MLB awards predictions

Yes, it is that time of year — October baseball — something that local Pirates fans may not experience again for a while, given the inept ownership and front office. But unpacking that is for another time.

As the regular season has come to a close, that not only means playoffs but also awards season. So we are going to take a look at all of my pre-season awards picks and evaluate how accurate I was. Disclaimer: I will be quoting some semi-advanced statistics in my analyses, as any mathematically inclined baseball fan should.

AL MVP (Pre-Season Pick: Aaron Judge)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 NYY Aaron Judge
#2 LAA Shohei Ohtani
#3 CLE José Ramírez
#4 HOU Yordan Álvarez
#5 BOS Xander Bogaerts

All rise! I am ready to testify that I picked Aaron Judge before the season began! Honestly … any player willing to turn down a lucrative offer worth $217 million to bet on himself is a good pick to log a career year. And that he did, with one of the greatest all-around offensive seasons in MLB history, slashing .311/.425/.686 with 133 runs batted in (RBIs) and an American League (AL) single-season record in home runs — 62 in total. Some perspective: Any other year, Ohtani wins it, but I have a feeling Shohei may soon need his own category of award every year.

NL MVP (Pre-Season Pick: Juan Soto)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 STL Nolan Arenado
#2 STL Paul Goldschmidt
#3 LAD Freddie Freeman
#4 SD Manny Machado
#5 MIA Sandy Alcantara

It is Nolan Arenado’s tenth season in the majors, and this is the year that he will take home his first MVP award. It is no secret that Arenado is the greatest fielding third baseman ever (after Ke’Bryan Hayes of the Pittsburgh Pirates, of course) and among the best offensive ones. With his excellent arm and steady glovework (besides Game 1 of this year’s National League (NL) Wild Card), he will likely win his tenth Gold Glove in as many seasons. To put this into perspective, Arenado has saved a whopping 20 runs above league average this season. Nolan Arenado can also rake at the plate. He possesses a slash line of .293/.358/.533 to go along with 30 home runs and 103 runs batted in (RBI). He has managed to maintain a 154 On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+), meaning he is 54 percent better than the average batter. While Arenado has put up lesser offensive numbers than his teammate Paul Goldschmidt, sabermetric fielding statistics suggest Goldschmidt has been an average first baseman at best. There is no need to compare wins above replacement, as Arenado sits with 7.9 and Goldschmidt at 7.8 — a negligible difference. Being in a different stratosphere defensively is what separates Arenado from Goldschmidt and the rest of the pack. However, Paul Goldschmidt went cold in September and October, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading me to take Arenado as MVP, as he has been able to maintain a higher level of consistency.

AL Cy Young (Pre-Season Pick: Robbie Ray)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 HOU Justin Verlander
#2 TOR Alek Manoah
#3 CHW Dylan Cease
#4 HOU Framber Valdez
#5 LAA Shohei Ohtani

39-year-old Justin Verlander already has two Cy Youngs to his name and has finished second three other times. This was just a fantastic comeback from a serious injury for the veteran. While Verlander has pitched 175 innings (17th in the AL), his sheer dominance outweighs his lack of volume. Verlander leads the AL in wins (18), Adjusted Earned Run Average (ERA+) (this statistic takes into account players’ ballparks), walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) (0.83), and his 1.75 Earned Run Average (ERA) is miles ahead of everyone. Even though White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease has a superb ERA (2.20) — good for second in the AL — that gap is much bigger than it may appear. Verlander would have to tack on almost 43 earned runs to have the same ERA as Cease. This is an easy decision. Give him his crown and book his eventual ticket to Cooperstown.

