An Early Look at MLB’s MVP and Cy Young Races For 2022 Season | Bleacher Report

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There is still a lot of baseball to play in the 2022 Major League Baseball season. About five months to be precise, which means the league’s key prize races are far from clear.

For now, however, the following people are what we believe to be leaders in the Cy Young Award and MVP races in the American League and National League.

As there are always three finalists for these awards at the end of the year, we have primarily focused on the top three candidates in each race. But since anything can still happen, we’ve also touched on a few Dark Ross contenders worth watching.

Of course, we primarily focused on statistics. But in the case of the MVP awards, we also considered any narrative elements that might come into play.

We’ll start with the AL Cy Young Award and go from there.

American League Cy Young Award: Kevin Gausman and Justin Verlander lead the way

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Right off the bat, we’ll admit that the order of these three pitchers is debatable:

  • 1. RHP Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays
  • 2. RHP Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
  • 3. LHP Neston Cortes, New York Yankees

With Gausman at 45.0 innings and Verlander at 45.2 innings, there is essentially no difference between them when it comes to workload. There is, of course, a significant difference between their earned running averages. At 1.38, Verlander’s ERA is more than a run lower than Gausman’s 2.40 ERA.

However, this is one instance where ERA doesn’t tell the whole story.

Not only has Gausman hit 18 more batters than Verlander, he’s remained virtually untouched in the walk and home run departments. He has only issued two free tickets and has yet to be taken deep.

Verlander also has an AL-best 0.64 WHIP that can’t be ignored. But as with his ERA, the credit to his excellence is an Astros defense that ranks fourth among majors in terms of efficiency in converting balls into outs in play. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, are slightly below average.

Ultimately, in this case, we rely on the expected ERA. It has Gausman at 2.51, with Verlander a bit behind at 2.62.

Cortes, on the other hand, currently leads the American League in ERA by 1.35 after his last dominant performance on Sunday. In addition, there are 49 strikeouts against 11 walks and only three home runs allowed.

Numbers like that might smack of unsustainability for a guy who only throws in the low 90s, but all you have to do is watch the Yankees’ southpaw to understand how he makes it work:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Nestor Cortes, back-to-back 91mph fastballs…with different arm angles. Artists.

Oh, and Cortes expected ERA? It’s way down at 2.18 and certainly puts him in the top five of any pitcher who has put at least 50 balls in play.

For now, at least, Cortes’ weakness compared to Gausman and Verlander is that he’s “only” pitched 40 innings in seven starts. Five innings might not sound like a huge gap, but that’s basically the equivalent of average start these days.

The Dark Horses

One guy to keep an eye on is the Chicago White Sox Righty Dylan stops. A tough game against the Yankees on Wednesday boosted his ERA to 3.55, but it’s still hard to discount his AL-high tie of 58 strikeouts and 2.01 xERA.

Another standout strikeout player is the Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Shane McClanahanwho has punched out 13.3 batters per nine innings along with a 2.52 ERA.

National League Cy Young Award: Can anyone catch up with Pablo Lopez?

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Meanwhile, in the National League, there is at least one clear pick for the front runner:

  • 1. RHP Pablo Lopez, Miami Marlins
  • 2. RHP Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
  • 3. RHP Miles Mikolas, Cardinals of St. Louis

After going a solid 43 innings with an MLB-leading ERA of 1.05, Lopez is enjoying the best of both worlds with his workload and especially his run disability. And since it’s backed by an equally excellent 2.36 xERA, the latter is legitimate.

The Marlins ace’s secret weapon certainly gets less secret with every launch he makes. Hitters are 8-for-64 with 26 strikeouts against his move, which is downright nasty:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Pablo Lopez, 2 more changeup Ks.

7Ks to 5.

If Lopez Cy Young’s candidacy is under threat, it’s the specter of durability. A less pretentious way of putting it is that he’s peaked at 111.1 innings in the past, so he needs to prove he’s capable of much more.

There’s certainly a sort of “been there, done” appeal with Burnes. Judging by his 1.63 FIP (Field Independent Pitching), his 2021 season was the second best through an ERA title qualifier in the Live Ball era after just Pedro Martinez in 1999.

Burnes won’t make FIP 2022 shine like that again, but his 1.77 ERA and 2.89 xERA still deserve respect. With his 45.2 innings, which ranks second in the National League, he also makes it clear he’s no workaholic.

After basically losing two full seasons to injuries in 2020 and 2021, Mikolas returns to his 2018 All-Star form in 2022. He has a 1.49 ERA in his first seven starts for the Cardinals.

The red flag there should be that Mikolas only punched out 31 hitters, but he made contact with the tune of exit velocity at the 82nd percentile and a hard hitting rate at the 91st percentile. That helps explain his 2.56 xERA, which actually puts him a hair ahead of Verlander.

