The 2019 MLB season is almost here and as accustomed, there are going to be predictions about who is going to win each major award at the end of the season. Last year, two right fielders won MVP’s almost unanimously, two sub 2 ERA pitchers won the Cy Young’s, and the Rookie of the Year races was tight from the beginning of the season. There are a plethora of candidates for every major award. I’ll give my main picks and sleeper picks for MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year.
Main Pick- Giancarlo Stanton
After winning the National League MVP in 2017, Stanton was one of the biggest stories going into the 2018 season with the Yankees. How would he deal with the pressure of New York? How would he handle the New York media? Would he repeat his success from 2017? The answers to the first two questions were, he did well. He was always honest with the media and never griped with them despite looking frustrated at times. Though Stanton didn’t repeat his success from 2017, he didn’t have the bad year everyone seemed to think he had. He hit .266 with 38 home runs, 100 RBI and 102 runs scored. His wOBA (weighted on-base percentage) was .360, which is above the .320 league average. His 127 wRC+ (weighted runs created) was 27 points above the league average as well. He had a 4.2 fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) which though isn’t the 7.3 fWAR from the year before, is nothing to dismiss. Stanton had never played in high-pressure games in his entire career. It’s a big adjustment and he only gets better as he faces pitchers more. Stanton hits .274 versus pitchers he’s faced 5 or more times. That’s 20 points higher than pitchers he’s faced less than 5 times. There are a lot of signs pointing to an improved Giancarlo Stanton in 2019.
Sleeper Pick- Matt Chapman
The Oakland A’s shocked the world in 2018, becoming the first team in Major League history to have the lowest payroll in baseball and make the postseason. Matt Chapman didn’t get the attention that Khris Davis did, but he is the team’s best player by far. Offensively, Chapman hit .278 with 24 home runs, 68 RBI, and 100 runs scored. In the 2nd half of the season, Chapman hit .309 with 14 home runs 39 RBI and 52 runs scored. He had .405 wOBA and 162 wRC+ in the 2nd half as well. If Chapman can repeat that 2nd half production in 2019, Chapman can enter the MVP conversation. Chapman’s defense alone makes him an above average player. He had a Major League-leading 29 DRS (defensive runs saved) in 2019. The A’s may be in contention again this year and if they are, Matt Chapman will be in the MVP conversation.
Main Pick- Paul Goldschmidt
The new St. Louis Cardinal is entering the final year of his contract and after 4 consecutive 5-win seasons, “Goldy” is primed for another great year. Goldschmidt hasn’t hit under .280 since his brief stint in the big leagues in 2011. Since 2013, he’s only hit less than 30 home runs once, and that was because he missed almost 60 games that year. He’s slugged under .500 just once during that time as well. He is one of the most consistent hitters in baseball today. He has a .393 career wOBA and a 144 career wRC+. To put that in perspective, Albert Pujols has a career .392 wOBA and a 146 wRC+. So, Paul Goldschmidt is on par with one of the greatest first baseman of all time offensively. Goldschmidt also has 3 gold gloves. He has a career 49 defensive runs saved and is one of the best defensive first basemen. Being on a competitive team may bring more pressure to Goldschmidt but he seems more than capable of living up to that expectation. With Matt Carpenter, Marcel Ozuna, Paul Dejong, and Harrison Bader in the lineup as well, the Cardinals have just as many offensive weapons as the Diamondbacks had. The NL Central is a packed division but with the addition of Goldschmidt, the Cardinals are definitely a threat to not only win the division but have the best record in the National League.
Sleeper Pick- Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano is back in New York and that is a good thing for him. Before last year, Cano had 11 straight seasons where he played more than 150 games. In 80 games last year, Cano still hit .303 with 10 home runs and a .364 wOBA and a 136 wRC+. Cano had hit more than 20 home runs in 3 straight seasons as well. In his career, Cano ranks in the top 30 in every major statistic, standard or advanced, among 2nd baseman. So why do I think he is primed for an MVP year at age 36? Well, there is a difference when a player goes from the AL to the NL. Cano brings experience to a team with younger stars. He’s incredibly consistent and he loves New York. He grew up there and that’s where he feels most comfortable. The numbers are there for Cano, let’s see if he still has a few years left in him.
AL Cy Young
Main pick- Justin Verlander
At 35 years old, Justin Verlander had the best year of his career in 2018. He set career marks in strikeouts (290), WHIP (.902), FIP (2.78), BB/9 (1.6), K/9 (12.2), and K/BB (7.84). Verlander has guaranteed his trip to Cooperstown since he joined Houston. In 248 innings with Astros, Verlander has a 2.32 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 174 ERA+, 333 strikeouts, and a .867 WHIP. Set to be a free agent at the end of the year, Verlander could give everything he has in an incredible final season before hanging up the cleats. Though I think he keeps pitching after this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he pitches like this is his last season. Most of his projections put him at as a 5 WAR pitcher which is higher than what Cy Young winner Blake Snell had in 2018. Verlander is going to take the ball every 5th day, and pitch at least 7 innings while keeping the Astros in the game. He is a top 5 pitcher in the game today and he lives for big moments. He won the ALCS MVP in 2017 and is still giving Oakland A’s fans nightmares. He may be close to the end of his career but I look forward to watching him dominate this year.
