As free agency commences heading into the 2021 Major League Baseball season, the last hurdle to jump over before a full-forward look is the Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards. Certain races have clear-cut winners while others do not. Here’s a glance at the candidacy of each finalist in every close award race to determine who most deserves the shiny new mantle piece.
National League Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom (New York Mets), Trevor Bauer (Cincinnati Reds), Yu Darvish (Chicago Cubs)
deGrom looks to become just the third pitcher in history to win three consecutive Cy Young Awards. Despite becoming more prone to the long ball with a higher home run rate this season compared to 2019 and 2018, deGrom blew away his previous best strikeout numbers while posting a 2.38 earned run average.
Bauer rediscovered the elite form that nearly won him this award with Cleveland in 2018. Now with the other Ohio team, Bauer reached the next level. With a miniscule 1.73 ERA and 0.795 walks and hits per inning pitched percentage, averaging nearly seven innings per start and setting career-bests with strikeouts per 9 innings and hits per 9 innings, the veteran righty enters free agency coming off his best year yet.
Darvish’s second-half surge from 2019 continued into 2020. After posting a 2.39 ERA in September of 2019, he kept that up with a 2.01 mark this season. On top of that, he struck out 11 batters per 9 innings and gave up just five home runs in 76 innings. The 34-year-old keeps defying the odds by improving with age.
My Projected Winner: Bauer
National League Rookie of the Year: Alec Bohm (Philadelphia Phillies), Jake Cronenworth (San Diego Padres), Devin Williams (Milwaukee Brewers)
Cronenworth burst onto the scene after spending five seasons in the minors. The 26-year-old showed great plate discipline with only 30 strikeouts in 172 at bats. Striking out less than 18 percent of the time is beyond impressive for a young hitter in 2020. Combine his above-average hitting and incredible versatility, and he earned his recognition for this award.
Bohm’s long-awaited debut finally proved worth the delay in 2020. With hitting clearly being his strength, Bohm showed it off this season. Despite hitting for more contact than power with a 0.338 batting average and an 0.881 on-base plus slugging percentage, Bohm demonstrated an ability to hit anything in or around the strike zone, and he outshone Cronenworth by a long shot at the plate.
Williams may be the only hurler in this race, but his 2020 campaign was something special. I wrote previously that this youngster deserved Cy Young Award voting as well. Although he will not win the Cy Young Award, a pitcher who allows one earned-run and one home run all year, while also striking out nearly two batters in every inning, is certainly worthy of recognition.
My Projected Winner: Bohm
American League MVP: Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox), D.J. LeMahieu (New York Yankees), Jose Ramirez (Cleveland Indians)
The 33-year-old Abreu appeared in all 60 games for the young, budding White Sox squad. After smacking 19 homers while also leading the AL in runs-batted-in, slugging percentage and hits, he is joining a righty on the north side of Chicago named Yu Darvish in aging like a fine wine in the big leagues. The question is if his offense alone can make up for his lack of speed and subpar fielding.
LeMahieu retains his title as undisputed MVP of the Yankees for the second-straight year. Despite missing 10 games, the versatile infielder won the batting title with a 0.364 average, while also posting the highest OPS in the AL at 1.011. One of last year’s heavy favorites remains so again.
Ramirez rediscovered his elite hitting talent in this truncated 2020 campaign. He finished the year with career highs in slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+, while missing just two games all season. Unfortunately, he clearly appears to be the third best candidate for the award out of this trio. His production was off the charts, but not as much as the other two.
My Projected Winner: LeMahieu
National League MVP: Mookie Betts (Los Angeles Dodgers), Manny Machado (San Diego Padres), Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)
Betts’ career on the West Coast kicked off in grand fashion. After already clinching a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove, Betts will look to add the biggest trophy of them all. After batting 0.292 with double-digit home runs and stolen bases, while also missing only five games and striking out just 17.35 percent of the time, Betts can easily win his second MVP. He would then join Hall of Famer Frank Robinson as the second player to win it in both the American and National League.
Machado’s second season in San Diego proved to be what the Friars asked for when they signed the infielder to a $300 million contract before 2019. Machado appeared in all 60 games while batting over 0.300, smacking 16 bombs and providing more of his stunning hot-corner defense. Everything clicked for Machado, just like for Betts, but neither can earn this award over the last contender.
Freeman was simply the best hitter in all of baseball in 2020. While the beating heart of the Braves’ core was a barely average hitter against lefties, no one owned righties like him. Batting 0.373 with a 1.228 OPS against righties, along with a 0.341 batting average for the whole season, shows his crossover into his 30s is off to a great start. With serviceable defense and the best hitting in the league this season, he is the clear-cut top player in the NL.
My Projected Winner: Freeman