2020 Award Preview – Hardware Up In The Air

With the off-season around the corner, it is the perfect time to begin looking ahead at the 2020 MLB Pro Award Season. This season, it appears as though almost all of the awards lack a prohibitive favorite. Here is a quick look at just some of the candidates under consideration to take home some of the top awards in 2020.

The 2020 MLB Pro American League Most Valuable Player Award pits many talented players against one another.

  • Might the MVP be Armando Cabanas? The former NL MVP helped guide the Seattle Mariners to the best record in the American League. He produced 8.3 WAR, his second highest of any season. Cabanas finished in the top five in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. In critical situations, Cabanas shined bright, hitting .396/.476/1.164 in 106 high leverage at-bats. He played superb defense in the outfield all season long and could walk away with a Gold Glove.
  • Might the MVP be Jose Gonzalez? In his first full season with the Astros, all Gonzalez did was lead the American League in total bases and WAR. Gonzalez finished in the top five in hits, homers, runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs created, and WOBA. Like Cabanas, Gonzalez is a superb defensive outfielder who is among the best in the American League. The only thing separating Gonzalez with the other prime candidates is the fact that Houston did not make the playoffs.
  • Might the MVP be Nomar Mazara? The 2017 AL MVP had another MVP like season in 2020. The Angels were a team that faced numerous challenges with injuries to key players and in the absence of many, Mazara found a way to carry the offense. His 42 homers ranked 4th and his 131 RBI’s, a career-high, ranked 2nd. Mazara ranked among the AL’s top five in hits, runs scored, walks, batting average, runs created, WOBA, and WAR. Over the final two months of the season, Mazara hit .312 with 15 homers and 48 RBI’s.
  • Might the MVP be Gincarlo Stanton? The 2018 NL MVP Runner-Up could be in line to take home his first MVP trophy. Stanton hit 20 homers in the opening two months of the season on his way to an AL best (excludes David Chester’s NL stats) 46. Stanton’s production at the plate also led to an AL best 134 RBI’s. In the heart of the Blue Jays order, Stanton also finished in the top five among AL batters in runs scored, extra-base hits, slugging percentage, and OPS. Stanton’s 12 outfield assists in right-field ranked third in the AL at the position.
  • Might the MVP be Roberto Torres? Acquired in 2017 as part of the White Sox trading away of Gincarlo Stanton, Torres has blossomed into an upper-echelon MLB Pro player. After leading the AL in hits last season, Torres backed that up by finishing second this year. He was a blur on the bases, swiping 56 bases with a success rate of 77%. The 121 runs scored by Torres was the second most of any AL player. Torres was another player who shined bright in tough situations, slashing .383/.451/.994 in 81 high leverage at-bats.

Keep an eye on David Chester. Chester’s power was on display to the max once he arrived in Chicago. He helped solidify the White Sox lineup and helped catapult the Sox to the top of the Central.

The 2020 American League Cy Young Award features intrigue among a handful of strong candidates.

  • Might Aroldis Chapman win the award? While many might be surprised to see Chapman or any relievers name here, it’s less surprising when one realizes that Chapman’s 2020 year was no ordinary reliever season. He managed to pitch in 101 1/3 innings and posted a K/9 rate of 14.9 which was nearly 3 strikeouts better than any other AL pitcher with at least 100 innings pitched. Among pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched, no one had a lower ERA or stranded runners on base at a better clip than Chapman did.
  • Might Kyle Funkhouser win the award? When Brandon Morrow was released by the Angels prior to Opening Day, Funkhouser’s role and importance within the Angels staff grew exponentially. Funkhouser delivered by posting a 17-4 record and AL best (among qualified P) 2.82 ERA. He was dominant on the road going 11-1 with an ERA of 1.93. From August 18th through the end of the regular season, Funkhouser went 5-0 in six starts with an ERA of 1.74 in 41 1/3 Innings pitched.
  • Might Danny Hultzen win the award (again)? After winning the 2019 in runaway fashion, Hultzen is a pitcher worthy of consideration again in 2020. His 19 wins were an American League best and his 3.16 ERA was second best among AL qualified pitchers. Hultzen again showed impeccable stuff and control finishing the season with 223 strikeouts and just 31 walks, which led to an AL best strikeout to walk rate. Additionally, Hultzen led the AL in lowest runs allowed per 9 innings, quality starts, and WAR.
  • Might Stephen Strasburg win the award (again)? Already a two-time Cy Young trophy winner, Strasburg could be in line to win his third. Strasburg led all AL pitchers with 238 strikeouts, this was the fifth time he’s led the league in strikeouts. His 4.67 strikeout to walk rate was fourth best among AL pitchers and in era with the ball flying, no pitcher posted a higher groundball rate than Strasburg. Seven of his starts went at least 6 innings without allowing an earned run and ten of his starts including double-digit strikeouts.

The National League MVP race is full of things to consider. Will the Mets 107 wins boost the resume for Jefry Marte? Will Ryobe Kamdia’s performance in putting the Phillies into playoff consideration earn him votes? How will voters recognize Vlad Guerrero’s impact in only playing 100 games? How will Vlad Jr. impact the votes that might have gone to teammate Jeremy Scott? And what about Michael Conforto’s well balanced season?

