Halfway home: Tatis, Bieber lead MVP races

By Jason Weingarten  () 

USATSI_14805904

It’s the halfway point of the regular season, so let’s check the contenders for each award. All bets are risking one unit unless specified. For the purpose of this column, one unit is equal to $500.

NL MVP

DraftKings (Last week in parentheses)

Fernando Tatis Jr. + 350 (+ 450)

Mike Yastrzemski + 450 (+ 550)

Mookie Betts + 550 (+ 450)

Charlie Blackmon + 750 (+ 750)

Bryce Harper + 1300 (+ 1300)

Trevor Story + 2000 (+ 2000)

Corey Seager + 3300 (+ 2000)

Nick Castellanos + 3300 (+ 2000)

Juan Soto + 4000 (+ 4000)

NL MVP if the season ended today: Fernando Tatis Jr.

First runner-up: Mookie Betts 

Second runner-up: Charlie Blackmon 

Not out of the picture: Mike Yastrzemski, Bryce Harper, Corey Seager, Juan Soto

The case for Tatis is simple. His batting line was .314/.396/1.073 with 37 hits and an MLB-leading 12 home runs. He was also leading baseball with 29 runs and 29 RBIs and had six stolen bases. Those numbers sustained over the final 30 games would propel Tatis to the MVP regardless of the Padres’ record or the fact that they are unlikely to catch the Dodgers for the NL West title. 

Yastrzemski has somewhat unbelievably played his way into contention with a .272/.334/.852 batting line. He also had 34 hits, seven home runs and 23 RBIs, but I wouldn’t make him the second favorite. I would probably make Yastrzemski closer to + 1000 right now. He was not in the NL top 5 for batting average, home runs or hits and was fourth in RBIs behind Tatis, Betts and Blackmon, all of whom I’d vote for ahead of him. One thing he might have going for him over Blackmon or even Harper is that the GIants’ playoff odds were at 41.8%, compared with 22.8% for the Rockies and 19.6% for the Phillies. Besides Mike Trout, the MVP won’t go to a guy on a non-playoff team.

Betts is batting leadoff most days for the Dodgers and has been worth every dollar of his 12-year, $365 million contract. Betts was hitting .300/.369/1.032 with 11 home runs, trailing only Tatis. Betts was also ahead of Yastrzemski and tied with Blackmon in RBIs. If Betts can overtake Tatis in home runs, he’ll have a strong MVP case, especially if the Dodgers finish ahead of the Padres in the NL West. Betts should be considered the second favorite behind Tatis at the halfway point.

Other favorites:

Blackmon: 28 games, .405/.568/1.009, 45 hits, 19 runs, 3 home runs, 24 RBIs, 0 SB

Harper: 23 games, .320/.453/1.119, 24 hits, 22 runs, 7 home runs, 19 RBIs, 4 SB

Soto: 18 games, .400/.815/1.302, 26 hits, 7 home runs, 17 RBIs, 1 SB

Blackmon started the season red hot, and his odds dropped all the way from 100-1 to + 750, where he has plateaued the last week or so. Blackmon was leading the NL in batting average and was second in RBIs and first in hits, but his team had a 22.8% chance of making the playoffs and he is competing against outfielders in his own division, Betts and Yastrzemski. I don’t think Blackmon will win the MVP unless he hits .400 and the Rockies make the playoffs. I’d consider Blackmon overpriced at + 750.

The Phillies have missed several games due to coronavirus complications, so Harper's counting stats aren't as impressive as they could be. But he’s worthy of MVP consideration. However, like Blackmon, his team has slim playoff hopes, so his chances will suffer. 

Soto is not in the top 5 of any statistical categories mainly because he missed eight games due to a false positive coronavirus test and had played only 18 games compared with 28 for Blackmon and Betts and 30 for Tatis. Soto needs to have a very big second half to play himself into contention, and fortunately for him the Nationals still have a 67.3% shot at making the playoffs. If I hadn't already bet Soto at 40-1, that would be a play this week. 

Seager’s main roadblocks to being MVP come from a teammate, Betts, and a division opponent who plays the same position as him, Tatis. Seager likely would need Tatis to miss time with an injury to make a serious MVP case, but he would still have to compete with Betts. 

Thanks for playing and see you next year: Pete Alonso, Javier Baez, Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado, Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuna and Cody Bellinger.

