The Warning Track: Preseason Awards Picks

In the second part of The Warning Track’s 2016 predictions this week, we focus on the first installment of our Awards Watch and who will take home hardware at season’s end.

Most Valuable Player

The average age of all MVPs – American and National Leagues – since 2010 is about 27 years old. It’s a number that makes sense; 27 is right around when a player enters their prime, as most debut in the major leagues in their early 20s.

That number also brings hesitancy in predicting that some popular picks for MVP this year will end up reaching that status. In the American League, 21-year-old Carlos Correa – reigning AL Rookie of the Year – is the overwhelming favorite to bring home the hardware.

Despite his minimal experience (432 career PAs), it’s easy to see Correa as the second-best all-around player in the AL by season’s end, behind only Mike Trout.

His dedication certainly isn’t in doubt.

His numbers from 99 games last year translates to about 35 home runs and 115 RBI over the course of a full season. Those are certainly MVP totals, and when you consider his stellar defensive play and maturity, it’s no wonder he’s the favorite.

But again…he’s only 21. If he were to pull it off, he would be the youngest MVP in history. Heck, even Bryce Harper didn’t break out until his age-22 season last year (Not that that’s much older, but he did debut when he was 19). Then again, another perennially popular pick, Mike Trout, was only 23 when he finally won MVP. Perhaps that is motivation for the even younger Correa?

The lineup surrounding individual superstars also play a part in their MVP campaigns, of course. Defending AL MVP Josh Donaldson would not have driven in the most runs in the majors last year if Bautista, Encarnacion, Martin, et al. hadn’t been on base for him bring home.

Houston’s regulars have the potential to help Correa build his MVP case in that regard, but it’s over in the Senior Circuit where the lineup factor makes one superstar stand out: Anthony Rizzo.

Not only does he almost perfectly fit the age criteria – he’ll 27 in August – but Rizzo is set to reside in the heart of potentially one of the most threatening lineups in baseball, one that features young sluggers with more experience and on-base veterans Jason Hayward and Ben Zobrist. The only thing that might hurt Rizzo is the prospect of those batting before him mashing moonshots, thus robbing him of some RBIs. Not that he’s mind. 

Of course, Harper has a greater-than-good chance of repeating as MVP. But it most likely would require numbers greater than his 42 home runs, 99 RBI and 118 runs from 2015, and I’m hesitant to predict that happening with Washington’s lineup.

Still, the prospect of an even bigger year from Harper is an enticing notion. Unless you’re a Mets fan.

The Picks: American League

1. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

2015 stats: 41 home runs, 123 RBI, .297/.371/.568

Predicted 2016 stats: 43 home runs, 117 RBI, .289/.357/.539

 

2. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

2015 stats: 22 home runs, 68 RBI, .279/.345/.512

Predicted 2016 stats: 33 home runs, .288/.365/.598

 

3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

2015 stats: 41 home runs, 90 RBI, .299/.402/.590

Predicted 2016 stats: 43 home runs, 93 RBI, .309/.406/.583

The Toronto Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball to start the season, and Donaldson is the heart of it.

The Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball at the start of the season, and Donaldson is the heart of it.

 

The Picks: National League

1. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

2015 stats: 31 home runs, 101 RBI, .278/.387/.512

Predicted 2016 stats: 34 home runs, 118 RBI, .298/.401/.545

 

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

2015 stats: 33 home runs, 110 RBI, .321/.435/.570

Predicted 2016 stats: 36 home runs, 109 RBI, .329/.428/.576

 

3. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

2015 stats: 27 home runs, 67 RBI, .265/.346/.606

Predicted 2016 stats: 54 home runs, 97 RBI, .273/.362/.636

Rizzo is the unquestionable leader of a Cubs team primed for 100+ wins in 2016.

Rizzo is the unquestionable leader of a Cubs team primed for 100+ wins in 2016.

Cy Young

The age factor for Cy Young-caliber pitchers since 2010 is the same story as it is for MVPs.

The average age is just under 29; however, when removing the outlier of R.A. Dickey – who won as a 37-year-old in 2012 – the age drops down to 27.

Kershaw is the obvious choice here to win his fourth Cy Young since 2011. That would tie him for third on the all time list with Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux. 

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However, Max Scherzer’s dominant first season in the National League – in which he very nearly threw the 24th and 25th perfect games in MLB history – gives Kershaw some competition, as does the ascension of 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

To make things even tougher for Kershaw in his pursuit of a record 8 Cy Youngs, there’s a rotation over in New York with three or four starters that are also in the mix.

