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MLB awards 2020: A look at the front-runners for this weird-ass season

MLB 2020 MVP, Cy Young, and Manager and Rookie of the Year Awards are all too close to call.
MLB 2020 MVP, Cy Young, and Manager and Rookie of the Year Awards are all too close to call.
Graphic: Photos: Getty

We’re approaching the final weekend of the baseball season, and a lot remains up in the air, with several playoff spots still yet to be clinched.

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At an individual level, the awards races are plenty hot, too — so much so that with only a few days left in the season, these awards picks feel less than final. On most of them, there’s not going to be a clear-cut “right answer” for who wins, so it’ll be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

For now, with the caveat in mind that someone can change things with a big final weekend, here are the choices for baseball’s 2020 awards.

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National League MVP

The easiest way to start here is to look at the leaderboards for wins above replacement by the two major formulas for the stat — Baseball-Reference (bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR).

Four players are in the top five among NL position players by both metrics: Mookie Betts (1st in bWAR, 5th in fWAR), Freddie Freeman (3rd/1st), Manny Machado (2nd/3rd), and Fernando Tatis Jr. (5th/2nd). The other players in the respective top fives are Dansby Swanson and Trea Turner.

If this were a full season, Juan Soto would merit consideration for putting up some bonkers offensive numbers, but he missed almost one-third of the truncated season, and that’s too much time out. Don’t worry, though, because the 21-year-old has some MVPs in his future. Tatis also should be a future MVP, but his case for this year is hurt by having slumped through much of September.

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The narrative cases for Betts, Freeman, and Machado all are compelling. Betts has thrived in his first season in Los Angeles, Freeman came back to have an incredible offensive season after being stricken by COVID-19, and Machado has become a true team leader in bringing San Diego back to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

You wouldn’t be wrong to pick any of them, but if you have to pick one, Machado’s all-around play provides an edge, as does the notion that the Dodgers and Atlanta probably would be playoff teams without their MVP candidates. That’s not a primary argument for the award, but in a close race like this, it makes a difference.

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American League MVP

The WAR formulae disagree more on the American League’s top players than they do on the Senior Circuit’s, but there still are clear contenders here in Jose Abreu (tied for 1st in bWAR, 2nd in fWAR), Tim Anderson (3rd/5th), and Jose Ramirez (t-5th/1st). BRef co-leader DJ LeMahieu is tied for sixth at FanGraphs with Brandon Lowe, who’s tied for fifth at BRef. Alex Verdugo is tied with Anderson for third on BRef, and 10th on the list at Fangraphs. Angels teammates Anthony Rendon and Mike Trout, third and fourth at FanGraphs, are tied for eighth and just outside the top 10 at BRef.

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There’s definitely a case to be made for Ramirez, but a huge part of the reason that he’s the Fangraphs leader is the defensive component of his WAR, which is tough to really embrace for a two-month season, and also severely dings Abreu — who going by defensive runs saved actually has been stellar at first base for the White Sox.

Given the unreliability of defensive metrics in a small sample, it’s best to just bring this down to offense, and Abreu has absolutely mashed all summer long. And while it’s fair to just restrict MVP consideration to position players this time around because nobody in the league is going to pitch even 100 innings, Shane Bieber has a higher bWAR than Ramirez on his own team and Zach Plesac is tied with him.

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Abreu gets the nod, and really LeMahieu should be second for the way he carried the Yankees again through another injury-ravaged season in the Bronx.

Jake’s still great.
Jake’s still great.
Photo: Getty
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National League Cy Young

The difference in the WAR leaderboards is striking, as Jacob deGrom is the only pitcher to appear in the top 5 at both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs. At BRef, deGrom is fifth behind Max Fried, Zack Wheeler, Antonio Senzatela, and Kyle Freeland. The Fangraphs leader is Yu Darvish, followed by deGrom, Corbin Burnes, Trevor Bauer, and Dinelson Lamet.

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Burnes leads the league in ERA, Bauer in WHIP, deGrom in strikeouts… and Fried hasn’t given up a single home run.

It’s super close, which means that it really comes down to a matter of opinion. In this situation, one way to try to sort it out is to ask yourself: everything else being equal, who would you most want on the mound for your team in a game you absolutely had to win this year? And that’s still deGrom, who should win his third straight Cy Young.

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American League Cy Young

Once again, there’s only one pitcher in the top 5 for both bWAR and fWAR, and it’s Shane Bieber, who leads the league in both metrics.

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So, no offense to Dylan Bundy, Gerrit Cole, Lucas Giolito, Zack Greinke, Lance Lynn, Kenta Maeda, Zach Plesac, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Framber Valdez, but the guy with a 1.63 ERA, 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings, 0.81 homers allowed per nine, and a 2.06 FIP is going to be the pick here. Also he leads the league in wins, which is nice.

National League Rookie of the Year

BR: Jake Cronenworth, Tony Gonsolin, Sixto Sanchez, Ian Anderson, Ke’Bryan Hayes

FG: Jake Cronenworth, Tony Gonsolin, Devin Williams, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Sixto Sanchez

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Jake Cronenworth and Tony Gonsolin sit together atop the bWAR and fWAR leaderboards, with Sixto Sanchez (3rd/5th) and Ke’Bryan Hayes (5th/4th) also part of the conversation.

Gonsolin doesn’t really feel like a rookie because he’s 26, he pitched 40 innings for the Dodgers last year and appeared in more games than he did this year. But a rookie he is. But, really, it doesn’t matter, because Cronenworth has been outstanding in taking over the second base job in San Diego from Jurickson Profar.

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When the Padres traded Hunter Renfroe, Xavier Edwards, and Esteban Quiroz to the Rays last December for Tommy Pham, it was Cronenworth who was the other player going to San Diego in the deal. And while Pham has had a lost season with injuries, it’s been Cronenworth who has made the trade a great one already for the Padres.

Kyle Lewis rounds third again.
Kyle Lewis rounds third again.
Photo: Getty
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American League Rookie of the Year

Once again, there’s agreement on the WAR formulas. Kyle Lewis and Luis Robert are 1-2 on both the bWAR and fWAR leaderboards, which tracks. They’re clearly the cream of the rookie crop in the American League, and while several pitchers, including Dean Kremer, Cristian Javier, and Justus Sheffield have been plenty impressive, it’s really down to the center fielders for the Mariners and White Sox.

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If you were starting a team from scratch, you’d probably want Robert over Lewis because he’s two years younger and has a higher ceiling, but that’s not what the award is about. It’s performance as a rookie, and Lewis has a nearly 100-point advantage in OPS this year while playing in a much worse park for hitters in Seattle.

Managers of the Year

The Marlins, thanks to their early coronavirus outbreak, have used 61 players, the most in franchise history and 13 more than the team with the next-most players used in the National League, the woebegone Pirates. Yet, Miami is on track to head to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Expanded field or not, what a job by Don Mattingly.

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In the American League, it’s an easy call to give it to Kevin Cash, whose Rays are all but assured of the top seed in the AL playoffs even though their roster is full of unfamiliar faces to casual fans, and the only person who’s been both consistently healthy and having a really good season is Brandon Lowe. Rick Renteria would be a pretty close second here, putting it all together for the White Sox.

Could all of this change in the remaining three days of the season? Perhaps! But what would be more 2020 than that?

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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