Awards that go to people we, in most cases, have never met still stoke a competitive fire within us, doesn't it?
If you paid 15 bucks to see a movie and were moved by it, odds are you'll take up its Oscar cause, regardless of your lack of access to the "Academy." If that up-and-coming band you saw in some dank, grimy, tiny hall puts out a kick-butt album for its major-label debut, you're naturally going to want to see them win a Grammy, even if this is your prevailing opinion about the Grammys. And yes, if you, like millions of others, are an admitted homer of a sports fan, you'll argue for the guy on your club even if there's scant statistical evidence to back you up.
Well, the arguments about baseball's various award races will continue right up until the winners are actually announced in November. But this is the last weekend any of the arguments will matter, because this is the weekend the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will turn in their ballots.
So let's take one last look at where things stand as the final series of the regular season play out. But in lieu of a more conventional order (MVPs, then Cy Youngs, then Rookies, then Managers), let's do these in order of their relative intrigue.
AL Cy Young
Front-runners: Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale
This is the most fascinating debate taking place. While Sale is at least in the conversation, he's not a realistic candidate for the top honor because a midseason injury limited him to 174 innings (and he should be docked a few points for the whole binoculars ridiculousness in Detroit the other day, too).
As for Felix vs. Kluber, it could ultimately be decided by how Kluber pitches against the Rays on Friday night and how Felix pitches against the Angels on Sunday. It's just that close.
Look at the numbers…
Felix: 14-6, 2.34 ERA, 33 starts, 230 2/3 innings, 16 HR, 46 BB, 241 K, 156 ERA+, 2.60 FIP, 0.936 WHIP, 5.24 K/BB, 6.4 WAR (per Baseball Reference)
Kluber: 17-9, 2.53 ERA, 33 starts, 227 2/3 innings, 14 HR, 49 BB, 258 K, 147 ERA+, 2.38 FIP, 1.102 WHIP, 5.27 K/BB, 6.9 WAR
I mean, crazy close, right? The only places where King Felix is demonstrably better than Kluber are ERA and WHIP. Kluber, meanwhile, is striking out more batters per nine innings, and his edge in FIP helps underscore the fact that he's pitched in front of arguably the worst defense in baseball this season (the Indians rank dead last with minus-79 defensive runs saved).
Speaking of defense, take a look at this play from Kluber's laborious Labor Day outing against the Tigers ...
Mike Aviles terribly misplayed this ball. Granted, he has very little experience in his career in right field, so for him, especially, it was not a routine play. But it's still a play that should have been made.
Well, the play, which you'll note came with two outs, was initially ruled a hit by the official scorer, who then changed the call to an error within 24 hours. The Tigers asked MLB to review the play, and, surprisingly, it was reversed again, two weeks later.
This is no small point, because after Cabrera reached, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez homered back to back. That means Kluber was charged with three additional earned runs.
Don't get me wrong. There are hundreds of questionable calls by official scorers in a given season, but this one was interesting because of the way it was changed twice and the late-season impact it has on the most recognizable statistic in the Cy Young race. Had that last change not been made, Kluber has a 2.41 ERA that only tightens the comparison to King Felix.
Anyway, Kluber has a 1.88 ERA in the second half to Hernandez's 2.71 mark. And considering both guys were on teams fighting for a playoff spot until the final week, I think that's got to count for something.
In case you can't tell, I'm leaning toward Kluber, but this is probably the one award that really will be decided in the season's final weekend. For now …
- Kluber, Indians
- Hernandez, Mariners
- Chris Sale, White Sox
- Jon Lester, Red Sox/A's
- Max Scherzer, Tigers
Front-runners: Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton
This one has inspired and will continue to inspire great debate because of the long-standing intellectual struggle regarding pitcher's worthiness of an MVP Award with the Cy Young available to them.
