WASHINGTON — After Juan Soto came up just shy in his bid for NL Rookie of the Year Monday night, there’s only one more local player with a shot at any of baseball’s big awards this year: Max Scherzer. That race, for NL Cy Young, figures to be one of the closer ones this week. But its American League counterpart could be even closer.
As we do every year, we’re applying our model to try to predict the outcome of the races. We keep a running update throughout the season here, which includes more details about the methodology behind the numbers.
Every race is normalized to 100 for the top player to help reflect how close the model projects the vote to be. See the Cy Young and MVP model winners in the gallery below, and further details below that. Winners will be announced Wednesday evening for the Cy Young and Thursday evening for the MVP.
With MLB announcing the “finalists” — aka the top three in each category — we already know how well the model’s top three choices will line up, without respect to order. This year, 10 of the final 12 (top three in each league’s MVP and Cy Young races) agree with actual results.
Neither of the remaining two, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado and Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez (both fourth in the model), are likely to win. The model had Arenado’s teammate Trevor Story inches ahead, and overvalued voters’ view of J.D. Martinez. We haven’t had a DH as a likely MVP candidate since we’ve been running this model, so it may require some tweaking to account for how voters value defense, in regards to a player who doesn’t play any.
The model doesn’t just spit out a winner — it yields a number grade, which allows for different levels of confidence in the projections. This year, it’s most confident about NL MVP (Christian Yelich), next most confident about AL MVP (Mookie Betts), then NL Cy Young (Jacob deGrom) and finally, AL Cy Young (Blake Snell). It rates that last race as very, very close between Snell and Verlander, though it’s worth pointing out that the model also picked Verlander to win the year that he garnered the most first place votes, but finished second.
The fact that Martinez is not in the top three for AL MVP is probably a good sign for Betts, in that he likely didn’t see his vote split. He was already the overwhelming favorite, winning the batting title while leading the league in slugging, extra-base hits, RBI and WAR. But that seems to only strengthen his case.
Yelich’s red hot finish not only helps him with recency bias, but also netted him the same batting/slugging/WAR crowns as Betts, appealing to both new and old school voters.
The NL Cy Young race is not a foregone conclusion. Max Scherzer led the league in wins (tied – 18), strikeouts (300), WHIP (.911), K/9 (12.2), K/BB (5.88), and innings pitched (220.2). A lot of years, that would make you a lock to win the race. But Jacob deGrom’s stunning WAR totals and 1.70 ERA — the second-lowest in MLB the last 23 seasons — make him the favorite for many, despite just 10 wins. This race could well be quite close, and even tip to Scherzer, though deGrom appears to have sentiment on his side.
Snell’s WAR varied greatly between Baseball Reference (7.5) and FanGraphs (4.6), which brings a level of uncertainty into play. But his 21 wins and 1.89 ERA were just enough to push him past Verlander. That said, Verlander’s higher fWAR (6.8), strikeouts (290 to 221) and additional 33.1 innings pitched make this margin razor thin. It would not at all be a surprise if Verlander won.
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