American League MVP: Mike Trout, LAA
I took a risk with my preseason AL MVP prediction and went with a little-known player from Anaheim named Mike Trout. Against all odds, the kid had a pretty good se-
Ok, so I went with the obvious choice in the preseason. But how could you not? Trout was the best hitter in the American League again in 2015, slashing .299/.402/.590, crushing 41 homers and leading the league in Wins Above Replacement for the fourth straight year…or in other words, every year he’s been a big-leaguer. The candidacy for AL MVP in 2015 is pretty clearly a choice of two, Trout or Toronto’s Josh Donaldson. Like Trout, Donaldson also smacked 41 home runs, slashing .297/.371/.568 with impeccable hot-corner defense for the first-place Blue Jays. The two were in a dead-heat for the WAR lead for most of the summer, but Trout’s blistering September left him with a 9.0 to 8.7 advantage (Fangraphs version). Donaldson will likely wind up taking home the hardware based on two factors. First, his team won 93 games and the AL East, while Trout’s Angels finished third in the AL West and came up just short of a wild card berth. Second, Donaldson leads the league in runs and RBIs, which, despite also being extremely team-dependent, still carry a lot of weight with most voters. A Donaldson win would absolutely not be an egregious one. The margin between he and Trout is thin enough that you can make a reasonable claim that Donaldson is the MVP even without considering factors like team record. Still, most of Donaldson’s MVP case relies on his defense closing the gap on Trout’s otherworldly offense (IRONY). I can’t quite get myself there.
American League Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel, HOU
Keuchel won 20 games with a 2.48 ERA and 216 strikeouts in 232 innings in 2015. I could just leave it at that, but the way in which Keuchel achieved his success is worth discussion. Keuchel has developed a reputation as one of the biggest worm-killers in baseball over the past few seasons, finishing second in the AL in groundball rate in 2013 (min. 150 innings) before leading the American League each of the past two years. In order to transform himself from a nice breakout pitcher in 2014 to a bonafide ace in 2015, Keuchel added a nasty spike in strikeouts. When you induce 61% ground balls AND strikeout nearly a quarter of the batters you face, it’s no wonder you’re at the forefront of the Cy Young conversation. Keuchel’s main competition for this year’s top honors is fellow lefty David Price. Price posted a 2.45 ERA and 225 strikeouts in 220.1 innings, winning 18 games in a season split between Detroit and Toronto. A former AL Cy winner in 2012, Price feels like the Mike Trout to Keuchel’s Donaldson in this race, unfairly but also undeniably the less interesting selection because of how long he’s been great. Price was every bit as good as Keuchel this year though, and earned his place in the conversation. I’ve gone back and forth over the two, and no matter who I pick, I feel like the other is getting slighted. In the end, I give the nod to Keuchel for his extra 12 innings and immaculate run prevention despite a somewhat unlucky 13.6% homerun-to-flyball ratio.
American League Rookie of the Year: Francisco Lindor, CLE
Lindor’s shortstop counterpart Carlos Correa took the league by storm when he was called up in June, posting an .852 OPS during his first month and a .919 in July. Correa cooled off his torrid pace after the trade deadline, eventually settling into a .279/.345/.512 line with 22 homeruns in his rookie campaign. As Correa tapered off, Lindor sparked. The Cleveland shortstop posted a .913 OPS in August and improved that to .958 in September, bringing his season line to .313/.353/.482 with 12 homers. In all, the two finished the season roughly equal in terms of offensive output. The statistic wRC+, which scales a hitter’s season for league/park/year, puts both Correa and Lindor at approximately 30% above average (With 100 being league average, Correa’s wRC+ was 133, Lindor’s 128). The deciding factor in determining the ROY winner then fell to defense, where Lindor finished roughly 16 runs better than Correa. Lindor by decision.
American League Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Rodriguez, NYY
Prince Fielder had a really good season. He was coming back from “cervical fusion of the “C5-C6 discs in his neck”. I don’t know what any of those words mean, but they sound terrifying. The injury wiped out his 2014 season and raised doubts about whether he would ever be the same again. Instead he returned and hit .305/.378/.463 in 158 games. He helped lead the Rangers back to the postseason. It was a great year, and a great comeback. Kendrys Morales was great too. He was basically left for dead after being worth nearly negative-two wins in just 98 games in 2014 for the Twins and Mariners. Kansas City took a flier on him. He hit .290/.362/.485, also in 158 games. He helped lead the Royals to the best record in the American League. Both of these guys are more than deserving of the Comeback Player of the Year award.
But then there’s A-Rod. We all know his story. Lies. PEDs. Suspensions. Appeals. Tragedy. Comedy. A-Rod isn’t my Comeback Player of the Year just because he hit 33 homers and drove in 86 runs this year. It’s not just because he posted 2.7 Wins Above Replacement at age 40, after years of injury, futility and humiliation. It’s not even just because he stuck it to Bud Selig and the rest of the MLB big-wigs that railroaded him by becoming a Loki-like anti-hero. It’s that no one could have even come close to predicting A-Rod’s 2015 season. Writers and fans alike were literally calling for the Yankees to release him before spring training. His comeback defies explanation. You could understand Prince Fielder picking up where he left off. He was a good, durable player as recently as 2013. You could even squint real hard and see how Morales might have had a renaissance. He’s just 32 years old after all, and was at least marginally valuable in the years leading up to his 2014 debacle. A-Rod playing 151 games with a .250/.356/.486 line and hitting cleanup for the Yankees in the playoffs? The Hubble couldn’t have seen that coming.
I’m 1 for 1 in my AL playoff predictions so far this October, correctly calling a dominant Dallas Keuchel performance on Tuesday night in the Wild Card game to eliminate the Yankees.
My prediction: Keuchel is too much. Astros win 5-1.
— Andrew Gargano (@MattinglysSB) October 6, 2015
Here’s how I have the rest of the AL playoffs shaking out.
Toronto Blue Jays def. Texas Rangers (3 Games)
Houston Astros def. Kansas City Royals (5 Games)
League Championship Series:
Toronto Blue Jays def. Houston Astros (5 Games)