Almost every team is right around a third of the way through the 2021 season. It is a good time to look at the four major award races in the National League. In looking at the top three candidates for each award, it will be interesting to see if they can stay in the race during the course of the season. From Gabe Kapler leading the San Francisco Giants into contention to Jacob deGrom making a third Cy Young bid, the NL boasts some very good contenders for these major awards. Some of baseball’s brightest stars reside in the National League, which makes for some very compelling races. It’s time to look at where these stars stand and how they stack up to the rest of the league.
One of the biggest storylines in baseball this season has been the historical dominance of Jacob deGrom. It is June and his ERA is still below 1.00, it is at 0.71 to be exact. So, how does someone with a 0.71 ERA not be first in the Cy Young race? Despite only making seven starts and pitching 51 innings, deGrom’s 2.8 fWAR leads all National League pitchers. With 82 strikeouts and only seven walks, his figures of 14.5 K/9 and 11.71 K/BB would lead the majors if he qualified. What is stopping deGrom from being first in the race right now is durability. He spent time on the injured list but will eventually be a qualified pitcher by innings. The question is, will he have enough by the end of the season to be right there in the race with pitchers who might be healthy all season long?
All of this goes to show how brilliant Brandon Woodruff has been. He is 4th in the NL with 2.5 fWAR and leads baseball with a 1.27 ERA. Along with this, his 2.14 FIP, 0.4 HR/9, 0.69 WHIP, 4.2 H/9, and 323 ERA+ all either lead the NL or the major leagues. As the ace, or co-ace, of a Brewers team with big aspirations in 2021, Woodruff is the front runner for the Cy Young at this point. As with deGrom, durability will be key for Woodruff in his bid for a first Cy Young award. Other than in a pandemic-shortened 2020, Woodruff has never pitched a full season.
Woodruff’s co-ace, Corbin Burnes, is having, arguably, a more impressive season. Burnes started the season by striking out 59 batters before allowing a walk, which is a record to start a season. His innings total currently stands at 52 2/3, which is still not enough to qualify. Burnes has posted a 2.6 fWAR, which is second in the NL. He has posted a 2.24 ERA, 81 SO, only seven walks, a 1.16 FIP, 0.73 WHIP, and an also absurd 11.57 K/BB. It has been a continuation of Burnes’ breakout 2020 season in which finished sixth in Cy Young voting.
Rookie of the Year
Let’s start with Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson. While he does not have the best statistical case among all NL rookies, he is in the top three because of what he means to his team. He has provided stability and solid offense at the top of the lineup for the Cardinals. Batting primarily in the number two hole, Carlson has put up a batting line of .274/.359/.419, good for a .779 OPS, and 119 wRC+. His ability to get on base for the two sluggers behind him in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado has been crucial up to this point in the season, in which St. Louis is right near the top of the NL Central division. Defensively, Carlson has split time between center-field and right-field and has been solid in both positions.
Despite playing in only 31 games, Jazz Chisholm’s 1.1 fWAR is first among all rookie hitters in the NL. He is doing it in all aspects of the game. He is batting .279/.339/.468, good for a .807 OPS, and a 126 wRC+. Defensively, he has posted 1 DRS and 0.8 UZR combined between shortstop and second base. On the basepaths, Chisholm has stolen nine bases and has posted 1.1 baserunning runs above average (BsR). Chisholm has also managed to homer twice off of pitches at 100+ mph, which is quite a feat. He is only 23-years-old and is one of the more talented and entertaining young players in the game.
Trevor Rogers has now twice won the NL Rookie of the Month award. Similar to Chisholm, Rogers is another 23-year-old rookie who has been one of the best players on the Marlins. He leads all NL rookies with 1.9 fWAR, to go along with a 1.87 ERA, 2.47 FIP, and 10.9 K/9. While his xERA and xFIP are 3.07 and 3.26, this still just shows how good the rookie has been in 2021. The Marlins are a team whose pitching is its strong suit. The rotation is filled with lots of talent and Rogers just adds to the list of promising young starters.