  • Might Michael Conforto be the pick? The 2019 Pirates won 52 games. The 2020 Pirates won 82 games. Michael Conforto played a large role in the 30-win increase. After slashing a .255/.315/..419 a year ago, Conforto blossomed into a .308/.382/.580 line this season, which led to an NL best .962 OPS. He finished top five in the NL in average, on-base, slugging, runs created, ISO, and WOBA. With runners in scoring position, Conforto hit .321 with 58 RBI’s in 132 at-bats.
  • Might Vladimir Guerrero Jr. be the pick? Yes, Vlad Guerrero Jr. played just 100 games in the majors this year, but his impact was off the charts. Projected out to 162 games, Guerrero’s line would have been: .303/.372/.583 with 44 homers, 75 extra-base hits, and 149 RBI’s. Guerrero was a menace when he runners on base in front of him. With teammates in scoring position, Guerrero’s average rose to .350 and he drove in 72 RBI’s in 120 at-bats. Guerrero puts fear in opposing pitchers from the start, partly because he managed to hit .467 off the first pitch, well above the league average of .328.
  • Might Ryobe Kamida be the pick? There were some groans in Philadelphia when the Phillies inked Kamida to be a contract in 2016. He performed well that off-season in the Winter League, had a strong first year at AAA and has been a force in the bigs ever since. In 2020, a year in which the Phillies as a team scored the 9th most runs in the NL and gave up the 12th fewest, Kamida found a way to carry the team to 81 wins. For starters, he was out there nearly every day, amassing 159 games played and 593 at-bats. In those at-bats, he performed. Kamida led the NL in homers and RBI’s, was second in total bases and OPS, third in runs scored. Kamida was NL Player of the Week and Player of the Month twice in the 2020 season.
  • Might Jefry Marte be the pick? After a 6.3 WAR season last year, Marte again performed like one of the best players in baseball posting a WAR of 7.0 in 2020. Marte led the NL in hits, total bases, and extra base hits, while finishing in the top five in homers, RBI’s, runs scored, OPS, and WOBA. Marte was consistent all season long, hitting .309 with 18 homers at home and .302 with 22 homers on the road.
  • Might Jeremy Scott be the pick? The 2017 1st Overall pick of the MLB Pro Draft, Jeremy Scott has turned into the player the D-Backs hoped he would be. After a very good rookie season in 2019, Scott got even better. A true five-tool player, Scott is a force with all aspects at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. Scott was one of two MLB Pro players to post a 30 homer, 30 stolen-base, 100 RBI, and 100 runs scored season (former D-Back Mark Baker being the other.)

Had it not been for an injury to Alberto Vega’s season, he likely would have been the strong frontrunner for this award. Having said that, there are numerous candidates worthy of consideration.

  • Might Clayton Kershaw take home the Cy Young? No qualified MLB Pro pitcher struck out batters at a higher rate than the 32 year-old ace. Kershaw’s 258 punch-outs was a career best and led to an average of 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, the best in the National League. His 1.29 walks per nine innings made Kershaw the only MLB Pro pitcher with a K/9 rate above 10 and a BB/9 rate below 2 (among qualified pitchers). Kershaw was the only NL pitcher to maintain a WHIP south of 1.
  • Might Michael Matuella take home the Cy Young? After Broderick Wilson was trade, the Padres shot down offers for Matuella and made it clear he was their ace. Matuella proved the organization right. Matuella’s 14 wins tied his career-high. He finished 2020 as one of six NL pitchers to post 200 or more innings on the mound, while having the NL’s lowest batting average on balls in play. Matuella’s two complete game shutouts were the most in all of baseball. Petco Park’s setup suits Matuella’s game perfectly as the righty was 8-4 with an ERA of 1.60 in 18 home starts.
  • Might Miguel Pineda take home the Cy Young? Pineda posted a top 3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and finished third in quality starts. His 5.6 WAR was second best, this comes after leading the NL in pitching WAR in each of the past two seasons. Pineda possesses a reverse home/road split, going 10-2 with a 2.25 ERA at Coors and 5-7 with a 4.39 road ERA. Pineda was at his best down the stretch while the Rockies were fighting to hold on to a playoff spot. In his final 4 starts of the regular season, Pineda was 3-0, with 32 strikeouts, 5 walks, an ERA of 0.98 across 27 2/3 innings on the mound.
  • Might Edward Reith take home the Cy Young? No one in the National League pitched more innings or against more batters than Ed Reith. That did not stop Reith from having a career best 2.64 ERA, which was third best in the NL. Reith was consistent start after start, leading the NL in both quality starts and percentage of starts that were quality starts. Reith also ranked in the top five among NL pitchers in hits allowed per nine innings, BABIP, and win probability added. In a stretch from July 8 through August 21, Reith was just 2-6 despite in 9 starts, despite having an ERA of 2.04 while striking out 56, walking 13, in 66 innings of action.
  • Might Alberto Vega take home the Cy Young? Mets fans wonder what could have been. First Kyle Radatz, then Alberto Vega. Vega missed five weeks due to a sore shoulder sustained in a start against the Angels in August. Prior to that start, Vega was 16-1 in 24 starts with an ERA of just 2.41. Among NL pitchers with at least 150 innings of action, Vega was ranked among the top five in strikeout rate and BABIP, while having the lowest opponent batting average and WHIP. Vega held opponents to two or fewer runs in 17 of his 25 starts.

The National League Rookie of the Year vote might be the toughest of them all. Quite simply, any of the three players above can win it. The biggest argument comes down to games played. If voters want a player who played a full season, it’s Juan Soto. If voters are willing to ignore the games played by Guerrero and Morin, both become more than worthy of the award.

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