It's been my experience that people are pretty dead-set in their opinions on this sort of thing. Swaying someone who doesn't believe pitchers should be eligible for MVPs to the other side of the aisle is all but impossible. What's indisputable, though, is that the voters are unequivocally instructed to keep in mind that pitchers (and designated hitters, for that matter) are eligible, which means some percentage of voters are going to be drawn to Clayton Kershaw.
I'm with anybody who would rather the MVP go to a position player, if it's at all possible, and as recently as a few weeks ago I was bullish on Giancarlo Stanton (37 homers, 105 RBI, .950 OPS) over a pitcher who missed all of April.
But now Stanton -- through no fault of his own, of course -- has missed most of September. Maybe that will cost him first-place votes, maybe not. Andrew McCutchen, meanwhile, is right above Stanton in OPS (.953) and right with him in WAR (6.5 each), while leading the Pirates back to the postseason. Stanton's cause is hurt by his injury and his team's sub-.500 record (like it or not, voters have a history of placing value on October entry or at least true contention); McCutchen's cause is hurt by the fact that his own lineup is loaded with guys who have made a major impact on the Buccos' second straight playoff berth, including Josh Harrison, Russell Martin and Starling Marte, all of whom have a WAR mark above 5.
The only case against Kershaw is his particular position. If you're into it, he leads both of those guys in WAR (7.4). If you want to play the plate appearances vs. batters faced game, he's faced more batters than any position player has faced. But to me, the simple storyline is the Dodgers are a team that has hovered around .500 on the days that Kershaw hasn't pitched. Kershaw missed time, but he still managed to reach 20 wins (21, in fact) with a ridiculous 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 198 1/3 innings.
I've written this before, but I think once Stanton went down amid Kershaw continuing to mow down opposing batters, it became inevitable that Kershaw will become the NL's first pitcher to win the MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968. Personally, I don't have a problem with it. But that doesn't mean a meaningful percentage of this year's set of BBWAA voters won't be vehemently against a pitcher receiving the MVP.
- Kershaw, Dodgers
- Stanton, Marlins
- McCutchen, Pirates
- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
- Josh Harrison, Pirates
- Anthony Rendon, Nationals
- Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
- Buster Posey, Giants
- Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
- Johnny Cueto, Reds
NL Manager of the Year
Front-runners: Bruce Bochy, Clint Hurdle, Mike Matheny, Don Mattingly, Matt Williams
Basically, if your club makes the playoffs, you're at least in the running, which is why I've listed the five playoff managers here. Actually, though, one guy who deserves strong consideration from a non-playoff club is Mike Redmond, who had the Marlins hovering around .500 at the time Stanton got hit in the face. Considering the Marlins lost 100 games last year and lost Jose Fernandez to elbow surgery early in the season, I'd say Redmond did a masterful job.
That said, it will probably go to the skipper of a playoff club. And usually, the voters honor a guy whose team exceeded expectations. Bochy has a good case in that regard, given the Giants making a rise from the abyss despite a lot of rotation upheaval. Williams has a really good case as a rookie manager who has guided the Nats to the NL's best record and kept the drama to a minimum. And though Hurdle won it last year and repeat winners are rare (Bobby Cox was the last, in 2004-05), most people expected the Pirates to regress after a quiet winter, but they turned things around after a slow start.
So with proper perspective on payroll and expectations taken into account, this is how I see it …
- Hurdle, Pirates
- Redmond, Marlins
- Williams, Nats
AL Manager of the Year
Front-runners: Brad Ausmus, Bob Melvin, Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter, Ned Yost
Well, the "list playoff managers as front-runners" tactic looks pretty weird here, doesn't it? Melvin's team tanked in the second half, and Yost's tactical decisions are under constant scrutiny. Neither of those guys will win it.
Lloyd McClendon could be a wild card given the Mariners' rise to relevance, though I doubt it. Ausmus has navigated the Tigers through a trying season in his first year, but I don't see him winning this, either.