NL Cy Young (Pre-Season Pick: Walker Buehler)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 MIA Sandy Alcántara
#2 ATL Max Fried
#3 ARI Zac Gallen
#4 LAD Julio Urías
#5 NYM Edwin Díaz

As much as this pains me to say, Max Fried is not the NL Cy Young. While he is my favorite pitcher, the award belongs to the greatest right-handed pitcher named Sandy — Sandy Alcántara, that is (Koufax was a lefty, after all). Marlins ace Sandy Alcántara has slammed the door shut on any possibility for there to be any other outcomes. Alcántara’s six complete games are the most since 2014, and he has pitched eight innings in seven more starts. Alcántara is a true workhouse, being the only pitcher to eclipse 200 innings. He has managed to pitch 228.2 innings while also maintaining a 2.28 ERA with 207 strikeouts and a 0.980 WHIP. Being able to provide as good pitching as anyone while also taking the burden off of his bullpen makes Alcántara the best pitcher in baseball, in my eyes.

AL Rookie of the Year (Pre-Season Pick: Bobby Witt, Jr.)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 SEA Julio Rodríguez
#2 BAL Adley Rutschman
#3 HOU Jeremy Peña
#4 SEA George Kirby
#5 CLE Steven Kwan

While I believe Adley Rutschman will go down as the superior player and maybe the face of baseball, Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners did have the best rookie season in the AL — by a considerable margin. Rodríguez has hit .284/.345/.509 with 28 home runs, 75 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, and a 6.0 wins above replacement (WAR) season for Seattle. The 21-year-old’s hitting ability came as no surprise when looking at his minor league production, but it has been his ability to become a better base-runner, a strong center fielder, and an incredibly mature individual that has wowed me and many others. He and his team started very slowly, but when Rodríguez turned it around, the Mariners did, too. I do not think his ascension to greatness and Seattle’s success is a coincidence. Rodríguez was the best player on his team this year and has taken the Mariners to the playoffs. To put this into perspective, the Mariners had failed to reach the playoffs for 20 consecutive seasons. That is Pittsburgh Pirates-level bad. And as a lifelong Pirates fan, it brings me great joy to see Julio Rodríguez’s Mariners succeed.

NL Rookie of the Year (Pre-Season Pick: Oneil Cruz)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 ATL Michael Harris II
#2 ATL Spencer Strider
#3 PIT Oneil Cruz
#4 STL Brendan Donovan
#5 CIN Nick Lodolo

The Atlanta Braves have somehow managed to win 101 games following the departure of club-legend Freddie Freeman in the offseason. A big reason for Atlanta’s success is the emergence of rookies Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider. Harris has stepped up to become the starting center fielder, while Strider has carved out the number-two spot in the starting rotation after initially being used as a reliever. Although I love Oneil Cruz, the race is only between Harris and Strider. When the 2022 season began, most did not expect Harris to be promoted to the majors. Since being brought up in late May, Harris has been one of the league’s premier hitters and the most electric glove in center field. That is all the more unbelievable to consider when remembering Harris is only 21 years old and, until two years ago, was more of a pitcher than a position player. In only 114 games, Harris slashed .297/.339/.514 with 19 home runs, 64 RBIs, 20 stolen bases, and a 5.3-WAR season for Atlanta. Harris has made some of the most spectacular plays in center field that have required him to cover a lot of ground and put his body on the line, and he seems to come up big whenever he is called upon. Although Strider has been a huge piece of the Braves’ pitching staff with former top-prospect Ian Anderson’s disastrous season, Atlanta’s lineup would be nowhere without Harris. Harris has been, far and away, the best outfielder on the Braves this season. Ronald Acuña, Jr. has not returned to form after his injury, 2021 postseason heroes Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall have struggled to stay healthy and consistent, and Marcell Ozuna has done a better job at being a terrible person than a good professional baseball player. Harris’s impact is greater than that of Strider’s, and Atlanta would have no chance of overcoming a 10.5-game NL East deficit to the Mets without him. You cannot go wrong with either of these rookie stars, but Michael Harris II is the better choice.