Manager of the Year
- Gabe Kapler, San Francisco Giants
- Luis Rojas, New York Mets
- Jayce Tingler, San Diego Padres
There are a lot of good teams in the National League right now and several managers who deserve consideration for this award. Despite this, Gabe Kapler, Luis Rojas, and Jayce Tingler seem like the three most logical favorites right now. The Giants are 34-21 and have the best record in the NL, second-best in baseball. While Kapler’s managerial style is certainly unique, his coaching staff as a whole are helping to get the best out of one of the oldest teams in baseball. The Giants are a team that is overachieving expectations while also having the best record in the NL. This is a recipe for Kapler to be the favorite for this award.
While Kapler’s Giants have the best record in the NL, the same cannot be said about the New York Mets. At 27-21, they are first in the NL East, four games ahead of the Atlanta Braves. If you just take a peek at the Mets injured list, you will know how much they have had to overcome to even be six games over .500. They are not doing it with great offense, but with great pitching instead. Rojas deserves credit for his team’s success as it can be easy for teams and players to feel defeated with so many impact players on the injured list.
Jayce Tingler was one of the finalists for this award in 2020 as the young Padres were 37-23 and reached the postseason. In going 34-22 and currently second in the NL West, Tingler is right in the race for this award again. Similar to the Mets, the Padres lineup has suffered through its share of missing players. Whether it is due to injury or the Covid IL, the Padres missed some of their key players for a long stretch of time, yet are still able to live up to expectations as one of the best teams in baseball.
National League Most Valuable Player
- Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds
- Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves
- Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
- Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
- Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
This was too difficult to go with three, so we will discuss the top five. The talent pool in the NL is incredibly deep. In going through each player, what stands out is not just the statistical excellence, but also where their teams would be without them. The Dodgers have had their depth tested big time in 2021 as several key players have succumbed to injury. Max Muncy has been the stabilizing force in the lineup, walking 19.6% of the time and getting on base at a .433 clip with a .419 wOBA, 171 wRC+, and 2.8 fWAR. Interestingly enough, Tatis has not accumulated enough plate appearances to be a qualified hitter in 2021. However, his 16 home runs and 179 wRC+ are second in the NL, and his 2.1 fWAR is sixth.
Kris Bryant is back! Even though he won the NL MVP in 2016, this is the best Bryant has ever played in his career. He has never been a great defender but is good and versatile enough that he has actually played more games in the outfield this season than at his primary position of third base. Bryant is fourth in the NL with 2.6 fWAR, sixth with a 170 wRC+, and his .996 OPS ranks fifth in the league. He has been the best hitter on a Cubs team that is currently first in the division.
Elsewhere, in the NL East, Ronald Acuña Jr. is doing some spectacular things. His 17 homers lead all of baseball and his line of .294/.390/.644 amounts to the 1.035 OPS that is easily the best in his career. Acuña ranks third in the NL in OPS, third in fWAR, fourth in wRC+, fourth in stolen bases, and third in BsR. Even with so-so defense, Acuña has been one of the best all-around players in the sport this year.
Many people could not have predicted that Castellanos would be this good in 2021. His .361 batting average leads baseball and he leads the National League in several categories. He has accumulated 123 total bases which are first in the NL, as is his 1.060 OPS. His 2.8 fWAR and 185 wRC+ rank first in the NL as well. While the Reds have not been great and sport a record of 24-29, they would be much worse off with Castellanos and his co-star who just missed the cut, Jesse Winker. Castellanos has always been a good hitter, as his career 115 wRC+ indicates but his defense has been surprising. Historically terrible, he has posted 2 DRS and 0.9 UZR in the outfield this year. It is this type of defensive improvement that makes Castellanos the favorite for the NL MVP right now.
Final Thoughts on the National League
The four major award races in the National League are as stacked right now as they have ever been. It is exciting to see how the rest of the season plays out in the National League. With tight divisional races and award races, things could change on a dime as the season progresses. Some early MVP favorites such as Mookie Betts or Juan Soto have not been much of a factor thus far in 2021. However, they are both so good that no one would be surprised if they end up in this discussion within the next month or two. The Cy Young race in the NL is a doozy as players like Zack Wheeler, Kevin Gausman, and Max Scherzer line up right behind those top three favorites. These award races are only a few of the numerous storylines worth following throughout this 2021 season.
Embed from Getty Images
Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, Zack Wheeler, Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, Jesse Winker, Max Muncy, Fernando Tatis Jr., Kris Bryant, Ronald Acuña Jr., Nick Castellanos, Jayce Tingler, Luis Rojas, Jacob deGrom, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Trevor Rogers, Dylan Carlson, Jazz Chisholm