MLB Awards: Looking Back on an Exciting Season
October 11, 2016
It’s been an action-packed six months of Major League Baseball. So, with the conclusion of the regular season, Valor Dictus gives its awards picks.
American League (AL) Awards
Most Valuable Player (MVP): Our pick for the prized MVP award is Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts. The young, small superstar shined throughout the season, leading the Red Sox to a surprising 93-69 record to win the AL East division. While the Red Sox were aided by fellow superstars (namely David Ortiz), it was Betts that truly stood out, posting an incredible .318 batting average with 31 home runs and 113 runs batted in (RBI). While star Astros second baseman José Altuve’s phenomenal .338 average did secure the AL batting title for Altuve, his stats are eclipsed by Betts both in terms of home runs and RBI. In addition, Altuve’s strong stats are diminished due to the simple definition of “MVP,” which means most valuable player to a team’s success. Unfortunately, the Astros didn’t enjoy much success this season, failing to make the playoffs with their rather mediocre 84-78 record. David Ortiz could prove a strong contender for the award, but as a designated hitter, Ortiz doesn’t play the field, and fielding/defense is a significant factor that plays into the selection of MVP. (Betts, on the other hand, did play outfield very well, with his stellar .997 fielding percentage being tied for second in the league among all eligible outfielders.)
Cy Young: The race for best pitcher is a tight one, especially between Red Sox ace Rick Porcello and Tigers ace Justin Verlander, but in the end, Verlander has earned the award. Despite his team missing the playoffs, the recipient of 2011’s award (as well as MVP honors for that year as well) is well deserving of the AL Cy Young Award. Verlander dominated in 2016, with 254 total strikeouts (led the American League) and a very strong 3.04 earned run average (ERA), which ranked second in the AL. While his 16-9 record may not be on par with Porcello’s 22-4 win-loss split, Verlander’s other pitching statistics make up for it.
Rookie of the Year: Catcher Gary Sánchez, New York Yankees sensation, only played in 53 games this season, but that didn’t stop him from tearing up the AL. His insane statistics—20 home runs (which would be a solid home run total for an entire, 162-game season, much less a player appearing in a third of that) with 42 RBI and a .299 batting average—are absolutely mesmerizing. Think about this: With his home run count through just 53 games, Sanchez was on pace to hit around 61 home runs this season. That would tie the single-season record set by Roger Maris all the way back in 1961 for the best of all time (excluding players found to have abused performance-enhancing drugs). So, yes, Sanchez has earned it.
Biggest Surprise (Team): The biggest (pleasant) surprise of 2016 in the AL was the performance of the Boston Red Sox. The team surpassed all expectations behind strong showings from young up-and-comers Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr., along with David Ortiz in one of the greatest farewell seasons of all time (not to mention great seasons from Hanley Ramírez, Dustin Pedroia, Cy Young contender Rick Porcello, and so many other terrific players who stepped up in a major way for Boston in 2016). The Red Sox topped the AL East (after finishing dead last in the division the previous season) with their 15-win improvement from 2015.
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Unquestionably, the Kansas City Royals were the biggest disappointment in 2016 for the American League. After winning the World Series in 2015, Kansas City failed to even make the playoffs this season, posting an incredibly mediocre season, with a win percentage of .500 (81 wins, 81 losses). This, paired with a very mediocre .261 team batting average and a subpar team ERA of 4.21 (both significant regressions from 2015), made for a sudden, disappointing fall from grace for the Royals.
National League (NL) Awards
Most Valuable Player (MVP): 24-year-old Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant has had himself quite the year, to say the least. Bryant knocked it out of the park with a .292 batting average to go along with 39 long balls and 102 RBI. Most importantly, however, he led Chicago to a historic, 103-win (!) season, which beat out all other teams in the MLB by eight wins. While Nolan Arenado of the Rockies probably deserves the award stat-wise, Colorado had a dismal season overall, with a record of just 75-87. Daniel Murphy of the Nationals could also make a strong case for MVP, but when it comes down to it, Bryant was more effective as a team leader. Bryant posted the highest WAR (Wins Above Replacement, which essentially measures team impact/contribution) in the National League, which was calculated at 7.67.
Cy Young: Upon review, this isn’t even truly a contest. Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer takes the cake, and easily. His 20 wins (with only 7 losses; 0.741 winning percentage) led the NL, as did his 284 strikeouts, which led Verlander for the MLB season best by 30 strikeouts. Though not league-leading, Scherzer’s 2.96 ERA was still quite impressive, ranking eighth-best in the NL and the MLB as a whole. Though Scherzer will seemingly run away with the award, he does have some degree of competition in Cubs superstar Jon Lester and even José Fernández, the Marlins pitcher who tragically passed away in late September. And if Fernández were to win posthumously, it won’t have been because he passed away; his pitching statistics throughout 2016 were genuinely incredible, and he will be missed dearly.
Rookie of the Year: Dodgers phenom Corey Seager was utterly magnificent at the shortstop position in 2016, proving that he can handle both the bat and the mitt. In 157 games this season, Seager batted .308, with an impressive 26 home runs and 72 RBI. He also had to field the toughest position on the diamond, and he did it well, posting a .968 fielding percentage. Seager also ranked 18th in the MLB with a WAR of 6.12 to lead all rookies. So, Seager takes the prize for the season’s best rookie, and he should do so with little competition.
Biggest Surprise (Team): In the National League, the Washington Nationals were the biggest pleasant surprise of the season. The team improved by 12 wins from 2015 to easily beat out the New York Mets for the NL East division title. After failing to make the playoffs last season with a very middle-of-the-road 83-79 record, the Nationals took the league by storm this season. Though Washington’s offense was solid, it was their reliable pitching staff that got the job done, posting an effective 3.51 team ERA, which ranked second in the MLB (behind the Cubs). Starting pitchers Max Scherzer (a top Cy Young contender), Tanner Roark, and Stephen Strasburg (despite his injury) were lights-out this season; the fiery bats of Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos, and young phenom Trea Turner didn’t hurt either. Overall, this season was a surprising and much-needed turnaround for the Nationals.
Biggest Disappointment (Team): When the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired standout pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, the outlook was optimistic for the team, which went just 79-83 in 2015. Other solid offseason acquisitions generated even more optimism for the Diamondbacks entering 2016. But somehow, Arizona got much worse. Miller posted an awful 6.15 ERA with a record of just 3-12. With a 13-7 record and a 4.37 ERA, Greinke did better, but still failed to match his enormous six-year, $206.5 million (around $34.4 million per year) contract. But it wasn’t just Miller and Greinke; it was a season of defensive disappointments for the Diamondbacks across the board. The overall pitching was a mess, as Arizona finished last in the MLB with a team ERA of 5.09, also allowing the second-most hits. In terms of offense, Arizona was decent (seventh-highest batting average in the MLB), which is the team’s lone bright spot. Oh, and Arizona finished with a downright dreadful 69-93 record.