And we can’t forget about his former teammate in Arizona charged with the mission of leading a renaissance in the desert.

Meanwhile, in the more offensive-prone AL, if anyone is going to finish the season with a sub-2.00 ERA for the first time since Pedro Martinez in 2000, it could be the rapidly-evolving Sonny Gray, seemingly the only bright spot that Oakland has to look forward to this year.

It could also be Dallas Keuchel, who dominated the league en route to winning the Cy Young last year, or also perennial Opening Day starter Felix Hernandez.

There’s also dark horse candidates in Carlos Carrasco, who at age 29 is due for a breakout, and Jake Odorizzi of Tampa Bay. Actually, anyone on the Rays staff is capable of at least breaking out in a big way in 2016, much like the Mets last year. 

One thing that is for certain: as good as the AL’s young sluggers look, the league’s up and coming arms might be even better before long.

 

The Picks: American League

1. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

2015 stats: 12-13,  3.23 ERA, 252 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 18-7, 2.86 ERA, 248 K

 

2. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

2015 stats: 9-16, 3.49 ERA, 245 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 16-10, 2.99 ERA, 240 K

 

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

2015 stats: 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 191 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 17-9, 3.20 ERA, 201 K

The Picks: National League

1. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

2015 stats: 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 276 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-5, 2.12 ERA, 260 K

 

2. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

2015 stats: 19-8, 2.60 ERA, 202 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-6, 2.46 ERA, 225 K

 

3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

2015 stats: 16-7, 2.13 ERA, 301 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-9, 2.42 ERA, 300 K

One year of exposure to Scherzer won't be enough for hitter to get on base against him very often in 2016.

One year of exposure to Scherzer won’t be enough for hitter to get on base against him very often in 2016.

 

Best of the Rest

 

AL Rookie of the Year

The Pick: Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

The Why: A career .301 hitter in the minors, Buxton is being eagerly awaited by the Twins fanbase as the one who can hopefully push them over the cusp and back into contention. Buxton has shown to be an exceptional multi-tool player, as he put on display with what was easily the best play of Spring Training.

 

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The Contenders: Joey Gallo (TEX), Jose Berrios (MIN)

 

NL Rookie of the Year

The Pick: Steven Matz, SP, New York Mets

The Why: Because an ERA over 3.00 is frowned upon in New York.

The Contenders: Corey Seager (LAD), Trea Turner (WAS)

 

AL Manager of the Year

The Pick: Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers

The Why: Texas is ready to be relevant again after enduring consecutive World Series losses in the early 2010s. A healthy mix of veteran hitting, veteran pitching and an uberprospect in Joey Gallo should thrust them back into contention, and Banister into the spotlight.

The Contenders: Terry Francona (CLE), John Gibbons (TOR)

 

NL Manager of the Year

The Pick: Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals

The Why:  A veteran manager, returning from retirement and trying to reach his first Fall Classic as a manager after 3,176 games managed (thus far). A team looking to live up to the sky-high expectations of yesteryear.

The narrative is too good to pass up.

The Contenders: Joe Maddon (CHC), Chip Hale (ARZ)

 

Thanks for reading.

 

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a fairly consistent basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as hot button topics like MLB’s expansion mission, which players could be headed to new homes, and the latest clubhouse chemistry conundrum. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

The Warning Track: Week Five

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Awards Watch

With this year’s contenders, for both the postseason and individual awards at the end of the season, starting to becoming clear, it’s a good time to look back and see how off The Warning Track was with its preseason predictions, as far as the five-week old season is concerned.

 

American League Most Valuable Player

Who I said: Mike Trout, with Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu on deck

Trout and Cabrera are in the top ten in homers (seven and six, respectively), with Abreu close on their heels with five. Their among the leaders of their respective teams in most offensive categories, and have certainly performed as expected.

But two key things: The Angels and White Sox are playing sub-.500 ball, so Trout and Abreu are susceptible, just susceptible, to getting knocked out of the conversation in the early going. Cabrera’s Tigers are 19-12  in the early going, but players like Jose Iglesias, Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez are contributing just as much on a team that has averaged four and a half runs a game.

And, secondly, other players have simply been more incredible as of early May, dominating the opposition consistently and unabashedly.

As such, we have a couple new contenders, including one who would be named MVP of both leagues should the season end today.

1. Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners (12-17)

MLB-leading 14 home runs and .748 slugging percentage, AL-leading 1.130 OPS, third in AL in hits (39)

Hey, I said Trout and Abreu were susceptible to getting knocked out of the early MVP discussion due to their teams losing more games than they’ve won. Nelson Cruz’s Mariners are currently hanging out in the basement of the AL West, but no player in baseball has been more intimidating than Cruz through five weeks. If it wasn’t for Cruz (and probably King Felix), Seattle might not even be at five wins. He leads the team in average, home runs, RBI, runs, OBP, SLG, OPS, hits and walks.

As of now, there is one Seattle Mariner with his eye on October, and it’s Nelson Cruz.

2. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees (19-12)

Top five in AL in home runs (10), RBI (23), walks (19), fifth in AL in SLG (.584)

3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (14-16)

Top ten in AL in home runs (7), runs (24), stolen bases (7), SLG (.570), OPS (.959), walks (16)  

 

National League Most Valuable Player

Who I said: Giancarlo Stanton, followed by Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant

Jason Heyward has been eclipsed by another Cardinal, and Kris Bryant isn’t even the top contender for NL Rookie of the Year (yet). But Stanton has surely been tearing up the league, right?

Well, yes. After a slow first couple weeks, he’s turned it on to lead the majors in RBI (29) and lingering at the top of other major offensive categories.

But the National League has had its own Nelson Cruz, another veteran slugger who makes even the most potent National League pitcher drip sweat when he comes to the plate.

Here are my updated NL MVP standings.

1. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

MLB-leading 1.166 OPS, NL-leading .727 slugging percentage, top five in NL in home runs (9), batting average (.373), RBI (25), runs (23), OBP (.439), hits (41), doubles (12)

A-Gone came out swinging right out of the gate, becoming the first player in major league history to hit five homers in his team’s first three games, and refused to cool down. He’s led his team to a hot start, along with youngster Joc Pederson, and has wholeheartedly hoisted the Dodgers on his shoulders in the absence of Yasiel Puig. 

2. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (22-7)

MLB-leading 14 doubles, top five in NL runs (23), SLG (.620), top ten in NL in RBI (20), average (.333), hits (36), OPS (1.024)

3. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

Top five in NL in home runs (9), SLG (.632), OPS (1.057) , walks (24), top ten in NL in RBI (19), runs (21), OBP (.425)

 

American League Cy Young

Who I said: Felix Hernandez, followed by Chris Sale and Corey Kluber

In a league inhabited by very few consistently powerful aces, my preseason pick, the King, has had another astounding start to the season, with a 1.73 ERA and sterling 5-0 record, a bright spot on an underperforming Mariners squad. But someone on an overperforming American League club has taken the reigns in the early going of what has been a very tight race for best pitcher in a batter-friendly league.

As far as the other guys, Chris Sale is serving a five-game suspension, and reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has given up at least four earned runs in four of seven starts. Sooooo……

Updated AL Cy Young standings

  1. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (19-11)

MLB-leading .80 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, fifth-in-MLB 45.0 innings pitched, AL-leading .139 batting average against 

The Astros are leading their division one week into May. Woah.

For the first time in over a decade, they are proving to be a fundamentally complete team. Woah.

And they have a player leading an awards race. WOAH!!!!!

Woah, indeed.

Woah, indeed.

Keuchel has been incredible so far for an Astros squad that is third in team ERA in the AL at 3.40. He’s given up only four earned runs in six starts this season, and in all but one he went at least seven innings. He’s the pitcher Houston needs and the one it deserves right now.

Heck, their fans have been deserving for ten years.

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (12-17)

AL-leading five wins, top ten in AL in ERA (1.73), strikeouts (44), WHIP (.084), innings pitched (41.2), one complete game along with four other AL pitchers

3. Chris Archers, Tampa Bay Rays (16-14)

AL-leading 50 strikeouts, top ten in AL in ERA (2.59), WHIP (1.01), batting average against (.185)

 

National League Cy Young

Who I said: Max Scherzer beating out Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright

Scherzer has performed okay, Clayton Kershaw hasn’t at all, and the baseball world was rocked when Wainwright went down for the season two weeks ago. That’ll cause some changes.

Updated NL Cy Young standings

1. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

Tied-for-MLB-lead five wins, NL-leading 0.84 WHIP,  ERA (1.56), top ten in NL in batting average (.174), innings pitched (40.1)

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t been himself this season. He is 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA through six starts, numbers he has no right to own. He’s gone at least seven innings his last two times on the mound, after failing to do so the previous four starts, but he has yet to not allow a run in a game.

In the meantime, Greinke has made up for it with, filling his role as co-ace admirably for a team that might that’ll make a huge jump once Kershaw is his old self once again.

Oh he’s raking at the plate, too, and he wants the world to know.

2. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (13-16)

Top ten in NL in ERA (2.27), wins (4), strikeouts (39)

3. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (16-15)

Top ten in NL in ERA (2.11), strikeouts (49), WHIP (0.94), batting average (.216), innings pitched (42.2)    

 

An Ovation With An Asterisk

When Alex Rodriguez hit his 661st career home run on Thursday, passing Willie Mays to solely occupy fourth place on the all-time career list, there was excitement among those in the Yankees fandom who had forgiven A-Rod, accepted A-Rod, and now cheered on A-Rod.

But outside New York, there seemed to be little ovation to be had. As for me, I got an alert on my phone form my favorite sports app, followed quickly by a brief twitter takeover by various sports media bringing attention to the historic moment, and then nothing.

With a sigh, I went back to my day.

It’s unusual, and a little bit frightening, to think about what could have been, would have been, should have been. It’s no secret that the Yankees organization was planning a huge marketing campaign to be centered around A-Rod’s journey to 660.

We’re talking a big, season-long campaign. Creative slogans. Countless billboards in the Big Apple. Nike-endorsed commercials. Merchandise upon merchandise upon merchandise. A-Rod everywhere, the prodigy, the champion, the modern day Babe Ruth, just as it was meant to be.

And now, we’re left wondering whether it would have ever even been considered if A-Rod hadn’t used PEDs. Would he even have gotten close?

There would have been grandeur, lights, fireworks, spectacle. Every baseball fan form Yankee Stadium to AT&T Stadium in San Fran, whether they loved him or loathed him, would have at least given him a tip of the cap for what he accomplished.

I’ll give him a golf clap. 661 is still an astounding number, and hitting a baseball in general is still one of the toughest, if not the toughest, tasks in sports. But a golf clap is all I’m willing to do before contemplating how magnificent the event could have been, would have been…perhaps may never have been.

His name would have been written in the history books of baseball in sharpie with a flourish and an exclamation point, as someone who, in the Golden Age of Pitching, would have dominated the competition.

Instead, a miniscule “Alex Rodriguez: 661 and counting” is inscribed rather feebly into the margins between Willie Mays Babe Ruth. With pencil and an enormous asterisk, etched in such a way that perhaps the name might be someday be erased or otherwise wiped away, with no one noticing.

 

Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez sits at 2,963 hits, setting up another uncomfortable celebration for the near future as he looks to become the 29th player in history to garner 3,000 hits.

 

 

The Minority Report

In 2009, ten of major league baseball’s 30 managers belonged to a minority.

At the start of last season, that number was whittled down to five.

Now, only two major league managers – Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners, an African American, and Fredi Gonzalez, a Latino, in Atlanta – are not white.

Those interesting facts once you consider that the same figures aren’t reflected on the diamond. According to a 2014 report by Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), 60.9 percent of players on 2014 Opening Day rosters were white, compared to 93.4 percent of managers.

Manager trends over the last five seasons concerning race.

Manager trends over the last five seasons concerning race.

The game is more diverse than ever, with major league clubs looking more and more at big-time prospects from Cuba, Japan and other countries who could make an impact on their squads.

So why isn’t that commonplace when it comes to the ultimate leader of the clubhouse?

Major League Baseball is also seemingly concerned about the trend, issuing a memo to its 30 clubs reminding them of a protocol that was installed in the Bud Selig era. The rule calls for teams to at least consider those of minority descent when looking to fill the roles of general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions.”

It’s a good move on their part, because how would it look to have a game that is becoming more global being represented by 30 managers who are all white?

It’s as big as issue as is the dropping levels of black players on the field. According to the TIDES study, only 8.2 percent of players were black, a sharp decrease from 13 percent at the start of the millennium.

It isn’t necessarily a new problem when it comes to managers, either. In every years 1991, at least 76 percent (about 23) of major league baseball’s managers where white. The one outlier came in 2002, when there were eight black and two Latino managers in the league.

While the problem is an enduring one, the trends are disturbing, seeing as baseball is on track to have all-white managers sooner rather than later.

There are obviously facts we don’t know. Perhaps there aren’t people of ethnic descent interviewing for the position. Maybe teams are only relaying information about job openings to a certain group of people, though that is unlikely.

But it’s something to keep an eye on – and major league baseball is, rightfully so – in a game that is becoming more globalized.

The TIDES report at the start of 2014, when there were five minority managers in the bigs, gave major league baseball an A when it came to hiring practices. It would be interesting to see what grade the league would get a little over a year later.

 

 

Other baseball thoughts from the week

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico.