Midseason MLB 2019 awards model predictor

July 12, 2019

AP/Nick Wass

As the MLB pennant races heat up after the All-Star break, it’s time to dust off the old awards predictor and see where the Cy Young and MVP races stand. As always, our model is not intended to tell you which player is objectively having the best season, but rather a weighted system that includes statistics used by voters in their decision-making. Last year’s model went 4-for-4, also correctly picking the runner up in three of the four categories.

There has been some talk recently about Max Scherzer as a potential NL MVP candidate this season. Scherzer’s put together an excellent campaign to date, and while there’s certainly both a statistical and sentimental case to be made for the emotional leader of a team poised to make a playoff run, there is also a lot of historical precedent working against that.

Through 19 starts last year, Scherzer was 11-5 with a 2.33 ERA, 177 strikeouts (10 double-digit strikeout games) in 127.2 innings pitched, and a .576 OPS against. Through 19 starts this year, he’s 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA, 181 strikeouts (nine double-digit strikeout games) in 129.1 innings pitched, and a .597 OPS against. In other words, he’s been excellent, the best pitcher in the league. But he’s also been almost exactly the same pitcher he was last year.

The good news, when it comes to the National League Cy Young Award, is that defending champ Jacob deGrom hasn’t been anywhere near as good. That leaves Scherzer at the top of the pitching class. But it doesn’t make much of a historical MVP case for him.

Pitchers and hitters are very hard to compare among traditional counting stats and ratios, so we’re left with looking at the historical nature of their seasons and using Wins Above Replacement to compare apples and oranges.

Last season, while winning the Cy Young with a 1.70 ERA and 10.1 bWAR — a full 2.5 bWAR above any position player — deGrom finished fifth in the NL MVP race. He received the only first-place vote that didn’t go to Christian Yelich (7.6 bWAR), but ended up behind Javy Baez (6.3), Nolan Arenado (5.6) and Freddie Freeman (6.1). This, despite four pitchers outpacing the entire field of position players in bWAR for the first time since 1913.

The numbers held when you switched over to FanGraphs as well. deGrom’s 9.0 fWAR was well better than Yelich’s (7.6), Arenado’s (5.7), Baez’s (5.3) or Freeman’s (5.2). But it didn’t matter. Such is the nature of the vote. And it’s why, even though Scherzer is having arguably another great season in his Hall of Fame career, the statistical case for him winning remains poor at this point.

Scherzer’s 5.5 bWAR and fWAR at the break don’t even outpace what Cody Bellinger has put up, at 6.6 and 5.6, respectively. Yelich is putting together another exemplary season, with 4.9 bWAR and 5.1 fWAR. Clayton Kershaw is the only NL pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968 to win the MVP, and he did so by posting a 1.77 ERA and outpacing the highest position player (Giancarlo Stanton) by 1.7 bWAR

As good as Scherzer’s 197 ERA+ is, it’s short of deGrom’s 218 from last year. Considering that deGrom couldn’t do better than fifth in a weak year for hitters, despite a sub-2.00 ERA like Kershaw’s and head-and-shoulders better WAR numbers, there’s simply no good argument that Scherzer would do better this year if everyone maintains their current pace.

With all that said, here are the model’s projections and raw scores (normalized to 100 for the leaders) in the four races right now.

AL Cy Young

Gerrit Cole — 100

Justin Verlander — 97.40

Charlie Morton — 95.83

Shane Bieber — 91.02

Lance Lynn — 90.94

It’s a tight race at the top, and at the very top are a pair of rotation mates and another former teammate. Right now, Cole holds a slight edge over Verlander, but this should be a fluid race.

AL MVP

Mike Trout — 100

Rafael Devers — 83.75

Xander Bogaerts — 82.45

Alex Bregman — 81.26

Carlos Santana — 80.70

This is well on pace to be the biggest blowout of this year’s awards. Mike Trout leads the field in on-base and slugging percentage, home runs, both WAR figures, runs, RBI and extra-base hits. If he stays even mostly healthy, it’s hard to see anyone catching him, despite a pair of notable non-Mookie Betts campaigns out of Boston.

NL Cy Young

Max Scherzer — 100

Hyun-Jin Ryu — 87.2

Zack Greinke — 82.99

Stephen Strasburg — 76.88

Brandon Woodruff — 73.91

Scherzer is comfortably out front, and is joined in the top five by the overshadowed excellence of Strasburg. Fellow rotation-mate Patrick Corbin has climbed to seventh in the model on the back of four consecutive great starts entering the break.

NL MVP

Christian Yelich — 100

Cody Bellinger — 99.67

Max Scherzer — 89.30

Josh Bell — 89.09

Pete Alonso — 85.35

It’s an absolute dogfight at the top, with no clear favorite right now, but Scherzer seems destined to battle it out for a top five finish if everything stays on the track it’s on right now.

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