MLB Awards going into the final regular season series

By Jason Weingarten  (VSiN.com) 

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The MLB regular season ends on Sunday, barring Game 163 for any of the Wild Card teams to determine which one will make the playoffs.

There are a few MLB Awards markets still in question heading into the final weekend. Jason Weingarten examines the AL Rookie of the Year, NL MVP, NL Cy Young and NL Rookie of the Year.

AL MVP

Who I think wins: Shohei Ohtani (-3500)

Who is going to win: Shohei Ohtani

This race is over. I have run out of adjectives to describe what Ohtani has done this season. It’s one of the best individual performances in modern baseball history, if not the best. He hit his MLB leading 8th triple and 99th RBI of the year as I am writing this. 

 

AL Cy Young

Who I think wins: Robbie Ray (-600)

Who is going to win: Robbie Ray

Another fairly easy one. Gerrit Cole pitched himself out of the race last night with 9 hits and 5 ER in 6 innings against the Blue Jays. That was Cole’s last start of the season and he’s looking at a runner-up finish. 

 

AL Rookie of the Year 

Who I think is going to win: Wander Franco

Who is going to win: Wander Franco

DraftKings Odds

Randy Arozarena -175

Wander Franco 450

Ryan Mountcastle 550

Adolis Garcia 1100

 

Fanduel

Randy Arozarena -180

Ryan Mountcastle 450

Wander Franco 700

Adolis Garcia 800

 

BetMGM

Randy Arozarena -185

Ryan Mountcastle 425

Wander Franco 700

Adolis Garcia 800

 

Last night, Wander Franco hit a double in the first inning to tie Frank Robinson with the longest on base streak for any player under 20 years old at 43 games. Franco is batting second or third in the Rays lineup everyday and will bat there in the playoffs as the Rays defend their AL Pennant. The last 20 year old to bat second or third on a playoff team was Bryce Harper and before that Mickey Mantle. There is no argument against Franco being Rookie of the Year other than ‘he didn’t play enough games.’ Because of that, I expect other players to get some first place votes.

Last year's NL Rookie of the Year race is a good example of what a split vote looks like. Devin Williams won with 14 first place votes even though he was not projected by anyone to win, second place was Alex Bohm with 9 first place votes and Jake Cronenworth third with 6. It should be noted Cronenworth was favored to win over Bohm and ended up third. 

I think this year’s AL Rookie of the Year vote will look like last year’s NL vote and I don’t see any other serious contenders other than Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena. I am pretty confident Franco and Arozarena finish first and second and while I can see how Wander Franco’s lack of games might hurt him in the eyes of voters it's also clear that Wander Franco is the best player on the field on the defending AL pennant winners and that should be good enough to push him past his teammate, Randy Arozarena who’s simply a very good and much older outfielder.

Wander Franco: 51 R, 7 HR, 36 RBI, .290/.352/.477, .356 wOBA, 132 wRC , 2.5 fWAR in 66 games

Randy Arozarena: 91 R, 20 HR, 69 RBI, .272/.352/.461, .348 wOBA, 127 wRC , 2.8 fWAR in 137 games

Adolis Garcia: 75 R, 30 HR, 88 RBI, .242/.285/.454, .314 wOBA, 100 wRC , 2.8 fWAR in 145 games

Ryan Mountcastle: 76 R, 32 HR, 86 RBI, .256/.311/.489, .337 wOBA, 112 wRC , 1.6 fWAR in 140 games.

Like I’ve said before. Adolis Garcia and Ryan Mountcastle are good for filling out votes for third place and before. Both guys racked up empty home run numbers with 31.4% and 27.2% K rates on 100-loss teams. Adolis finishes with a much better fWAR and his impressive outfield defense should see him finish above Mountcastle regardless of his awful OBP. 

Wander Franco beats Arozarena and all rookies in average and OBP, he’s second in slugging to Ryan Mountcastle which isn’t really a big deal being .012 behind a guy getting 570 at bats on a 100-loss team. Franco leads AL rookies in wOBA and wRC and it's not particularly close. I do think some voters will take into account the full season body of work and vote Arozarena first on their ballots but I think more voters will recognize Wander Franco is a superstar and deserving of first place.

 

NL MVP

Who I think is going to win: Juan Soto

Who is going to win: Too close to call

 

DraftKings Odds

Bryce Harper -265

Juan Soto 300

Fernando Tatis Jr. 550

 

Fanduel

Bryce Harper -260

Juan Soto 320

Fernando Tatis Jr. 600

 

BetMGM

Bryce Harper -275

Juan Soto 325

Fernando Tatis Jr. 600

I am making a couple assumptions in the NL MVP race. I assume the Phillies are not making the playoffs and voters aren’t going to seriously consider pitchers for NL MVP. 

If pitchers were being considered for MVP, Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler would have serious MVP cases, but I can’t see voters putting them at the top of their ballots, so the pitchers are likely destined for votes on the lower end of voters ballots. I think Fernando Tatis has been drawing dead for several weeks and with the Padres now eliminated from the playoffs and under .500 on the season I think he can safely be voted third on ballots. 

That leaves Bryce Harper and Juan Soto as the top two contenders for NL MVP. 

Bryce Harper: 146 hits, 99 R, 43 HR, 82 RBI, 129 strikeouts/99 walks, .308/.430/.612, .430 wOBA, 170 wRC , 6.4 fWAR

Juan Soto: 157 hits, 110 R, 29 HR, 94 RBI, 87 strikeouts/140 walks, .318/.467/.543, .425 wOBA, 165 wRC , 6.6 fWAR

Soto is second in the NL in batting average behind former teammate Trea Turner and a batting title would help Juan Soto’s MVP chances but expect it to be just out of reach as the Nationals’ final three games are against the Red Sox. Boston is still playing for the Wild Card and they won’t challenge Soto or give him anything to hit. Soto will, however, finish as the MLB leader in OBP (currently at .467). He has a commanding lead over Bryce Harper, who is currently in second place at .430. Harper has a slight lead over Fernando Tatis (.612 vs. 610) for Slugging%, while Harper and Soto are separated by .031 in OPS, with 1.041 for Harper vs. 1.010 for Soto. 

