, he’s struck out 21, only given up two HR, and gone 2-0 in the process. Lynn has proven to us that his 2019 was no joke and has cemented himself as one of the most durable and fastball-dominating arms in the game. He may not be able to top Bieber for Cy Young, but he has had quite a fine season. He takes on the Astros this week to most likely close out his 2020 campaign.


3. Kenta Maeda, MIN


60.2 5 1 .833 71 2.52 0.76


Kenta Maeda has continued his dominating ways in 2020 by starting off September with just three BBs in 18 IP. Among pitchers with at least 60.0 IP on the season, Maeda’s 0.76 WHIP ranks best in baseball. Heading to Minnesota has been a career-changing move for Maeda, and the Twins are reaping the benefit. He will get to face the lowly Tigers to close out his season on Wednesday and pad his Cy Young resume. Although he most likely win the award, he has certainly emerged, like Lynn, as one of the premier arms in the game. Among pitchers with at least 120 batted ball events (BBE), only Ryan Yarbrough, Max Fried, and Jordan Montgomery have a lower average exit velocity against than Maeda’s 85.3 mph against. Maeda is extremely difficult to square up and the results prove it.


Honorable Mention(s): Gerrit Cole, NYY; Lucas Giolito, CWS


Leaders for the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year Award


1. Kyle Lewis, SEA


35 11 28 3 .280 .849 .361


Over the last 30 days, Kyle Lewis is hitting just .195. Fortunately for him and his AL Rookie of the Year chances, Luis Robert has only hit .189 over that same stretch. This hot race for AL ROY has come to a screaming halt, and the top two names are lucky that guys like Ryan Mountcastle and Jared Walsh probably don’t have enough time to catch up to their complete body of work. Nevertheless, those two names could make this interesting if they have a hot final week. We also shouldn’t ignore Jesús Luzardo or Cristian Javier, the latter of whom just had arguably the best outing of his career. Anyway, back to Lewis. A hot final week could cement his Rookie of the Year status, but with just five games to go and four of them in the very-pitcher-friendly RingCentral Coliseum, Lewis hasn’t locked up anything just yet.


2. Luis Robert, CWS


30 11 30 8 .230 .753 .316


It looked like Robert was about to become an immediate superstar with a devastating power/speed combo that begs for a comparison titled “The American League Ronald Acuña Jr.“. Instead, he hit a speed bump. Make no doubts about it, though, that is all this is: a speed bump. Robert is immensely talented and is going to wreak havoc on opposing pitching for years to come. With that said, in terms of his Rookie of the Year chances, he just hasn’t performed quite as well as Lewis has to this point and only has a week to make his case that he, in fact, has. At this point, I think an argument could be made that Robert is closer to third place than he is to first for this award. Time will tell, and I won’t want to be the guy who bets against him, but he is running out of time to present a winning case for the award.


3. Ryan Mountcastle, BAL


11 5 22 0 .340 .919 .384


All this dude does is hit. Mountcastle, unlike the two above him on this list, has hit .347 over the last 30 days. He has been a bright spot for an Orioles organization that has had several bright spots this season, at least compared to the last few Orioles’ seasons. Though he may have been called up too late to catch Lewis or even Robert, he does have the opportunity to tee off on Red Sox and Blue Jays pitching this week. If he hits a few more dingers and finishes the year batting about .350 (he’s at .340 right now), I could absolutely see him making a case to be your 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, and who could disagree?


Honorable Mention(s): Jesús Luzardo, OAK; Cristian Javier, HOU


Leaders for the 2020 National League Most Valuable Player Award


1. Freddie Freeman, ATL


45 11 48 1 .346 1.097 .454


It was tough to knock Tatís off the perch he’s occupied for most of the season, but Freddie Freeman’s offensive explosion since our last update is putting him over the top with a week to go. Since September 7th, Freeman has slashed .431/.540/.824 with 12 extra base hits and 18 (!) RBI, walking 11 times and striking out just eight. He’s tied with Tatís for the MLB lead with 2.9 fWAR. Hit Statcast page is filled with deep red, headlined by a league-best .462 xwOBA. Rebounding from a truly sympathy-inspiring COVID infection to post a 186 wRC+, which would be the highest mark for a qualified first baseman since Jim Thome in 2002, is an MVP-worthy effort.


2. Fernando Tatís Jr., SDP


47 15 41 10 .278 .931 .391


Neither Tatís nor the San Diego Padres have any reason to be upset, having clinched their long-awaited first postseason berth since 2006. It’s very possible, maybe even likely, that Tatís takes home multiple MVP trophies (which ought to be renamed sooner rather than later) in the future. But now, in the same period that saw Freeman explode, Tatís has hit just .143 with a double and no home runs. Catching fire in the final week could still change things plenty, but Tatís and Padres fans should be more than happy with a second-place MVP season.


3. Mookie Betts, LAD


42 16 39 9 .303 .973 .406


Just Mookie being Mookie! A standard Mookie Betts season is a career year for 98% of the Majors, and he’s almost certainly the most likely of these three (or Manny Machado, who could still make things interesting) to have maintained this level of production over the course of a full season. But of course, this isn’t a full season, and though Mookie’s 3.2 bWAR are more than a half-win better than his nearest competitor (Machado), the MVP isn’t the award for most WAR. Call it Mike Trout syndrome. Nonetheless, the final week of the season could shift things in favor of any of these guys, and Mookie standing tall above the rest when the dust settles would be far from surprising.


