Under normal circumstances, discussing award leaders one month into the season would seem ridiculous given the small sample sizes involved. But as we all know, the circumstances of 2020 are anything but normal. This year, one month into the season is also halfway into the season, which is typically a good time to stop and discuss where things stand. With the important caveat that season lines can change in a hurry, let’s take a look at my picks for the major award winners one month into an unprecedented season.
For what it’s worth, none of these “winners” were among my preseason picks. There’s still half of a season for me to get at least one pick right, though.
Note: All stats and rankings are accurate through Aug. 25 games.
AL MVP: Shane Bieber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
A pitcher as league MVP? That’s just how elite Bieber has been in 2020. The 25-year-old leads all MLB players in Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (2.3) and leads the AL in wins (6), ERA (1.35), innings pitched (46.2), strikeouts (75) and strikeouts/nine innings (14.5). In his seven starts this season, Bieber has posted a quality start seven times, struck out double-digit batters five times and allowed zero earned runs four times. Per MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, Bieber’s 75 strikeouts through his first seven starts are tied for the sixth-most by a pitcher in such a stretch since 1893 (when the mound was moved to its current distance). His season line really speaks for itself: 6-0 record, 1.35 ERA, 46.2 IP, 75 K, 9 BB, 0.814 WHIP.
Other contenders: Jose Abreu (1B, CHW), Brandon Lowe (2B, TB), Nelson Cruz (DH, MIN), Kyle Lewis (OF, SEA), Lance Lynn (RHP, TEX)
NL MVP: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres
With a .293/.359/.638 batting line, 11 home runs, 25 runs, 24 RBI and five steals, Mookie Betts has delivered everything expected of him and more in his first season in Los Angeles. Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski is also well deserving of a shout out thanks to his league-leading 20 extra-base hits and the third-highest OPS (1.022) in the NL. But there was nowhere else to go with this pick other than Tatis Jr., the dynamic 21-year-old shortstop who’s grabbed the attention of the sport with his five-tool abilities and seemingly nightly highlight-reel homers or defensive plays. Tatis Jr. leads not just the NL, but all of baseball, in runs scored (29, tied with Yastrzemski), home runs (12) and RBI (29), and is tied for fifth in stolen bases (6). I could go on, but you get the picture.
Other contenders: Mookie Betts (OF, LAD), Mike Yastrzemski (OF, SF), Bryce Harper (OF, PHI), Charlie Blackmon (OF, COL), J.T. Realmuto (C, PHI), Trevor Story (SS, COL)
AL Cy Young: Shane Bieber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
I’m tempted to just copy-paste the paragraph above, but instead how about a few more impressive statistics? Bieber has nearly twice as many strikeouts (75) as he does baserunners allowed (39) this season. He’s also held both righties (.197) and lefties (.157) to batting averages below .200. I can also use this space to give a shout out to the Rangers’ Lance Lynn, who in my estimation would be the runner up for AL Cy Young at the mid-way point of the season. The 33-year-old is the only other qualified starter in the AL with a sub-2.00 ERA (1.59) and is second in the league in innings pitched (45.1) and third in strikeouts. Lynn has never allowed more than two earned runs in a start this season and his 2.1 WAR trails only Bieber among MLB pitchers.
Other contenders: Lance Lynn (RHP, TEX), Zack Greinke (RHP, HOU), Dylan Bundy (RHP, LAA), Kenta Maeda (RHP, MIN), Gerrit Cole (RHP, NYY)
NL Cy Young: Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
While there was no question in the pick for AL Cy Young to date, the call was much trickier in the National League. Max Fried, Kyle Freeland and Zac Gallen are top three in the NL in WAR while Sonny Gray paces the league in strikeouts and Yu Darvish has tallied the most wins and pitched tremendously. In the end, though, I’m confident that Bauer is the right call. The former member of the Cleveland Indians finished sixth in AL Cy Young balloting in 2018 after posting a sensational 2.21 ERA and striking out 221 batters in roughly 175 frames. Last year, though, we saw the downside of a pitcher who likes to tinker with his mechanics, as Bauer tallied a 4.48 ERA. This season, though, we’re clearly seeing the elite version of the 29-year-old. The Red is the only National League pitcher with two complete games and ranks first in the league in strikeouts per nine innings (13.5), batting average against (.134) and WHIP (0.73) and trails only Fried in ERA (1.65).
Other contenders: Sonny Gray (RHP, CIN), Max Fried (LHP, ATL), Yu Darvish (RHP, CHC), Jacob deGrom (RHP, NYM), Zac Gallen (RHP, ARI)
AL Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, CF, Seattle Mariners
It’s pretty clearly a two-way race of AL Rookie of the Year right now between Lewis and White Sox center fielder Luis Robert. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Robert: .284/.336/.559, 7 HR, 16 R, 17 RBI, 8 BB, 40 K, 4 SB
Lewis: .360/.446/.568, 7 HR, 25 R, 19 RBI, 18 BB, 30 K, 2 SB
Whie Robert has been great at the plate, particularly of late (4 HR in last 7 games), Lewis has been considerably better. The 25-year-old looks like a cornerstone player for Seattle, and hasn’t slowed down one bit following a hot start. Lewis trails only DJ LaMahieu among qualified AL players in batting average and is fifth in the league in OPS (1.014). He’s been not only the league’s best rookie, but one of its best players to date in 2020.
Other contenders: Luis Robert (OF, CHW), Jesus Luzardo (LHP, OAK), Randy Dobnak (RHP, MIN)
NL Rookie of the Year: Jake Cronenworth, UTIL, San Diego Padres
From Tatis Jr. to Manny Machado and Chris Paddack, there are plenty of players to get excited about on the Padres this season. But one name that’s not getting nearly enough attention is Cronenworth. The 26-year-old has appeared all around the infield this season and is just destroying opposing pitchers with a .342/.402/.608 batting line. While he isn’t smacking home runs left and right, Cronenworth does have eight doubles and two triples in addition to three longballs. And while that .342 average is sure to come down, it’s not as if he’s simply gotten lucky either. Cronenworth’s expected batting average based on his batted-ball data this season is .397, the best mark in all of MLB, and his .747 expected slugging percentage is third-best in baseball. That from a player you’ve likely not even heard of until now. Remember that name.
Other contenders: Dustin May (RHP, LAD), Tony Gonsolin (RHP, LAD)
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
Unlike all these other awards, manager of the year is much harder to: 1) define the appropriate criteria of, and 2) back up with statistics. It can’t just be as simple as picking the manager on the team with the best record, but then again, there may be cases where that manager is most deserving. So do you go with the manager on the team that’s overachieved the most? That’s one common approach as well. This is all a roundabout way of saying that even after a 162-game season, there’s often no obvious call. Halfway into a 60-game season, there’s a number of appropriate options. I’m going with Melvin, who I believe like his team hasn’t gotten enough credit for recent success. After going through a roughly three-year long rebuilding period, the A’s won 97 games in each of the last two seasons and currently lead the American League with 21 wins. Oakland stuck with Melvin throughout their rebuild, and it’s certainly paying off now.
Other contenders: Kevin Cash (TB), Rick Renteria (CHW), Charlie Montoyo (TOR), Brandon Hyde (BAL)
NL Manager of the Year: David Ross, Chicago Cubs
This was a tough call as well. Dave Roberts’ Dodgers got off to their best 30-game start in nearly 40 years, and Don Mattingly’s Marlins remain in a playoff spot at the midway point of the season. But I’m going with the first-year manager in Ross. There were certainly plenty of questions about how the 2016 World Series hero would fare as manager of his former team and several former teammates, but he’s undoubtedly passed the test so far. Ross tallied 10 victories in his first 12 games as Cubs manager, the fewest decisions needed to reach 10 career wins of any Cubs manager since 1900. Ross’ team entered play on Aug. 26 tied for the second-most wins of any NL team and holding a three-game lead in the central division.
Other contenders: Dave Roberts (LAD), Don Mattingly (MIA), Jayce Tingler (SD)