American League Awards Check-In

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With nearly a third of the season complete, it is time to look at some of the major award races in the American League. Ranging from Most Valuable Player to Manager of the Year, each award race will be covered. There have been some surprises in the AL this season that could impact some of the major award races by the end of the season. However, it remains to be seen if the breakout of players such as John Means or Yermin Mercedes can continue. With that said, let’s look at the top three candidates for each award.

American League Cy Young

  1. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
  2. Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays
  3. Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians

These are three elite pitchers with some of the best stuff in the game. Shane Bieber won the AL Cy Young Award in 2020 as he put up a 1.63 ERA, 2.07 FIP, and 122 strikeouts in 77 and one-third innings. His 14.2 K/9 stands are the greatest single-season figure of all time. While not quite as dominant in 2021, Bieber has still been outstanding. Through 11 starts and a league-leading 72 innings pitched, Bieber has posted a 3.13 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 110 strikeouts, 13.8 K/9, and 1.8 fWAR.

This is the healthy Glasnow that fans and baseball media have wanted to see for years. Through 11 starts for Tampa Bay, Glasnow has thrown 70 innings and struck out 98, good for a 12.8 K/9 ratio. Along with that is a 2.57 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 0.93 WHIP, and a 1.7 fWAR that ranks fourth in the AL.

Now to the favorite for this award. Gerrit Cole has been an unstoppable force thus far in 2021. His 2.8 fWAR is the best in baseball among pitchers, and first in the American League by a wide margin. He is the leader of a pitching staff that has been one of the best in baseball by many standards. Through 10 starts and 64 and two-thirds innings, Cole has posted a 1.81 ERA, 1.70 FIP, 92 strikeouts, 12.8 K/9, 0.84 WHIP. With only eight walks against 92 strikeouts, his K/BB ratio of 11.50 is first in baseball among qualified pitchers. Other pitchers such as John Means and Chris Bassitt also boast strong numbers. No matter which way you slice it though, Gerrit Cole is the favorite for this award.

American League Rookie of the Year

  1. Adolis García, Texas Rangers
  2. Yermin Mercedes, Chicago White Sox
  3. Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox

Michael Kopech and Yermin Mercedes are only two of the several young players carrying the White Sox to one of the best records in the AL. While Mercedes is no longer the favorite for this award, as he may have been a few weeks ago, what he is doing at the plate is still impressive. He is batting .340/.386/.525, which is good for a .911 OPS and 155 OPS+. His seven home runs and 29 runs driven in make him a key cog in the middle of that dangerous lineup. His teammate, Michael Kopech, has been quite impressive as well. In 14 appearances, three starts, Kopech has pitched 31 and two-thirds innings, posting a 1.72 ERA and 2.55 FIP. He has also stuck out 45 batters, giving him an elite ratio of 12.9 K/9. Kopech’s story has been remarkable considering he has not pitched since 2018. He fell victim to TJ surgery and became a huge question mark for the White Sox over the last two years.

While other rookies such as Nick Madrigal and James Karinchak have also had really good seasons, none stand out like Adolis Garcia. The 28-year old rookie has been a revelation for Texas in 2021. His 2.0 fWAR ranks first among all rookies in the AL, and his 16 homers rank first in baseball. With an outstanding .609 SLG, .929 OPS, and 153 OPS+, let’s not forget how great he has been in the field. Garcia has already accrued 9 DRS in centerfield, and 1 DRS in right, good for a total of 10 DRS thus far in 2021. This ranks second in baseball among outfielders. Garcia is the clear favorite right now for AL Rookie of the Year, and it is not that close.

American League Manager of the Year

  1. Alex Cora, Boston Red Sox
  2. Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
  3. Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

Predicting Manager of the Year is always tough. The award often goes to managers whose teams were able to achieve more than expected. However, it rarely goes to the manager whose team had the best records. With that said, Alex Cora and Kevin Cash are managing teams with the two best records in the American League. Following a one-year suspension from baseball, the Red Sox hired Cora back to manage the team. The club held the top spot in the division up until a few days ago. By most oddsmakers, Boston was predicted to finish closer to the bottom than the top of the division. This is what makes Cora the favorite for this award.