AL MVP

AL MVP if the season ended today: Shane Bieber

First runner-up: Nelson Cruz

Second runner-up: Mike Trout

Not out of the picture: Aaron Judge, Brandon Lowe, Matt Chapman

Bieber should win the AL Cy Young and MVP. He was 5-0 with a 1.11 ERA over 40.2 innings in six starts. His 65 strikeouts led MLB. Interestingly, while he’s my current MVP pick, I can’t find odds on him to win MVP anywhere. Gerrit Cole is listed as an MVP choice at 50-1 at DraftKings and BetMGM, but nobody has put Bieber up to bet. If he were an option, I would probably make him somewhere between 5-1 and 10-1. The last pitcher to win the MVP was Justin Verlander in 2011, and it’s hard to see how a pitcher could win the award on a second-place team in a shortened season. But once again Trout is having a prime year of his career wasted on a team with no real shot at the playoffs, and Judge is hurt. The MVP is Bieber’s award to win, and hopefully somebody posts odds on it this week. 

Trout is the best player in baseball, and I’ve repeated his stats many times. But the only stat that really matters to me about Trout is that the Angels were 9-21 and out of the playoff hunt again. The 10 home runs are nice, but I can’t wrap my head around Trout winning another MVP on a team that will be lucky to win 20 games.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, Cruz was putting up another great season with a .340/.429/.1.128 batting line, 11 home runs and 27 RBIs. His numbers put him in the top 5 in the AL for batting average, home runs, RBIs and hits, and he deserves MVP consideration. I put him ahead of Trout by virtue of better numbers and being on a division contender. Cruz is a convicted juicer, which might hurt him with voters, but it’s hard to quarrel with his stats for a likely division winner.

Judge was running away with the MVP before he got injured. He won’t play more than 45 or 50 games, so it will be hard for him to win. Lowe’s MVP odds are likely tied to the Rays’ AL East odds. Lowe won’t win the MVP unless the Rays win the division. His numbers were excellent, with 25 hits and nine home runs to go with a .304/.398/1.075 batting line. Chapman has faded a bit, but I’d consider him at 20-1 or better as his A’s are a potential division winner. 

NL Cy Young

Contenders: Trevor Bauer, Yu Darvish, Max Fried, Jacob deGrom, Sonny Gray

Next tier: Dinelson Lamet, Jack Flaherty, Clayton Kershaw 

It’s between Fried and Bauer for the Cy Young at the halfway point. I am impressed that Fried had given up zero home runs. But I think Bauer’s two complete games and two shutouts with more strikeouts should give him the edge. Bauer’s main issues are that he’s competing with a teammate, Gray, who’s also putting up elite numbers, and the underperforming Reds are outside looking in at a playoff spot. Bauer is projected to pitch this weekend against the Cubs, which should be a great test for his Cy Young case. 

Kershaw will need a huge second half to jump the guys ahead of him, Flaherty probably will not get enough innings to contend and Lamet will have a hard time winning on a second-place team. 

Bauer did himself no favors in his last start, giving up four earned runs Monday night against the Brewers and bumping his ERA from 0.68 to 1.65. He did strike out eight and is at 49, two behind Gray. 

Bauer: 3-1 with a 1.65 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 49 K’s over 32.2 innings, 4 home runs (2 CG, 2 SO)

Darvish: 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 44 K’s over 37 innings, 4 home runs (0 CG, 0 SO)

Fried: 4-0 with a 1.32 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 33 K’s over 34 innings, 0 home runs (0 CG, 0 SO)

Gray: 3-1 with a 1.65 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 51 K’s over 32.2 innings, 4 home runs (0 CG, 0 SO)

deGrom: 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 35 K’s over 28 innings, 5 home runs (0 CG, 0 SO)

AL Cy Young

AL Cy Young if the season ended today: Shane Bieber

First runner-up: Lance Lynn

Second runner-up: Gerrit Cole

Third runner-up: Liam Hendriks

Liam Hendriks?

Yes. Hendriks is the best pitcher on the A’s, who at 20-10 were tied with the Twins for the best record in the AL.

Hendriks had appeared in 15 of the A’s 30 games and had a 1.17 ERA and a 0.717 WHIP over 15.1 innings, with nine saves and 21 strikeouts. He was giving up 0.6 home runs and 1.8 walks per nine innings with a 12.3 K/9 and had two wins. Most importantly, his 2.1 WPA (Win Probability Added) ranked ahead of Lynn’s 2.0 and Bieber’s 1.8. It’s hard to think of a closer having a serious Cy Young case, but the numbers are there. He has been extremely valuable to the A’s over the first half of the season. 

