Predictions are never easy, but trying to forecast award winners entering the 2017 Major League Baseball season is nearly impossible.
Now, that’s not just a way for us to hedge our bets when we go 0-for-this entire prediction piece, but it seems there’s more starpower in baseball than there has been in a long time. If you look across both leagues, it seems just about every team has at least one candidate for the major awards.
So (please) keep that in mind when dissecting our picks for baseball’s 2017 awards.
MVP: Mike Trout
Really going out on a limb here considering Trout has finished either second or first in MVP voting in each of the last five seasons and has won the award twice, including last season. The American League has no shortage of options — Manny Machado, Mookie Betts and Josh Donaldson all come to mind — but that also means the field is pretty wide open. It’s not unrealistic to expect a slight drop-off from Betts, and there are concerns whether Machado and Donaldson will be playing meaningful games down the stretch. With all those qualifiers in mind, let’s give it to the best player in the world.
Cy Young Award: Chris Sale
It’s not like Sale has gone unnoticed to this point in his career, but he’s been thrust onto one of baseball’s biggest stages by way of his trade to Boston in the offseason. So now he’s going to be pitching for a big-market team that should be playing meaningful games all summer and into the fall, thus enhancing his exposure. And if he pitches like he has his entire career, he’s going to get votes. It’s also worth noting Sale has had an uptick in strikeouts this spring, which could indicate a shift away from his contact-heavy approach in 2016. If he’s striking out 10, 11 batters per nine innings and wins 16 to 18 games, all while anchoring a suddenly banged-up Boston rotation, the trophy should finally be his.
Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge
Boston’s Andrew Benintendi is the popular pick, and there’s certainly good reason for that as he’s already shown he can hang with big league pitching and he should play a prominent role in one of baseball’s best offenses. But the one thing Benintendi seems to lack at this point in his career is power, and Judge has that in spades. The 6-foot-7 monster launches baseballs with regularity, hitting 56 home runs in 348 career minor league games before being promoted. Some projections have him hitting as many as 30 home runs in his rookie season which is the sort of number that should earn him votes. The whole playing for the Yankees thing shouldn’t hurt, either.
Manager of the Year: Terry Francona
The Indians won 94 games last season, and they should be even better this season. They didn’t lose anyone of major significance, and they added a 40-homer guy by signing Edwin Encarnacion who should be even better at Progressive Field than Rogers Centre. Winning 100 games isn’t out of the picture, and it’s Francona who should hold it all together.
MVP: Bryce Harper
Two seasons ago, Bryce Harper finished the season 9.5 wins above replacement (via Fangraphs), hitting 42 home runs and driving in 118 while getting a hit just about once every three at-bats. Pretty good! The 2016 season, however, proved to be a struggle for the Nationals outfielder who registered “just” a 3.5 WAR. He should be able to at least split the difference this season. It’s easy to forget given his early ascension to stardom, but Harper is only 24 years old. He’s still getting better, and he’s still learning how to succeed at the highest level. In fact, he actually reduced his strikeout rate in 2016 (down to 18.7 percent), and his .264 batting average on balls in play was more than 40 points below his career BABIP, suggesting he might have been a little unlucky — although he still hit 24 home runs and drove in 84. Already showing marked defensive improvement, he should continue to get even better on that side of the ball while sharing an outfield with newly acquired Adam Eaton in center.
Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw
Much like the AL MVP race, we’re going with the “When in doubt, take the generational talent” strategy here. Kershaw missed two months of the 2016 season and still managed to finish fifth in National League Cy Young voting last season. He still led the league in shutouts and finished the season with a 1.69 ERA. He’s the best pitcher in the world, and if he’s even in the neighborhood of 200 innings, he’s the favorite to pick up his fourth career Cy Young award.
Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson
Swanson’s an old man compared to a lot of the NL Rookie of the Year contenders, as the 23-year-old shortstop for the Atlanta Braves is ready to assume the role of a franchise cornerstone. We’re not expecting Swanson to put up huge offensive numbers, but he’s going to play every day for a Braves team that should be improved. The projections have him in the neighborhood of .260 or so with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs. If that’s what he does at the plate, combined with stellar defensive play, he’s definitely among the favorites.
Manager of the Year: Mike Matheny
The Cardinals might be able to sneak up on some people… at least as much as you can when you’re the Cardinals. Matheny’s ability to adapt and adjust on the fly in past seasons has been evident, as the Cardinals have dealt with an uncharacteristically long list of injuries in the last couple of seasons. If they’re able to stay a little healthier this season, they should contend for a wild card, and if they can even give the Cubs a slight push in the NL Central, Matheny could earn the honor.
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