Though we’re a little less than a month into the season, the time has come for LWOS to kick off its 2014 MLB Awards Race Review. This week, I will be giving a brief overview of the contenders for each of the three major awards in each league. Starting next week, I will be rotating weekly between in-depth coverage of the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year races.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, COL: .388/.494/.701, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 19 R
Charlie Blackmon, CF, COL: .410/.453/.692, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 19 R, 6 SB
It is impossible to choose a leader between these two Rockies. They are tied for the NL lead in WAR with 2.1 each and tied in Runs Scored with 19. Tulowitzki leads in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS+ with 210, with Blackmon right behind him in all three categories. Blackmon himself leads in batting average, with Tulo in second, and total bases with 54. They both play premium defense positions and, by the numbers, have been playing them well. Tulo, as an established superstar, has to be considered the favorite of the two to maintain this type of production but don`t discount Blackmon entirely. He is 27-years-old, an age when a player enters the heart of their prime, often putting up career numbers, and is a former 2nd-round pick.
Alexei Ramirez, SS, CWS: .352/.381/.549, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 15R, 4 SB
Mike Trout, CF, LAA: .315/.378/.584, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 17 R, 2 SB
Melky Cabrera, LF, TOR: .350/.375/.580, 5 HR, 8 RBI, 15 R, 3 SB, 35 H
Unlike last year, the AL field is decidedly weaker than its NL counterpart. With reigning back-to-back MVP Miguel Cabrera off to a brutal .250/.305/.408 start, the door is wide open for Mike Trout to claim the award he likely should have won the last two years running. While he has yet to separate himself from the field, he leads AL hitters in WAR at 1.6 and appears by far the most likely to maintain this level of production compared to this award’s other contenders. Alexei Ramirez, a career .279/.315./408 hitter who hasn’t posted an OPS+ above 100 since his 2008 rookie season, will fall back to Earth soon. Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera, however, is a bit trickier to rank. He looked awful last season, when knee issues and a tumor on his spine limited him to just 88 games. The year before, he was on his way to a batting title in San Francisco until he was slapped with a 50-game suspension for PEDs. He too will likely regress as the season wears on, but he certainly has a better chance than Ramirez at remaining a contender.
NL Cy Young
Johnny Cueto, CIN: 2-2, 1.38 ERA, 39 K, 39 IP, 0.77 WHIP
Adam Wainwright, STL: 4-1, 1.46 ERA, 35 K, 37 IP, 0.81 WHIP
Aaron Harang, ATL: 3-1, 0.85 ERA, 33 K, 31.2 IP, 0.88 WHIP
No one expected 35-year-old Aaron Harang to even make the Braves’ rotation, yet here he is, leading the NL in ERA and giving up a measly 4.3 hits per nine innings, including a 7-inning, no-hit start against the Mets on April 18th (though he walked 6). Harang isn’t a total nobody, he lead the league in wins (16) and strikeouts (216) in 2006 with the Reds, but his age and last year’s 5.40 ERA over 26 starts for the Mariners and Mets suggest serious regression. The award’s other two contenders, Cueto and two-time runner up Wainwright, appear much more likely to remain in the race.
AL Cy Young
Martin Perez, TEX: 4-0, 1.42 ERA, 23 K, 38 IP, 0.92 WHIP, 2 SHO
Mark Buehrle, TOR: 4-0, 0.64 ERA, 19 K, 28 IP, 0.93 WHIP
On a streak of 26 consecutive scoreless innings, including back-to-back shutouts of the White Sox and A’s, Martin Perez has established himself as a future staple of the Ranger’s rotation. He currently leads the AL in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, and WAR at 1.8. However, his low strikeout rate and inconsistent track record make the 23-year-old lefty a long shot to continue his ace-level production. Buehrle, 12 years Perez’s senior, is another unlikely candidate. Following an no-run, 8.2 inning, 11-K start to open his season, Buehrle has allowed just 2 runs in 19.1 innings since, albeit with just 8 strikeouts. He is a workhorse, having made 30 starts and thrown 200 innings in every season since 2001, but only once has he received any Cy Young votes. Both he and Perez are facing a steep uphill battle if they hope to remain in this race.
NL Rookie of the Year
Chris Owings, SS, ARI: .294/.351/.338, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 5 R, 4 SB
With preseason favorite Billy Hamilton hitting an abysmal .230/.266/.284, and no other NL rookies making a splash, Owings gets the nod by default. The 22-year-old shortstop was a 1st-round pick in 2009 and hit .330 with 12 home runs and 20 steals in 125 games last year in AAA, so he is hardly playing over his head. However, due to having been slotted in the bottom half of an awful lineup for most of the season, his counting stats leave a lot to be desired. His defense is also a question mark, as his record in the minors was questionable at best. However, he has more than held his own in the Show thus far, posting a 0.9 dWAR and a 2.8 UZR.
AL Rookie of the Year
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY: 3-0, 2.15 ERA, 35 K, 29.1 IP, 0.82 WHIP
Jose Abreu, 1B, CWS: .244/.324/.567, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 16 R
The AL Rookie of the Year race, however, has been far more exciting. Expectations were sky-high for Japan’s Tanaka and Cuba’s Abreu, and both have delivered as promised. Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, has issued just two walks in his 29.1 innings, delivering a league-leading 17.5 K/BB ratio. Abreu, projected by many to be a low-average, high power threat has been exactly that, sitting second in the AL in homers and third in RBIs. Look for these two to keep the Ks and homers coming in what should shape up to be an exciting AL race.
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