I checked DraftKings’ MLB odds Sunday and noticed Hendriks, the closer on the best team in the AL, was at 150-1 next to Jose Urquidy and Aroldis Chapman, neither of whom had thrown a pitch this season. I thought that was odd, and then I noticed Corey Kluber was ahead of Hendriks at 100-1. I made my way through the list and decided I liked Hendriks’ chances better than everyone listed between 150-1 and 40-1. I even liked him better than Carlos Carrasco at 33-1 and Zack Greinke at 20-1. I figured aggressively I’d price him about 20-1 ahead of teammate Frankie Montas or less aggressively at 40-1 in the same tier as teammate Jesus Luzardo and the Indians’ Mike Clevinger. I bet $80 on Liam Hendriks to win the AL Cy Young at 150-1 at DraftKings. Hendriks got his second win Sunday, so I looked at the odds again Monday morning and bet another $200 at 150-1 at DraftKings. He is now more accurately priced at 40-1 on DraftKings.

I managed to get another $500 on Hendriks to win the AL Cy Young at BetMGM on Monday. Then Tuesday morning I went on Gill Alexander’s radio show and mentioned my bet on Hendriks, and it had moved to 75-1 at BetMGM as of Tuesday afternoon.

Bieber is the current AL Cy Young leader, and he’s probably the MVP too. Lynn has put up excellent numbers on a bad Texas Rangers team. Lynn was 4-0 in seven starts with a 1.59 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 45.1 innings. He had given up only eight earned runs and five homers. Lynn beat division rival Oakland in his last start, pitching six innings and giving up only two runs, earning the win in a 3-2 victory. Lynn has been consistent and exceptional and deserves second place behind Bieber.

Third place is up for debate. I’m not totally sold that Cole has been the third-best pitcher in the AL. His numbers have been excellent, but so have Dylan Bundy’s and Zack Greinke’s. Cole had given up seven home runs compared with four for Bieber, five for Lynn, three for Lucas Giolito and none for Greinke. 

Bieber led the AL with an adjusted ERA+  of 415. Lynn was second at 278. Randy Dobnak was third at 244 and Greinke fourth at 199. Cole was ninth at 158. Cole was 10th in Win Probability Added, in which Hendriks, Lynn and Bieber form the top 3. I can barely make a case for Cole being third right now. 

NL Rookie of the Year

Winner: Dustin May

Runner-up: Jake Cronenworth

Nobody has odds up for Rookie of the Year this week. May is still the NL favorite right now. He had made six starts with a 2.79 ERA over 29 innings with a 1.172 WHIP. Only 20 strikeouts so far, but he has consistently been one of the hardest-throwing starters in MLB. It would be nice if he had some sexy strikeout numbers or better than a 1-1 record. May still has work to do to win the award, but he’s my clear front-runner.

Cronenworth has played himself into contender status and currently would be my pick for runner-up. He had 26 hits in 24 games for the Padres, with eight doubles, two triples and three home runs to go with 13 runs, 12 RBIs and a stolen base. He was batting .347/.410/1.036 and had played 69 innings at first base, 93 at second, 25 at shortstop and one at third. Cronenworth has been excellent. I just have a hard time giving awards to guys on second-place teams over guys on first-place teams. Cronenworth would have to keep up these numbers for the next 30 games for me to seriously reconsider.

AL Rookie of the Year

Winner: Kyle Lewis

First runner-up: Luis Robert

Second runner-up: Randy Dobnak

Lewis is the leader for AL Rookie of the Year. He had the second-highest average in the AL at .368 and with 39 hits trailed only David Fletcher’s 40. Lewis continues to be a risk for high strikeouts, but it’s hard to argue with his production as his 24 runs, seven home runs and 19 RBIs do all the talking necessary.

Robert is behind Lewis with 26 hits and 15 runs, seven home runs and 17 RBIs. Robert had struck out 39 times compared with 28 for Lewis. Robert being a starter on a potential playoff team might not be enough to jump Lewis.

Dobnak came out of nowhere and is making a serious case for Rookie of the Year. The pitcher for the Twins had a 5-1 record in six starts over 30.1 innings with only six earned runs. He had a 4.7 K/9 with only 16 strikeouts. It’s unusual to see a guy with such a low strikeout rate and such excellent numbers. His 4.06 FIP means maybe he has just been getting lucky despite what his 1.78 ERA and 1.022 WHIP suggest. 

Recap:

$80 to win $12,000 on Liam Hendriks AL Cy Young

$200 to win $30,000 on Liam Hendriks AL Cy Young

$500 to win $75,000 on Liam Hendriks AL Cy Young

This week I bet a total of $780 and have now bet a total of $26,921.36 in MLB futures. 

 

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