On the other hand, Kevin Cash’s Rays have been humming along doing what they usually do. Small markets, platoons, openers, and timely hitting seem to be the keys to success for Tampa Bay. Their 32-20 record is the third-best in baseball, and do not be surprised if the Rays end up winning the American League East for the second year in a row. Similar to the Rays, the Cleveland Indians also have a minuscule payroll. Despite this, they are 27-21 and stand second in the central division. The Indians are one of those teams surpassing what was expected of them. Francona missed a good portion of 2020 due to a health scare, and so it is good to see him back in the dugout and managing the Indians into playoff contention.

American League Most Valuable Player

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
  3. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

Picking just three favorites for the American League MVP award was extremely tough. There have been several standout performers thus far in 2021. Some notable players that just missed the cut are Aaron Judge, J.D. Martinez, and Marcus Semien. With that said, let’s get into the best offensive shortstop in baseball. Xander Bogaerts has gone under the radar for years. Despite not being as well-rounded as other top shortstops, Bogaerts’ 16.3 fWAR since 2018 leads all shortstops in baseball. Additionally, his 140 wRC+ ranks 20% better than the next closest shortstop, Trevor Story. Thus far in 2021, Bogaerts is batting .330/.401/.588, good for a .989 OPS, 171 OPS+, and 170 wRC+. He has hit 10 home runs, drove in 31, and it tied for first in the AL with 60 hits. His 2.7 fWAR is second in the American League as he has been a cog in one of the best offenses in baseball.

Shohei Ohtani is doing something that has not been done in 100 years. This sentiment is often repeated yet is still surreal. With a batting WAR of 1.7 and pitching WAR of 0.5, Ohtani’s total 2.2 fWAR is one of the best figures in the American League. Even still, WAR is not a metric that can properly quantify what Ohtani is doing this season and his value to his team. In six starts, Ohtani has thrown 30 and one-third innings, striking out 45 and posting a 2.37 ERA. Command has been an issue on the mound for him, yet he rarely gives up hits and thus does not allow many runs. Even with the command issues, his 3.81 FIP is still a very good figure. At the plate, Ohtani is second in baseball with 15 homers. He has even added in three triples and six stolen bases. In all, his batting line of .266/.328/.616 amounts to a .944 OPS, 154 OPS+, and 157 wRC+.

The MVP favorite

It seems like not enough people are talking about the elite season Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is having. With all the attention surrounding Ohtani, Guerrero Jr. has quieted posted a league-leading 3.2 fWAR, 199 wRC+, and 16 home runs. His batting line of .333/.443/.661 amounts to a 1.104 OPS. He leads the American League in OBP and SLG while leading the majors in HR, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. Additionally, he currently has the same number of strikeouts as he does walks, 31, which is hardly seen in today’s game. This is a breakout of sorts for Guerrero as he seems to have put it all together in 2021. The potential and hard-hit abilities were always present in 2019 and 2020, it just did not come full circle until now. At 22 years old, this is the Guerrero that made him one of the most hyped prospects of all time coming into the 2019 season.

Final Thoughts

There are some very intriguing award races in the American League right now. While Cy Young and Rookie of the Year seem clear-cut right now, the MVP and manager awards are very much up in the air. There is still a lot of time for players on the outside to become favorites and vice versa. Keep in mind, if not for injuries to Mike Trout and Byron Buxton, they would be clearly two of the favorites for the MVP award. Regardless, the amount of parity in baseball in 2021 has been quite refreshing, and that is being reflected through the major award races.

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Players Mentioned

John Means, Yermin Mercedes, Gerrit ColeTyler GlasnowShane Bieber, Chris Bassitt, Adolis García, Yermin Mercedes, Michael Kopech, Nick MadrigalJames Karinchak, Alex Cora, Kevin CashTerry Francona, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Xander Bogaerts, Aaron Judge, J.D. Martinez, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, Mike Trout, andByron Buxton.