Awards Watch: NL MVP, both Cy Young races going down to the wire

Pete Alonso hits his 46th and 47th home runs of the season as he powers the Mets to a 3-1 win. (0:53)

As we head down the homestretch of the season now that it’s September, the races for the 2019 awards are coming into focus, with most of the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year hardware still there for the taking in the season’s waning weeks. ESPN’s David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle use Doolittle’s Awards Index and their own observations to break down where things stand with less than three weeks to go before the final ballots are cast.

Jump to … MVP races | Cy Young battles | Top rookies

Awards Index leaders

1. Christian Yelich (5.133)
2. Cody Bellinger (4.797)
3. Anthony Rendon (4.344)
4. Freddie Freeman (3.596)
5. Ketel Marte (3.504)

How close is this race? It’s even closer than last month because Rendon is closing fast. Only two players in the majors improved their Awards Index more than Rendon did since our previous edition in August. Another month like that and he could pass Yelich and Bellinger like Secretariat. Beyond that, it could be a battle of click preferences. If you click on Baseball-Reference.com, it looks as if Bellinger has a sizable WAR lead. If you click on FanGraphs, it looks like a dead heat. However, Yelich continues to lead in win probability added and if he keeps putting up September numbers like he did last year and last week, he’ll deserve to repeat. — Bradford Doolittle

Why the numbers favor … Yelich leads the Awards Index because of his contextualized hitting. In English: He has had more game-turning hits than Bellinger. He’s hitting .476 in high-leverage plate appearances, easily the best figure in the majors. Bellinger has a sizable edge in bWAR that is built off a big edge in defensive runs saved and, let’s face it, that’s a key number that will decide the race for many voters by itself. Bellinger is deserving and could well win, but hopefully voters will dig a little deeper than bWAR. — Doolittle

But the narrative belongs to … It definitely feels much more like a three-person race now as opposed to simply a Bellinger/Yelich battle — or maybe even a four-person race, as Marte has climbed up to essentially even with Yelich in Baseball-Reference WAR. Despite Bellinger’s big lead in bWAR, I feel like Yelich has inched past him in the narrative as his triple-slash line is more impressive (he leads in all three categories), plus Bellinger’s OPS has been getting progressively worse each month. Just note his batting averages each month: .500 in March, .416 in April, .319 in May, .272 in June, .265 in July, .235 in August. He’s still hitting home runs, but Yelich (and Rendon) have remained consistent all-around hitters. — David Schoenfield

A dark horse to watch: Marte. Heading into Monday’s game against the Mets, he’s at .330/.390/.599 for Arizona, ranking fourth in the NL in OPS. He has played center field and second base and even started a few games at shortstop, so maybe his versatility earns him a few bonus points (although Bellinger has also moved around at three positions). Marte’s defensive metrics, while not quite in Bellinger territory, are very good at plus-9 DRS (he has made just three errors). He had a big August and is scorching hot in September as the Diamondbacks won 11 of 12 before Sunday’s loss. His chances probably rest on the D-backs winning a wild card with Marte delivering a few more huge hits like his grand slam last week. — Schoenfield

The bottom line: It’s still a strong race, but Bellinger does not have the momentum. Since the beginning of August, Rendon has a 1.124 OPS, Yelich is at 1.019 and Bellinger .932. The Dodgers’ huge NL West lead could work against Bellinger as well, simply because he won’t have a chance for many more pennant-altering hits and because the load-management-obsessed Dodgers might start giving him an occasional day off. Unless Yelich’s back problems resurface, things are lining up well for him. But if he misses some more time or the Brewers collapse, then any one of this trio could still emerge. — Doolittle

Right now, I’d put it at something like Yelich at 45%, Bellinger at 30%, Rendon at 20% and Marte at 5%. But season-ending momentum is huge and, as Brad mentioned, Bellinger doesn’t have it while Rendon and now Marte do. If the Brewers miss the playoffs, that helps Bellinger and Rendon. — Schoenfield

Awards Index leaders

1. Mike Trout ( 4.961)
2. Alex Bregman (3.872)
3. Mookie Betts (3.671)
4. Matt Chapman (3.559)
5. Xander Bogaerts (3.501)

How close is this race? The race for second is pretty good, but that’s about all there is. If you’re a Bregman fan hoping for a Trout September swoon, there’s this: Trout’s OPS by month this season goes 1.052, 1.032, 1.081, 1.214, 1.034 and, so far this month, 1.117. It’s going to be MVP No. 3 for Trout. — Doolittle