AL Manager of the Year (Pre-Season Pick: Charlie Montoyo — yikes)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 BAL Brandon Hyde
#2 HOU Dusty Baker
#3 SEA Scott Servais
#4 NYY Aaron Boone
#5 CLE Terry Francona

The Orioles won 83 games this year — their most since 2016 — and surpassed their 2021 win total by 31 games. I am not a betting man, but the Orioles were only projected to win 62.5 games, so congratulations to those who took the over. This 20.5-game overperformance was the best mark in baseball. The 2019 Orioles had a 54-108 record in Brandon Hyde’s first season and somehow managed to record two fewer wins in 2021. Losing 100 games twice in the previous two full seasons (25-35 record in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season) ruffles a lot of feathers — it upsets fans, players, and often leads to front offices making impulse decisions that result in more setbacks. Luckily for the Orioles, they have their guy in Hyde. For those who know Hyde well, they knew the results would come eventually. Hyde is a great coach for young talent, but he also knows how to manage veterans. He is approachable and gives the players a voice in a lot of behind-the-scenes decisions. Maybe this is due in part to the fact he was a player once, too. While Hyde never made it to the majors as a player, he did play four seasons in the minor leagues as a backup catcher. You know what they say — unsuccessful catchers make the best managers!

NL Manager of the Year (Pre-Season Pick: Buck Showalter)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 NYM Buck Showalter
#2 PHI Rob Thomsom
#3 ATL Brian Snitker
#4 ARI Torey Lovullo
#5 LAD Dave Roberts

The hiring of veteran manager Buck Showalter may be the league's top move of the offseason. The New York Mets ended 2021 with a 77-85 record and ended this year tied with the Atlanta Braves for the third-best record in the MLB (101-61). Yes, the Mets brought in Max Scherzer, Chris Bassitt, Starling Marte, and Mark Canha, to name a few, but the difference this year was the culture. The Mets were desperate for a manager with keen attention to detail, one who has the respect to shut down the egos of stars, and one with decades of expertise in answering to the media without causing drama. That is Buck Showalter. Buck was the catalyst for the Mets’ turnaround. He is a culture-changer and always has been, which is why he will take home his fourth Manager of the Year nod.

AL Comeback Player of the Year (Pre-Season Pick: Justin Verlander)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 HOU Justin Verlander
#2 LAA Mike Trout

On July 24, 2020, Justin Verlander “strained his right forearm” in what appeared to be an injury that would keep him from baseball activities for six weeks. It turns out Verlander’s elbow would require Tommy John Surgery, and he would miss practically all of the 2020 season and 2021 completely. For the then-37-year-old, it appeared to be a death sentence. But when one of your generation’s greatest players tells the world that he is confident “this surgery will ultimately lengthen my career as opposed to shorten it,” you listen. Hence, Verlander was my pre-season pick to win AL Comeback Player of the Year; yet, I did not expect him to be the 2022 AL Cy Young winner, too! No more needs to be said. This is his award.

NL Comeback Player of the Year (Pre-Season Pick: Ronald Acuña, Jr.)
End-of-year Selections:
#1 Albert Pujols
#2 Ronald Acuña, Jr.

After what, in my opinion, is the greatest 11-year prime of the modern era, Albert Pujols spent the last 10 years wasting away with the Angels and Dodgers (for half of a season) and spent all but two of his Octobers in Cancun not playing baseball. When Pujols signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract, he was to be nothing more than a part-time designated hitter against left-handed pitching and a veteran presence for young players. Three months into the season, Pujols was hitting .198 with four home runs. He strongly considered quitting then and there. Although Pujols’s career struggle with plantar fasciitis has physically limited him, he could never run from the grind. From then on, Pujols went on a tear. He hit .314, added 20 more homers, and drove in 51 runs. While doing this, Pujols eclipsed the 700-home run mark (now at 703), passed the universally beloved Álex Rodríguez to become fourth all-time in home runs, and even leapfrogged Babe Ruth in RBIs to finish second all-time (2,218). As a baseball fan, this was so fun for me to follow. And because his last regular season game was to be played at PNC Park on Wednesday, Oct. 5, naturally, I got tickets, but much to my chagrin, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol did not play Pujols. And even though this is still not vintage Albert, he has been great. Maybe Pujols’s precipitous drop over the last ten years suggests that he is not to blame, and it was more the fault of the Los Angeles sunshine. In all seriousness, it is great to see one of history’s premier players succeed at the age of 42 in his final season. Hats off to Albert Pujols for a comeback almost as great as his illustrious career.