In a stunning decision, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred anounced that MLB award selection would be left up to the discretion of a pair of Oklahoma college sports writers. These are their picks.
MVP: Aaron Judge – Go ahead, call me a homer! Judge’s massive slump to begin the second half, in which he struck out in a record 37 consecutive games and hit below the Mendoza line for a span of more than a month, took all the momentum away from his MVP campaign and switched the narrative entirely over to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. People are now ignoring his first half, in which he was clearly the AL’s best player, and his 15 homer September that might have been the greatest month a rookie ever had. You know what we call that in 2017? FAKE NEWS! Look I’m not going to tell you that the slump is irrelevant, but it’s ridiculous to cling to it as the reason Judge can’t be the MVP because without it, he would have been the winner by a country mile. How do I know that? Because statistically, his year-long numbers already give him a narrow edge over Altuve. Judge beat out the Astros sparkplug in home runs, runs, RBI,OBP, SLG, wRC+, OPS+, wOBA, fWAR and just about every advanced defensive metric available. Altuve had a higher batting average, more stolen bases and is 5’6”. That’s it. Look I won’t be too mad when Altuve inevitably wins it; the guy had a tremendous season in his own right and was the best player on the best team. If postseason performance factored into the selection process I would gladly throw my support behind him. But as objectively as I can be, you can’t tell he was worth more to his team in the regular season than the Judge. Some other notable names after the big two: Mike “the Glitch” Trout is out of the discussion only because he missed 40 games due to a broken thumb. On a rate basis he was once again the best player in all of baseball. The Indians boasted three players who could all make a case for third place in super-utility man Jose Ramirez (already announced as a top three finisher), defensive dynamo Francisco Lindor and probable Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.
Cy Young: Corey Kluber – I’m sorry, did I spoil it? If I did it’s your own fault because this should be the most obvious award in all of MLB this year. That statement is pretty amazing given the fact that Kluber had a 4.19 ERA in April and missed almost all of May with a back injury. At that time it seemed like new Red Sox ace Chris Sale would be taking home the hardware, but a hard second-half slump brought him back down to Earth. And unlike in the case of Judge and Altuve, Kluber clearly did enough in that time to separate him from the field. The Klubot lived up to his nickname by performing like an ace out of the dead ball era, going deep into games and never tiring in the process. His three shutouts, 2.25 ERA, 202 ERA+ and .869 WHIP topped all of baseball, more than making up for his innings pitched and strikeout deficit to Sale (214.1-203.2 and 308-265 respectively. Honorable mention goes to Yankees 23-year-old righty Luis Severino.
ROY: Yuli Gurriel – Just kidding, this thing is obviously going to Judge. But there’d be no fun in going over his dominance again, so we’ll use this space to talk about who should finish second. Gurriel, a 33-year-old Cuban defector, filled a gaping hole at first base for the world champion Houston Astros and was a big part of their league-best offense. He played in 139 games and hit .299/.332/.486, good for an OPS+ of 124. There is certainly plenty of room for debate here though, and I can think of a few players who probably outperformed him on a rate basis. Seattle’s Mitch Haniger hit .282/.352/.491, had incredible hair and played slick defense in right. Oakland had a pair of young studs in third baseman Matt Chapman (already looking like he could be an all-time great defensive player) and Matt Olson, who mashed 24 homers and slugged a Ruthian .651. Unfortunately, those guys played in 96, 84 and 59 games respectively, which just isn’t enough game action to justify me putting them over Gurriel. His closest competition over the full season was probably Andrew Benintendi, our preseason pick for ROY. The Red Sox leftfielder was a streaky batter and had some difficulties adjusting to the intricacies of the Green Monster, but the talent that made him the seventh overall pick was evident. He should be a worthy successor to the legendary names that have occupied Boston’s most hallowed position.
MVP: Joey Votto – The MVP race in the AL is a clear cut contest between Judge and Altuve. But in the National League, the decision is going to be much harder. Most pundits have crowned home run champion and Marlins RF Giancarlo Stanton as the frontrunner. Other worthy candidates include Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt and Washington’s Anthony Rendon. But I’m going to buck 2017 convention and serve as Reds 1B Joey Votto’s banner man. “But Zane, Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs and helped keep the Marlins in playoff contention until September!” Well … you’re right. However, in a sport that increasingly worships the almighty dinger, I am a sucker for all-around, consistent, good ol’ fashioned contact baseball. And when you look at the upper echelon of NL players, no one succeeds at this more than Votto. He got on base 323 times for a .454 on-base percentage total for the season, the best in the NL hands down. And while we’re on the topic of numbers, his sabermetrics are fantastic: he posted a 7.5 WAR and a 1.032 OPS (third best in all of baseball), which is statistical jargon for “really darn good numbers.” Oh yeah, did I mention he’s also the best defensive player, placing number one in Defensive Runs Saved? Because he did that too. Did the Reds suck this year? Absolutely. They were downright garbage (posting their second straight 94 loss season) and they don’t deserve an MVP caliber player like Votto. But at the end of the day, the league’s Most Valuable Player should go to the man who gave the best individual performance of the season, regardless of where his team placed in the standings. Home runs are fun and flashy, but until they change the name to dingerball, I’m convinced Votto is this year’s National League MVP.
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw – I really wanted to give this award to Max Scherzer, who enjoyed the most consistent season of any NL pitcher and briefly convinced people back in April that he was the game’s best hurler. But I have to go with the real owner of that title, Kershaw, who overcame a six-week back injury absence to post his usual dominant numbers and lead the Dodgers to their first pennant since 1988. Kershaw led in ERA (2.31) and ERA+ (180) as well as wins (18) for you traditionalists out there. He was still able to put up 175 innings and more than 200 strikeouts despite the missed time. Scherzer’s 2.51 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 268 strikeouts are damn impressive in their own right and his heterochromia, which gives him different colored irises, is simply the grooviest genetic mutation a guy can have. Either choice is a good one, with Scherzer’s teammate Stephen Strasburg not too far behind. But at the end of the day, with the game on the line, which one of those guys do you want with the ball in his hand? Exactly.
ROY: Cody Bellinger – In what is by far the easiest pick I will make, no other rookie had a better season than the Dodgers’ golden boy utility player. With a heavy, consistent swing, Bellinger hit a respectable .267 and was one of the players who made this the Year of the Home Run with an NL rookie record 39 dingers, his first two coming in the same game. Even with his disappointing postseason performance (a record 29 strikeouts), there’s no one who came close to matching Bellinger’s productivity. The Cardinals’ Paul DeJong and the Pirates’ Josh Bell deserve honorable mentions, and both will be fun players to watch for years to come.
AL Manager of the Year: Houston’s A.J. Hinch – Congratulations, Houston, your Astros are 2017 World Series champions! It was years in the making, in no small part due to manager Hinch, who helped guide the ‘Stros to their first back-to-back winning seasons since ‘05-‘06 and whose strategic adjustments to the bullpen proved insightful this postseason. Paul Molitor, skipper of the Minnesota Twins, will probably win for taking his team from 103-loss nobodies to 85-win Wild Card contenders. But I’d like to see Hinch get some additional recognition for the long-term success he’s achieved.
NL Manager of the Year: Arizona’s Torey Lovullo – The Diamondbacks currently hold the only national championship ever won by an Arizona-based sports team. First-year skipper Lovullo and GM Mike Hazen want to see a return to glory in the desert, and they’re off to a great start. They improved the pitching roster’s ERA by almost 2 whole runs and clinched the first postseason appearance for the D-Backs since 2011. The NL West also saw the Colorado Rockies improve exponentially under first-year manager Bud Black, who deserves some honorable mention.