The Dark Horses

It feels odd to call a three-time Cy Young Award winner a “dark horse” for the award, but a New York Mets veteran Max Scherzer still shows no signs of slowing down in his season at the age of 37. He has punched out 55 and amassed a 2.66 ERA in 44 innings.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have not one, but two right-handers with ERAs in the 1.00s. one is Merrill Kelly, who is at 1.71 through seven starts. Although only six starts, Zac Gallens 1.05 ERA would tie Lopez for the league lead if he had enough innings to qualify.

American League MVP: The Mike Trout and Aaron Judge Show with Jose Ramirez

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Here, in the words of Han Solo, the fun begins:

  • 1. CF Mike Forelle, Los Angeles Angels
  • 2.RF Aaron Richter, New York Yankees
  • 3. 3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland keeper

After missing all but 36 games of 2021 with a calf strain that just wouldn’t go away, Trout is healthy this year. It follows that he does typical Mike Trout things, namely hitting .312 with a .432 on-base percentage and the current best slugging percentage of his career of .661.

Of course, the Angels’ three-time AL MVP also leads the American League with a 2.5 rWAR. That gets him going for his first 10-WAR season since 2016.

As for Judge, well, he’s mostly busy dropping bombs:

Judge leads the majors with his 12 homers. He also hits .632 and even hits a career-best .296.

Lest anyone think the AL MVP race is strictly a two-horse affair, Trout and Judge share a common Achilles’ heel: Neither were particularly grippy.

Both Trout (6 of 9) and Judge (8 of 12) hit the majority of their home runs with nobody on base. Both were also largely mediocre in high-leverage spots, with Trout bringing in a .732 OPS that just eclipsed Judge’s .718 OPS. The latter in particular should serve as a reminder that it takes more than a walk-off homer to really hold on.

Which brings us to Ramirez.

The Guardians star is having a stellar season overall, hitting .290/.386/.581 with eight long balls and notably 33 carries leading in the MLB. And while his production has slipped in high-leverage places and is now down to .733 OPS, he still has unreal numbers with ducks on the pond:

  • men to: 1,279 ops
  • Runners in scoring position: 1,444 ops

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention how much weight rests on Ramirez’s shoulders. While both Trout and Judge are surrounded by stars galore on teams with exorbitant payrolls, Ramirez carries a Guardians team mostly full of unknowns who total just $67.7 million in payrolls.

The Dark Horses

Speaking of star teammates, Trout has a good one in the person of Taylor Ward. Despite starting his season late, he’s now hitting a stellar .385/.500/.747 with eight homers in 26 games. Also, the Angels are 15-6 since moving Ward to the leadoff on April 25th.

There’s also the ultra-dynamic Minnesota Twins midfielder, Byron Buxton, although his ongoing knee pain will require regular days off. Also keep an eye on Asros Slugger Jordan Alvarez, who is batting at .310 with eight homers in his last 20 games. Houston has won 16 of them.

National League MVP: Everyone is chasing Manny Machado

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Finally a race for major awards with an obvious leader:

  • 1. 3B Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
  • 2. 3B Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals
  • 3.RF/DH Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

There’s no doubt that Machado’s race is up for grabs, and not just because he leads the National League with averages of .359, .443 OBP and 1.029 OPS.

Like Ramirez, Machado has mostly made his hits count. He carries 1,193 OPS with men on base and even better 1,423 OPS in high leverage spots. The latter is by far the best in the NL.

Another notable feature of Machado is that he’s doing all of this while the Padres are missing electrifying shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. And that’s really important as the club’s 22 wins are the most in an NL West division that doesn’t even have a team under .500.

To his credit, Arenado has had a generally excellent all-around season with the Cardinals, similar to what he had with the Colorado Rockies in his heyday. He hits .312/.374/.600 with the most defensive runs saved at third base on that side by Ke’Bryan Hayes.

Picking a player for third place on this list looked difficult just a few days ago, but not so much now that Harper has found his power punch. The reigning NL MVP has six home runs in May and stands at a .305/.361/.634 line overall.

The crux of the matter for now is that Harper can only work as a designated hitter due to a small tear in the right ulnar collateral ligament. But if he can continue to carry the Phillies offensively despite his injury, MVP voters likely won’t forget that when it comes time to vote.

The Dark Horses

While not the best, perhaps the most exciting player in the National League right now is Marlin’s second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. He’s hit six home runs and stolen six bases, and he’s done better at high (.970 OPS) and medium leverage (.953) than at low leverage (.790).

Leading the NL with 23 wins, the Mets deserve at least one peripheral representative in this race. How about Peter Alonso? He has up to eight home runs with an NL high timing of 29 runs he’s hitting.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Savant.

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