What separates Harper and Soto from each other for me is Juan Soto’s elite strikeout/walk rate. Having more walks than strikeouts is the sign of an elite player, but an 87/140 strikeout to walk rate is in Barry Bonds territory. Including all walks and hit by pitches, Soto has been on base 299 times the most in all of MLB, and 49 more times than Bryce Harper who’s fourth at 250 times on base. 

The worst things I can say about Harper are that he strikes out more and walks less than Juan Soto and unless home runs and slugging are the most important part of your voting criteria I don’t know that Harper has had a more impressive season than Juan Soto. Especially when you consider there’s MVP case for Harper’s teammate, pitcher Zack Wheeler. While I don’t expect Wheeler to steal first place votes from Harper it should be noted that according to fWAR, where Harper already trails Soto at 6.4 to 6.6, both players trail Zack Wheeler at 7.2, and all three of them trail Corbin Burnes at 7.6. Should Harper win MVP on a non-playoff team when he doesn’t even have the highest fWAR on his own team? 

It’s a close race here, but if I had a ballot I’d vote Juan Soto first and Bryce Harper second. I don’t think there is much value left on either Soto or Harper at the current prices. 

 

NL Cy Young 

Who I’d vote for: Zack Wheeler

Who I think wins: Wait and see this weekend

DraftKings Odds

Corbin Burnes -175

Max Scherzer 150

Walker Buehler 2000

Zack Wheeler 2200

 

Fanduel

Corbin Burnes -175

Max Scherzer 160

Zack Wheeler 2500

Walker Buehler 2500

 

BetMGM

Corbin Burnes -175

Max Scherzer 165

Walker Buehler 2500

Zack Wheeler 2500

 

Corbin Burnes: 11-4, 27 starts, 165 innings pitched, 230 strikeouts/33 walks, 12.55 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.33 HR/9, 2.29 ERA, 1.55 FIP, 2.29 xFIP, 7.6 fWAR

Max Scherzer: 15-4, 30 starts, 179.1 innings pitched, 236 strikeouts/36 walks, 11.84 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, 1.15 HR/9, 2.46 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 3.22 xFIP, 5.4 fWAR

Walker Buehler: 15-4, 32 starts, 202.2 innings pitched, 201 strikeouts/51 walks, 8.93 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 0.84 HR/9, 2.49 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 3.64 xFIP, 5.2 fWAR

Zack Wheeler: 14-10, 32 starts, 213.1 innings pitched, 247 strikeouts/46 walks, 10.42 K/9, 1.94 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9, 2.78 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 2.83 xFIP, 7.2 fWAR

Of all six MLB player markets I think the NL Cy Young is the one where the odds/perception is the most out of whack with the historical voting trends. If I was making the odds I’d have it split four ways and make all four guys co-favorites. 

I don’t think Corbin Burnes should be odds on, as he simply hasn’t pitched enough innings, although I acknowledge he’s been historically good. Burnes will get one final game to make his Cy Young case this weekend against the Dodgers who might still be contending for the NL West on Saturday making this a pre-playoff playoff game. 

I don’t think Max Scherzer is going to win after his last two starts. Scherzer is elite and likely the Dodgers’ Wild Card starter but I’d have a hard time voting for Scherzer or Buehler after comparing their workloads to Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler leads MLB in innings pitched and he leads the NL in strikeouts. Wheeler didn’t pitch the Phillies into the playoffs but you could make the argument, and fWAR would corroborate, that he was more important to the Phillies this year than Bryce Harper.

If I had a vote, it would be Wheeler in first and Burnes in second, although it could change this weekend with one final monster start for Corbin Burnes against the Dodgers. I think Scherzer lost the inside track with back-to-back pedestrian performances and regardless of making the playoffs or not I can’t overlook Zack Wheeler’s workload. Wheeler has pitched almost a full 50 more innings than Corbin Burnes which is another 8-9 more quality starts. 

I think Zack Wheeler at 25/1 and Walker Buehler at 25/1 are the best bets here. I bet some more on Zack Wheeler today, but I also have to point out I am more confident in making that bet having Corbin Burnes 30/1 from the beginning of the season in pocket. 

 

NL Rookie of the Year 

Who I think wins: Jonathan India

Who is going to win: Jonathan India 

DraftKings Odds

Jonathan India -1200

Trevor Rogers 750

Jonathan India: 96 R, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 12 SB, .270/.377/.461, .364 wOBA, 122 wRC , 4 fWAR

Trevor Rogers: 7-8 record, 25 games started, 157 strikeouts/46 walks, 133 innings pitched, 10.62 K/9, 3.11 BB/9, 0.41 HR/9, 2.64 ERA, 2.54 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, 4.2 fWAR

This race would likely be much closer had Rogers not missed some time in the second half of the season and pitched another 20-30 innings. Rogers' numbers were excellent for a rookie and his 10.62 K/9% and 0.41 HR/9 stand out in particular. He did a great job keeping home runs in the park, and struck out over 3x the amount of batters he walked. Rogers is likely going to finish second and could have won with maybe 5-6 more starts. 

It seems like 21 home runs and 12 stolen bases at the top of the Reds lineup is going to win it for India, but it's probably going to be closer than the market thinks and Rogers will get some first-place votes.

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