Honorable Mention(s): Manny Machado, SD; Trevor Story, COL


Leaders for the 2020 National League Cy Young Award


1. Yu Darvish, CHC


69.0 7 3 .700 88 2.22 1.00


This might be the tightest race in baseball. Averaging nearly 6.1 innings per start, Darvish has stabilized a Cubs rotation sorely lacking production behind him and Kyle Hendricks. He recently allowed four runs for the first time all season, snapping a streak of nine consecutive quality starts in which he gave up more than one run just twice. He dazzles us with his six-pitch array (much to the bafflement of Pitching Ninja and Statcast). Two things put Yu over the top. First, his command of those pitches has been spectacular; he’s the only one in the NL to strike out more than 30% of his opponents while walking less than 5%, and it’s not particularly close. Second, he’s accumulated .7 and .3 more fWAR than the next two guys up here. In this shortened season, there’s something to be said for giving your team an extra start or two of elite pitching.


2. Trevor Bauer, CIN


65.0 4 4 .500 88 1.80 0.82


Bauer’s insistence on starting on three days rest may as much as anything else serve as a chance to bolster his case for the award vis a vis accumulation, as Darvish holds somewhat of an advantage so long as he has an advantage in starts and innings. Still, Bauer’s expected stats are among the, if not the, best in the game, and his 1.80 ERA has both Darvish and deGrom beaten. His 3.15 FIP, however, is nearly a full run higher than his competitors, likely buoyed by a 92.2% strand rate and .211 BABIP that would certainly break down to some extent over a full season. With a week to go, it’s more or less a tossup, but for now, Darvish holds the tiebreakers in volume and narrative.


3. Jacob deGrom, NYM


56.0 4 1 .800 80 2.09 0.93


Much of what applies to Mookie applies to Jake. Even accounting for his last start, in which he gave up three earned runs before exiting after two innings with a mild hamstring injury, deGrom has been the best starter in the National League on a per-hitter basis. Chalk up some of it to Trout syndrome–we ache for challengers after one player sits on the throne for too long–but when 10-15 innings represents 20% of the season, those two missed starts are tough reconcile when his other competitors have or are on the cusp of pitching their teams to the playoffs.

As is the case with every one of these, a hot week at the end or just one more dominant start could very well be enough to swing these either way. Corbin Burnes was tough to leave out here, but should any one of these three stumble, he’ll likely be one good start away from taking their place.


Honorable Mention(s): Corbin Burnes, MIL; Dinelson Lamet, SD


Leaders for the 2020 National League Rookie of the Year Award


1. Devin Williams, MIL


23 3 1 .750 47 0.39 0.609


Devin Williams has the most fWAR (1.2) of any reliever in baseball. Devin Williams has the most strikeouts (47) and highest strikeout rate (54.0%) of any reliever in baseball. Among all relievers who have thrown at least 20 innings, none have given up fewer than Devin Williams. He has the lowest FIP (0.84) of any reliever in baseball by nearly a half-run. His 1.54 Win Probability Added is fourth among all relievers, and one of only two in the top ten (Greg Holland) to do so on a team without a secure playoff berth. His changeup doesn’t even look like it should be allowed in the game of baseball. Devin Williams, as a rookie, is the best reliever in baseball, and it’s not very close. Questions?


2. Jake Cronenworth, SDP


25 4 20 3 .303 .886 .377


Jake Cronenworth is having an excellent season in his own right, accumulating 1.5 fWAR (best among all rookie NL hitters and a half-win ahead of Alec Bohm) on the back of a Zobrist-like campaign that’s seen him play just about everywhere and do just about everything on the field. With the outstanding Williams has had, it’s not quite enough to push him over the top, but it seems likely that Cronenworth would’ve given him a run for his money over a full season. He doesn’t whiff or strike out, ranking in the top-10 percent of the league for both, and his exit velocities (90.2 mph average) indicate he’s got some legit pop. In any other year, he’d probably be the unquestioned player to beat.


3. Dustin May & Tony Gonsolin, LAD



47 1 1 .500 34 2.68 1.09


40.2 1 2 .333 40 1.77 0.79


At this point, it’s mostly a two-person race, and it seems unlikely that Dave Roberts will allow his young pitchers to go as deep into their last couple starts as they’d probably need to put a dent in either Williams’ or Cronenworth’s lead. They are, however, a critical reason why the Dodgers have once again ho-hummed their way to the best record in baseball, and come playoff time, they’ll be invaluable rotation and bullpen depth for a playoff run expected to be even more taxing on arms than usual.


Honorable Mention(s): Alec Bohm, PHI


Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Zach Hayes

Zach is based in Chicago and contributes analysis and coverage for Pitcher List and South Side Sox. He also co-hosts the Shaggin' Flies podcast with Ben Palmer, and enjoys reading, Justin Fields highlights, and people-watching on the CTA.

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