Sleeper- James Paxton
The lefty Paxton has a new home in the Bronx. After being traded to the New York Yankees, James Paxton is pitching for a contender. He has shown every indication that he is ready for big moments in New York. Paxton had a 140 ERA+ in 2017, and though it dropped in 2018, Paxton still has shown a lot of signs for a breakout year in 2019. The lefty pitcher had a 36% chase rate and 14% swing and miss rate in 2018. Paxton gives up a lot of hard contacts, as his 34% hard-hit rate was above league average but that can be fixed. He throws a fastball almost 70% of the time, and the Yankees are most likely going to drop that rate dramatically. With his slider being his best pitch, Paxton could see even more swings and misses in 2019. This could also lead to his hard-hit rate dropping a bit. With Luis Severino’s recent injury, which may or may not be serious, Paxton is going to have a big role in the Yankees rotation.
NL Cy Young
Main pick- Max Scherzer
This one seems obvious. He is the best pitcher in baseball and one of the best players in baseball. He has finished in the top 5 of Cy Young voting in 6 straight seasons and won 3 of them. Over those 6 years, Scherzer has had a 2.81 ERA, a 2.86 FIP, and a 148 ERA+. He’s had at least 230 strikeouts in every year including 300 last year. He’s won 20 games twice during that stretch and is averaging about 18 wins a season over the last 6 years. I am usually not a fan of pitchers being MVP candidates, but Scherzer is an MVP candidate. He faces about 875 hitters a year and has been a 5+ fWAR player over the last 6 years as well. So, in ways that we can compare position players and pitchers, Scherzer stands up next to them. Scherzer is projected to have another great season and there’s no reason to believe he won’t. His preparation, determination, and mindset are all incredible. During a spring training bullpen, he took 2 minutes to prepare for the National Anthem being played. That’s what makes him the hall of fame pitcher that he is. With an even better rotation this year, the Nationals may not have to rely on Scherzer as much which may help him. I’m not saying he’ll relax because I don’t think Max Scherzer knows how to relax. If the other pitchers are throwing the ball well, Scherzer will be even more motivated and that makes him dangerous.
Sleeper Pick- Josh Hader
It is incredibly rare for a reliever to win this award let alone receive votes, but Josh Hader is one of the best relievers in baseball. Hader had 143 strikeouts in just 81 innings last year. His 15.8 K/9 was tops among NL pitchers and 2nd only to Aroldis Chapman in baseball. Hader isn’t a 1 inning reliever either. 33 of his 55 appearances in 2018, were for more than an inning. Hader is entering his age 25 season, and he could have an even better year than he did last year. His velocity has been up in spring training and his swing and miss rate was already tops in baseball last year among relievers. With an improved velocity, that number could climb even higher. Hader faced 300 batters last year, and though that isn’t at all close to what Max Scherzer faces. If you took WAR per batter and put it over 875 hitters (the amount Max Scherzer faced in 2018) Hader would be an almost 8-win pitcher. That’s something worth keeping in mind.
AL Rookie of the Year
Main pick- Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Much like the Max Scherzer pick, this one isn’t going out on a limb either. He is the #1 prospect in all of baseball according to mlb.com and was hitting over .400 for 60 games at the AA level last year. He’ll turn 20 in about a week and we all know that he’ll start the year in the minors. It’s dumb but that’s how baseball is right now. Guerrero’s only real downside is he isn’t very fast and his range at third base is limited, but when scouts rate you with an 80 raw power, those things don’t really matter. Guerrero is projected to hit around .290 with 20+ home runs. The lowest estimate of his wRC+ is 125 which is still very good, though most projections have him close to 130. His wOBA is between .360 and .375. Guerrero is looking like a force to be reckoned with in the baseball world.
Sleeper- Justus Sheffield
After falling by about 25 spots on mlb.com’s top 100 prospect’s Sheffield is out to prove himself this year. A great fastball and above average slider have many thinking he could be a valuable number 3 for any team in the future. However, if Sheffield were to develop an above average changeup and improve his control, he could be a front of the line starter for the Mariners. He’s made 2 appearances in spring training so far and has faced 14 hitters, only walking 1 of them while striking out 6. Those are big improvements. The biggest thing for Sheffield is that he’s getting innings this year and that’s what he needs. I’m excited to watch what he does with them.
NL Rookie of the Year
Main Pick- Fernando Tatis Jr.
He will most likely not be the opening day shortstop for the San Diego Padres for the same reason Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won’t be the opening day 3rd baseman for the Blue Jays. In 88 games at AA ball, Tatis slugged over .500. Tatis hit a ball in spring training that was a low line drive and just carried over the fence. He doesn’t have the power or hitting capabilities of Guerrero, but he is a much better defender. He has good range and can make some tough plays at shortstop. He is the number 2 prospect in all of baseball according to mlb.com and though there’s a chance he may not play this year because the Padres want another year of control. He’s making his case heard and I like his chances to play alongside Manny Machado. He’s currently slugging over .700 in about 20 plate appearances so far this spring, Tatis is knocking on the door, and the Padres are going to have to open it soon.
Sleeper Pick- Victor Robles
He was most likely supposed to come up last year, but he got hurt so Juan Soto came up instead. Robles has 5 tool potential for the Nationals. He has great speed and a great arm. Of the 3 position players I’ve listed, he is the best defensively. Robles will be an everyday outfielder for the Nationals alongside Juan Soto. He only has 83 career at-bats but does have 20 home run potential, 30 stolen base potential, and 200 hit potential. The biggest question is whether he can stay healthy. If he does, he should be in the NL Rookie of the Year race.