Why the numbers favor … Trout has huge leads in fWAR and WPA, and a sizable lead in bWAR over Bregman, while remaining in position to lead the league in homers for the first time. If he reaches 10.0 bWAR, it would be the fourth time. The only hitters with more 10-WAR seasons are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Rogers Hornsby. That’s the neighborhood Trout lives in. — Doolittle

But the narrative belongs to … Trout is like the Formula One racer who zooms to the lead at the drop of the flag and never gives it up, slowly pulling away throughout the race. — Schoenfield

A dark horse to watch: Bregman is really the only other player making any kind of run at Trout, but even then I feel like we’ve talked a lot more about the big seasons Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have had for the Astros than we have about Bregman. — Schoenfield

The bottom line: Woe to the sportswriter who doesn’t put Trout first on his ballot, especially if said writer alludes to Trout hitting “only” .291. This season has been start-to-finish domination for Trout. — Doolittle

Bregman has been terrific and while voters of the past have been loath to give the MVP to a player on a non-contender, this is a different time and the award is now more “best player” than it has ever been. In a close race, the standings might matter, but this isn’t a close race. — Schoenfield

Awards Index leaders

1. Jacob deGrom (3.111)
2. Max Scherzer (2.929)
3. Stephen Strasburg (2.739)
4. Hyun-Jin Ryu (2.488)
5. Mike Soroka (2.435)

How close is this race? It’s close, muddled and hard to predict, but deGrom has charged back into the mix with a sub-2.00 ERA since the All-Star break. Since the beginning of last season, deGrom has a 2.16 ERA over 61 starts — and a 19-17 record. Thanks, Mets! Scherzer is back on the mound, which helps, but at the moment he has started just five games since the break with a 3.91 ERA. Ryu has collapsed. Just out of the top five is St. Louis’ Jack Flaherty, and he might be the hottest player in baseball. So take your pick. There’s a lot of ways this could play out. — Doolittle

Why the numbers favor … There is quite a disconnect in this category between the traditional and advanced stats. The one who might well be the best mix of all is Strasburg. He’s top three by both flavors of WAR and leads in innings and wins, while trading places atop the strikeout leaderboard. Still, with a 3.50 ERA, voters might need some convincing. — Doolittle

But the narrative belongs to … Ryu had it, but the narrative can turn quickly in a Cy Young race and his back-to-back seven-run outings have turned this into a wide-open race. Plus, it sounds as if the Dodgers will take it easy on Ryu’s innings the rest of the season. Sonny Gray has been maybe the most underrated starter in the NL, but there’s zero buzz around him. Soroka has the low ERA, but his low strikeout total makes him less than an ideal candidate. Maybe deGrom, except nearly everything around the Mets right now feels like a bad vibe, so deGrom suffers from guilt by association. — Schoenfield

A dark horse to watch: This sounds weird to say, but what about Clayton Kershaw? He didn’t make Brad’s top five index leaders, but he’s 13-5 with a 3.06 ERA and 171 K’s. He’ll need to finish strong with three or four wins and get that ERA under 3.00, but, like Strasburg, he could post well across the board (wins, innings, ERA, strikeouts). — Schoenfield

The bottom line: The race is wide open and will be decided by the stretch run. The smart money is always on the proven ace — deGrom and Scherzer are in the mix, so it’s hard to bet against one of them winning. But the ingredients are there for a sleeper to emerge, such as Flaherty or even Braves rookie Soroka. — Doolittle

Flaherty has a 0.80 ERA over his past 12 starts and has allowed zero runs in seven of his past 10. He’s obviously the hottest guy going, but his first half counts, as well, so I think deGrom probably rates as the slight favorite right now. Put it this way: Depending on what happens these final three weeks, it’s reasonable that six or seven pitchers could get a first-place vote. However, deGrom looks like the guy most likely to place somewhere on everyone’s ballot. — Schoenfield

Awards Index leaders

1. Justin Verlander (3.436)
2. Mike Minor (3.246)
3. Shane Bieber (2.991)
4. Charlie Morton (2.885)
5. Lucas Giolito (2.633)

How close is this race? Verlander has seized control of this category and is in line to win his second career Cy Young. He’s got the advanced metrics and he leads in wins and ERA, though he is 17 strikeouts behind teammate Gerrit Cole. (Cole is sixth in the Awards Index, mostly due to a puzzling shortfall in bWAR.) And with his recent no-hitter, Verlander gets a narrative boost. If Verlander should falter, it still feels as if Cole is most likely to take the honor. As good as Minor has been, how many voters could actually pick him out of a lineup? — Doolittle

