The MLB regular season is over, so the playoffs and awards season is upon us. We can finally debate on who is deserving of which award because only regular season stats count, and we have a full body of work to look at that won’t change from here on out. The National League’s races are loaded this season with candidates who won’t win this season but would win in almost any other season. Here are my awards for the significant quarter of awards: MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year.
Manager of the Year
This is a race which you can’t go wrong with any of the “favorites.” You can quickly go with Brian Snitker, who took an Atlanta Braves team that was young and at least one year away to an overachieving club that has made the postseason for the first time since 2013. But, I am going with Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers. Even after adding Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, the Brewers were not viewed as viable threats in the National League. But they surprised everyone.
The Brew Crew had a better record than the Braves and claimed the number one seed in the National League. But it’s more than that. The Braves won their division in large part because the Washington Nationals were a summer blockbuster flop for the ages and the Philadelphia Phillies had a major collapse in September. But the Braves deserve credit for hanging in there and taking advantage of it.
However, the Brewers had to beat out the Chicago Cubs team that had the second-best record in the National League and an 88-win St. Louis Cardinals who may have won the NL East if they played that schedule. The NL East is the worst division in the National League and arguably the worst in baseball, while the NL Central is perhaps the strongest in the National League and one of the top-two in baseball.
Counsell helped manage a starting rotation that was a significant question mark heading into the season but finished the season above-average. And his handling of the bullpen was excellent, and utilized his arms properly, turning them into arguably the best relief corps in the NL, and perhaps all of the MLB. His Game 163 managing was the perfect example, as he went aggressive and everything played out.
Winner: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers
Rookie of the Year
This is a special race; an absolutely loaded one that may be better than any in recent memory, at least at the top. It was littered with superstar talent at the top; two superstars with MVP potential in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto, while Walker Buehler and Jack Flaherty are young right-handers with ace and Cy Young potential. And then you have do-it-all center fielder in Harrison Bader.
But the race primarily comes down to Acuña, Soto, and Buehler. Buehler came on strong towards the end of the season and made a name for himself within the baseball community with four terrific starts to end the season and win the Dodgers to win the NL West. He threw 137.1 innings, 136.1 as a starter, and in those 136.1 innings, the 24-year-old had a 2.31 ERA, 0.924 WHIP, and .531 OPS against. He led all rookie pitchers with a 3.5 bWAR and 3.3 fWAR.
Even with his excellence, however, the favorites are Acuña and Soto, who both played like five years older than their ages (20 and 19 respectively). Soto hit .292/.406/.517 with 22 home runs, a 142 OPS+, a 145 wRC+, and an elite .392 wOBA while posting a 3.0 bWAR and 3.7 fWAR. He looked like a veteran at the plate with his 16% walk rate.
But Acuña Jr. wasn’t too shabby himself, hitting .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs, 143 OPS+, a .388 wOBA, and posted a 4.1 bWAR and 3.0 fWAR. And he was outstanding in the second half of the season, posting a 1.028 OPS with 19 home runs in 303 plate appearances after the All-Star Break. It’s close between the two, but Acuña gets the slight edge because he adds much more value on defense, grading out positively because of his versatility and quality.
Winner: Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves
This is an elite three-horse race reminiscent of the 2015 Cy Young battle between Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, and Zack Greinke. Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola would have cases to be the number one candidate during any other season, but 2018 belongs to Jacob deGrom and his historic season, and it’s not particularly close.
The Mets ace is second in innings by just 3.2 frames, although first-place Scherzer had one extra start. deGrom is tied for the league lead with a 0.91 WHIP (with Scherzer), is second (to Scherzer again) with an elite 11.6 K/9 and a 32.2 K-rate. But that is where the competition ends, as deGrom wiped the floor at the most important job a pitcher has: preventing run.
He had a 1.70 ERA and 1.99 FIP and 216 ERA+. His ERA is .67 runs ahead of second place, and .83 runs better than Scherzer. His FIP is .48 runs better than second place, and .66 runs better than Max Scherzer. deGrom also has the best fWAR (8.8) and bWAR (10.0) of any pitcher this season. The 30-year-old is also one of just four pitchers to qualify for the ERA title with an ERA under 2.00, a WHIP below 1.000, and a strikeout rate over 30%. Before this season, only Pedro Martinez and Clayton Kershaw were the two to do it, and those are all-time great pitchers.
Winner: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Most Valuable Player
The definition of this award has always been a topic of conversation because it is open for interpretation. This season is really tough and a flip of a coin because it’s down to Christian Yelich, who was hands-down the best position player in the National League and the best player on the NL’s best team, and Jacob deGrom, who had arguably the most outstanding season of any player in the NL and AL.
Yes, a pitcher can win an MVP: Clayton Kershaw in 2014 and Justin Verlander in 2011. Yes, a player from a losing team can win the MVP: Giancarlo Stanton from 2017. But the two combined? Unfathomable, until 2018.
But, should the MVP be solely for position players because pitchers have their own award. I don’t think so, but I understand those that are of that belief. deGrom has been the best player in the National League in 2018, but because he is my Cy Young pick and Christian Yelich has had a remarkable season and put the Brewers on his back in September, I feel that he should be rewarded.
Winner: Christina Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers