Sunday, March 12, 2017

2017 MLB Award Predictions

Can anyone challenge Mike Trout? (LA Times)
Seeing that Chris Sale was tabbed as the Cy Young frontrunner in the American League while researching my last post got me thinking about who will take home the hardware this fall. Here are my picks:

AL MVP: Mike Trout
Trout has never been better, coming off his second 10-win season and about to enter a player's traditional prime at age 25. He led the majors in walks (116), runs (123), OBP (.441), and OPS+ (174) last year while smacking 29 homers, stealing 30 bases and driving in 100. As always, the biggest obstacle to Trout winning the award will be his teammates, who project to be not very good and will inevitably open the door for a lesser player on a contender to challenge Trout. Of the mere mortals, Josh Donaldson probably has the best chance after averaging 7.8 bWAR over the past four seasons, but his team may also struggle to stay above .500. Same goes for Manny Machado, who's not quite Donaldson's equal as a hitter but is a superior fielder and is still improving. Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve will give Trout a run, too, though I'm not convinced either will duplicate last year's power spikes. If Trout wins he'll become the youngest three-time winner in baseball history.

AL Cy Young: Corey Kluber
As noted above, Sale is the early favorite, and I could see him winning if he pitches as well as he did last year and wins 22 games instead of 17 thanks to Boston's better, well, everything. But he's a lefty in Fenway, so it wouldn't surprise me if he winds up with the highest ERA of his career (which is currently 3.41), especially if his strikeout rate doesn't rebound. New rotation-mate David Price could bounce back if his elbow holds up, although Rick Porcello is bound to regress along with several other top finishers from last year, including J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Zach Britton, and Justin Verlander (don't hate me, Kate Upton). My money's on Kluber, the 2014 recipient who placed third last year after leading the league in FIP (3.26), ERA+ (149) and shutouts (2). Cleveland looks poised to run away with the division this year, which should help him win a healthy number of games. And while he turns 31 ten days into April, his arm has a lot less mileage (887 1/3 innings) than most hurlers his age.

AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi
It's been a decade since the Red Sox had continuity in left field (miss you, Manny Ramirez), but that's about to change real soon. Benintendi dazzled during last year's call-up, proving he's the real deal by slashing .295/.359/.476 with 14 extra-base hits in 34 games. Recently named baseball's top prospect, he appears ready to set the league on fire this year at the age of 22. There's been talk of batting him third in Boston's lineup, which could result in some impressive counting stats if he sticks there all season. He'll likely lose some playing time to Chris Young if he doesn't improve against lefties, however, after batting just .179 with no extra-base knocks against them last year.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Michael Brantley
Brantley suited up for just 11 games in a lost 2016 and was notably absent from Cleveland's World Series run, making it easy to forget the guy who batted .319/.382/.494 over the previous two seasons. Look for the nearly-30-year-old to get back on track this year and spark the Indians to another division title.

NL MVP: Bryce Harper
Harper looked well on his way to a second straight MVP last April, slugging nine home runs with 24 RBIs and a 1.274 OPS over his first 19 games before a shoulder injury reduced him to a league-average hitter the rest of the way. Now fully healthy, expect the 24-year-old to mimic his Ted Williams-esque production from two years ago for a Nationals team seeking its fourth division title in six years. If he's unable to stay on the field, however, reigning winner Kris Bryant is looming and Corey Seager could be even better as a sophomore. Don't sleep on Nolan Arenado either if the Rockies compete this year.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
If Kershaw's healthy, he's pretty much a lock. He missed a third of the season last year and still finished fifth. Nobody was better on a per-inning basis, and he was every bit as dominant when he returned from his back injury in September. If Kershaw wins again this will be his fourth, putting him in elite company with Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson as the only hurlers with more than three. If the injury bug bites again, however, the race becomes crowded by the likes of Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, and Noah Syndergaard.

NL Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson
Swanson shined in his 38-game debut last year, batting .302/.361/.442 for an Atlanta team that fell out of contention on Opening Day. They project to be better in 2017, however, and getting a full season from 2015's first overall draft pick can only help. The 23-year-old may have a Francisco Lindor-type season in store.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Kyle Schwarber
After missing all but two regular season games along with the NLDS and NLCS, Schwarber returned for the World Series and didn't skip a beat, batting .412 with a .500 OBP against Cleveland's stingy staff. The 24-year-old should be all-systems-go for 2017 and will look to build off the .842 OPS he flashed as a rookie in 2015.

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