The new format for MLB's regular season awards -- where the BBWAA releases the top three finalists a week before announcing the winners -- robs the proceedings of a bit of drama on the front end. Knowing who the finalists are ahead of time both removes the surprise of hearing that, say, Hisashi Iwakuma was one of the top three vote-getters for the American League Cy Young Award, and it informs us that the race for the top prize is likely a two-horse affair between Detroit's Max Scherzer and Texas' Yu Darvish. Scherzer probably has a fairly clear lead, if not on the merits, then on the things voters like to see from their Cy Young Award winners.
Here's who I think should win each award, who I think probably will win, and who, if anyone, got snubbed by not making the list of top three finalists for their given accolade.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Who Will Win: Miguel Cabrera
Who Should Win: Mike Trout
Well, this looks familiar. Cabrera doesn't have the slam-dunk case he had last year for American League MVP among the writers, because a September spent dealing with various lower body injuries robbed him of any significant chance to repeat his Triple Crown from 2012, and also allowed Angels outfielder Mike Trout to storm back into the picture. The argument between these two is a familiar one: Cabrera has a slightly more valuable bat in a vacuum and plays for a first-place team that routinely goes deep into the playoffs, while Trout hits slightly worse while adding much more value on the basepaths and in the field, but his Angels don't have the pitching to sniff the postseason.
The only substantial wild card this time around is the Orioles' Chris Davis, who led the league in home runs and RBI, making him a fine choice for old-timey voters who aren't about to vote for Cabrera to win back-to-back awards without back-to-back Triple Crowns, but who also think Trout is a poor candidate due to his team's record. It should be closer this time around than it was due to Davis's presence in the top three, but it's still most likely that Cabrera will walk away with it. For the second season in a row, I favor Trout for the award, as he has a more complete game and is nearly as good a hitter from a position farther left on the defensive spectrum.
Robinson Cano and Josh Donaldson will both find some down-ballot support when the full voting is released, but either is a tough sell as a top-three snub. Donaldson has the better case, most of it relying on accruing substantial value at spots other than home plate, but it's not realistic to expect voters to elevate him over a hitter who had 50 homers and led the league in RBI, without any sort of serious steroids rap dogging him.
Cy Young Award
Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Who Will Win: Max Scherzer
Who Should Win: Max Scherzer
This one is pretty much a stone-cold lock for the guy at the top of the 2013 Detroit Tigers rotation. Scherzer had 21 pitcher wins this season for a team that won their division, while neither Iwakuma nor Darvish made the playoffs or won more than 14 games, and considering Scherzer's ERA is right there down alongside Iwakuma and Darvish's, the award is as good as his already. The interesting question is whether Scherzer should win the award on merit, because after all, there is very little merit involved in getting pitcher wins. Unless you really love strikeouts or low ERAs without context, however, Scherzer is the fairly clear choice for the Cy Young from a meritorious perspective as well.
Iwakuma had a fantastic season for a Seattle team that was at best a footnote, but while the Mariners couldn't hit a lick for most of the season, they could play defense -- same with the Texas Rangers team behind Yu Darvish. The only place those two teams were weak defensively was in the corner outfield positions. The 2013 Tigers, on the other hand, routinely played two guys who should be designated hitters at first and third base, a guy who should have been playing third (Jhonny Peralta) at short, and left Omar Infante -- a good but not great defensive second baseman --- in the middle to do the best he could with the mess. The addition of Jose Iglesias late in the season improved the defense up the middle significantly, but Scherzer didn't have the defensive safety net that both the Rangers and the Mariners brought to the table -- one glance at their respective FIP numbers (Scherzer: 2.74, Darvish 3.28, Iwakuma 3.44) shows the difference in fairly stark terms.
There are no snubs here except arguably Anibal Sanchez, who didn't have a prayer of finding his way into the top three due to pitching on the same staff as a 21-game winner (or Felix Hernandez if you really, really love FIP). In an alternate universe where Clay Buchholz is healthy all season, Iwakuma probably runs away with the award.
Rookie of the Year
Finalists: Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Jose Iglesias, Detroit Tigers
Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
Who Will Win: Jose Iglesias
Who Should Win: Jose Iglesias
One of the saving graces of the Rookie of the Year Award is that it is purely about production in a single season, not possible future value or player projection or any of that other stuff. Therefore, no matter how utterly ridiculous I find it that a guy with a lifetime .244/.296/.292 line in 916 plate appearances of Triple-A baseball not only hit .303/.349/.386 in the majors this season but actually went back to Triple-A after being traded and barely hit .200 during his time there, it's entirely legitimate and proper to give him the Rookie of the Year Award.
After all, if Jose Iglesias actually could hit an empty .300 everyday as a shortstop, he would immediately be the best defensive shortstop on the planet -- not Elvis Andrus, not Andrelton Simmons, not anyone else. Of course, his ability to even hit an empty .250 over the course of an entire season as a regular player is still in doubt, because Iglesias only got 382 PA in the majors this year, and his hitting had fallen off significantly by the time Detroit installed him as Jhonny Peralta's replacement following the Jake Peavy trade. The glove is amazing, but if Chris Archer had pitched 200 innings this year instead of 124, or Yan Gomes of the Cleveland Indians managed to keep his eligibility this season, I might have found reason to give the nod to one of them instead.
Unlike in the National League, there were no snubs in the AL RoY voting; there practically wasn't anyone else to snub except maybe Martin Perez of the Texas Rangers, and everything that Perez did this year, Chris Archer did better.
Manager of the Year
John Farrell, Boston Red Sox
Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
Who Will Win: John Farrell
Who Should Win: N/A
This is an award barely worth covering; you know the drill. Find the managers, usually the first-year managers, who took their teams from worst to first and work the rationale backwards from there. John Farrell was going to moonwalk away with this thing regardless of how the Red Sox did in the postseason, and Francona was going to be right behind him in the voting. As far as I'm concerned, any of the three men listed as finalists are fine candidates for the award.