I think it will come down to Showalter and Scioscia, who guided non-playoff teams from 2013 to the AL's top two records in 2014. And though Scioscia lost 60 percent of his rotation by year's end, I think the Showalter storyline (master tactician who lost his All-Star catcher in the first half, lost his Gold Glove third baseman in the second and saw his former 50-homer-hitter endure a huge statistical regression and suspension) wins out.
- Showalter, Orioles
- Scioscia, Angels
- Ausmus, Tigers
NL Rookie of the Year
Front-runners: Jacob deGrom, Billy Hamilton
Got to be honest with you. This is a really dull "race." Billy Hamilton is the NL's only qualifying position player with rookie status, and, while the speedster has had some incredible moments this year, it's hard to get too passionate about the case for a leadoff hitter with a .292 on-base percentage. On the pitching side, there aren't any qualifying rookies, but Jacob deGrom at least leads the way with 140 1/3 innings and a sparkling 2.63 ERA in 22 starts.
deGrom's a fantastic story, while Hamilton endured an incredible amount of pressure and scrutiny from Spring Training forward. I'd like to give Hamilton some sort of award for doing this …
… but deGrom's got an adjusted ERA 31 points better than league average, while Hamilton's adjusted OPS is 17 points below league average.
- Jacob deGrom, Mets
- Billy Hamilton, Reds
- Ender Inciarte, D-backs
Front-runner: Mike Trout
Yeah, I really don't expect anybody to unseat Trout, who will get the MVP so many of us thought he deserved in at least 2012, if not 2013, too. The best player on the team with baseball's best records deserves it.
But the debate about who should follow Trout on the ballot is pretty nuanced and layered. There might be an assumption that rookie Cuban sensation Jose Abreu is the MVP runner-up, and with 35 homers, 105 RBI and a .961 OPS, he's got a good case. But I actually think Victor Martinez might be a more worthy No. 2. In a year that Miguel Cabrera took a (slight) statistical step back, the 35-year-old Martinez has stepped up in a big way with an amazing (especially in this offensive environment) .334/.408/.562 slash line, along with 31 homers and 100 RBI. Yeah, he's a DH, so that might hurt him, but it's not like Abreu is a defensive whiz at first.
And how about the Indians' Michael Brantley? He's on the verge of joining Jose Altuve as the only two Major Leaguers this season with 200 hits, and he's got the power (20 homers, 45 doubles) Altuve lacks. Furthermore, he's played terrific defense in left and center fields. His WAR mark (7.0) is second only to that of Trout (8.0).
I also think Jose Bautista is getting relatively overlooked in all of this. Just a consistently great hitter with a .943 OPS that ranks only behind that of Martinez and Abreu, and his 35 homers and 103 RBI are right in line with Abreu's totals.
Here's how I'd rank the AL field, with the 10 spot, like the AL Cy Young, up for grabs between Kluber and Hernandez …
- Trout, Angels
- Martinez, Tigers
- Abreu, White Sox
- Brantley, Indians
- Bautista, Blue Jays
- Robinson Cano, Mariners
- Adam Jones, Orioles
- Alex Gordon, Royals
- Jose Altuve, Astros
- Kluber, Indians
AL Rookie of the Year
The second-least debatable award of all, if only because of the ever-so-slight possibility some voters will hold the 27-year-old Abreu's Cuban experience against him. But Masahiro Tanaka's injury made this a really easy call. What remains to be seen is whether Tanaka still gets enough down-ballot support to be a finalist. Personally, I think there are two other pitchers who have amassed more innings and impact and, therefore, should rank ahead of Tanaka.
- Abreu, White Sox
- Yordano Ventura, Royals
- Collin McHugh, Astros
NL Cy Young
Yep, the least debatable award of all. It's Kershaw all the way, with condolences to Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA) and Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.29) for being in the right place at the wrong time … or something like that.
- Kershaw, Dodgers
- Cueto, Reds
- Wainwright, Cardinals
- Cole Hamels, Phillies
- Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter@castrovince.