Why the numbers favor … Verlander could win his second pitching Triple Crown. No one has won one since he and Kershaw both did it in 2011. That would be hard to vote against even if Verlander didn’t measure up in WAR. But he does. He is in a tight pack in fWAR with Bieber, Morton, Giolito, Cole and Lance Lynn. He is second to Minor in bWAR, and leads in win shares and WPA. There’s just no reason not to put him in that top ballot slot. — Doolittle

But the narrative belongs to … Verlander, for sure, although Cole’s 15-strikeout outing Sunday to match Pedro Martinez as the only pitcher with 14-plus K’s in three straight games keeps him on the heels of his teammate. He has a 17-strikeout edge over Verlander and owns the highest single-season strikeout rate (13.72 K/9 IP, over 1999 Pedro). — Schoenfield

A dark horse to watch: Well, the metrics actually favor the two Rangers pitchers (Minor leads bWAR, and Lynn leads FanGraphs WAR) over the two Astros, and they might get a random first-place vote or two from the analytics-uber-alles voter, but they’re trying to chase down Usain Bolt in this one. — Schoenfield

The bottom line: On top of everything, Verlander has the momentum — he leads the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts since the break and threw a no-hitter with 14 strikeouts. It’s his award to lose. — Doolittle

I mentioned this somewhere else recently, but Verlander has 3.40 career Cy Young award shares. (Award shares are a percentage of the total points available. A unanimous win is worth 1.0 awards shares, three-quarters of the maximum points is worth 0.75, and so on). Verlander is 11th on the all-time Cy Young award shares list, and all 10 gents ahead of him have won at least two (nine of the 10 have won at least three). The four immediately below him have won at least two. I’m not saying Verlander’s close finishes in some recent votes will be a factor, but even if it is a bang-bang finish with Cole, it feels as if Verlander is due to get a second one. — Schoenfield

Awards Index leaders

1. Pete Alonso (2.965)
2. Mike Soroka (2.435)
3. Bryan Reynolds (2.205)
4. Fernando Tatis Jr. (1.983)
5. Victor Robles (1.318)

How close is this race? It’s not over, though it’s really hard to fathom a world in which a rookie in New York hits 50 homers and doesn’t win the Rookie of the Year award. Still, Soroka would need to be nearly perfect down the stretch, and getting outpitched by Scherzer on Sunday didn’t help. Alonso leads all NL rookies in fWAR, win shares and WPA on top of all those tape-measure dingers. Soroka has a nice edge in bWAR, though it’s a measurement that merits some scrutiny. — Doolittle

The bottom line: Alonso is going to win. He’s got the numbers, the narrative and the novelty. You can’t beat the three N’s. — Doolittle

Funny, the Mets could end up with the Cy Young winner and the Rookie of the Year in what will still go down as a bitterly disappointing season. Soroka will get some first-place votes, but it looks like a runaway for Alonso. — Schoenfield

Yordan Alvarez hits a solo home run in the 1st inning and another in the 2nd as the Astros dominate the A’s 15-0.

Awards Index leaders

1. Yordan Alvarez (1.415)
2. Brandon Lowe (1.368)
3. John Means (1.118)
4. Luis Arraez (0.957)
5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (0.642)

How close is this race? Alvarez hit a rough stretch, which could open the door for … somebody? Lowe’s season is over, and Means’ numbers are still mostly propped up by his strong first half, though his past couple of outings have been solid. A strong finish for Vladdy Jr. could still win some voters over, but he has cooled off the past couple of weeks. There are a number of future stars in this year’s AL rookie class. But there haven’t been a whole lot of All-Star-type performances from them, as there have been in the NL. — Doolittle

The bottom line: Alvarez has been so consistent that it’s likely his recent downtick is no big deal, and that especially looks true after his six-RBI explosion Sunday. Unless he falls off a cliff, it’s hard to see anyone else in the AL overtaking him. — Doolittle

It’s a little bit of an odd race, with mostly a list of partial-season candidates. But similar to Willie McCovey in 1959 (he won despite playing only 52 games), Alvarez’s numbers will be too imposing to ignore. In fact, if I were to compare him to another slugger from the past, McCovey is a pretty good comp as an imposing lefty masher with light-tower power. All he did was end up with 521 home runs. — Schoenfield

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