Ronald Acuna Jr., Blake Snell and Corbin Carroll are the odds-on favorites in the National League. It’s Shohei Ohtani, Gerrit Cole and Gunnar Henderson in the American League.
But are those the candidates who should win Major League Baseball’s most prestigious awards? What does the data reveal about these races?
With the MLB season nearing a close, we’re breaking down our winners for the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in both leagues. To aid our analysis, we’ll dive into metrics such as total raw value, raw value+/-, BIP+, contact+, discipline+, command+ (how good the pitcher is at hitting his intended location) and whiff+ (how good a hurler is at generating swings and misses).
Raw value (RV) evaluates performance on a per-pitch basis instead of looking at just the outcome of an at-bat. We have total raw value, a cumulative stat, and RV+/-. The latter is a rate stat that allows us to assess how good a pitcher or hitter has been relative to the league average (100). For pitchers, we use RV-, and anything below 100 is considered above the league average. On the other hand, we use RV+ to evaluate batters, and anything over 100 is ideal.
To gauge the three phases of hitting (deciding to swing or not to swing, making contact and inflicting damage on contact) we use discipline+, contact+ and BIP+. You can check out the leaderboard with all our data in our MLB advanced stats zone.
Using this information, let’s take a look at who should win each major award:
AL MVP: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
Ohtani, a first-team All-MLB pick last year, is second among AL hitters with a total raw value: only shortstop Corey Seager (51.1) of the Texas Rangers has more. However, as much as we love Seager, he doesn’t pitch, and Ohtani was able to accumulate a minus-12.9 total raw value (remember, the lower the better for pitchers) as a hurler before hurting his elbow.
So that’s a total RV of 54.9, moving him past Seager. There is no competition here: The AL MVP competition has been wrapped up for weeks.
Ohtani positions himself as the heavy favorite thanks to the damage he inflicts on contact: his 212 BIP+ leads the AL among qualified batters (Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, who won the award last season, is at 265 but with 180 fewer at-bats).
It’s fair to point out, however, that our metrics say Seager has been the best hitter in the junior circuit with a 193 RV+, and that Judge has been so good that he ranks third in the AL in total raw value at 35.4 despite only playing in 91 games.
Primary competition: Seager, Judge
NL MVP: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
Acuna leads MLB in runs scored (132), hits (196) and stolen bases (65). He’s second in on-base percentage (.415), sixth in home runs (37), fourth in batting average (.333) and fifth in slugging percentage (.586). Yet somehow, he doesn’t have the MVP award locked up because Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers has been just as good (even better in the minds of some).
Still, Acuna accumulated more total raw value than Betts (62.0-54.9). RV+ is also as close as it gets, but the Braves outfielder gets the edge 177-174. Again, Betts is having a brilliant campaign of his own and even leads some offensive departments, but when a player does something historic such as Acuna’s 30-60 season (it could be 40-70 by the end of the year because he is already at 36-65), he probably has a leg up in the race in the minds of voters.
This is one of the closest award races of the season. That much is true.
Primary competition: Betts, first basemen Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson
AL Cy Young: Pablo Lopez, Minnesota Twins
Cole is the consensus favorite to win his first Cy Young award at this point, with Minnesota’s Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo of the Seattle Mariners, Framber Valdez of the Houston Astros and Kevin Gausman of the Toronto Blue Jays also in the race. However, raw value tells us that it’s Lopez who probably deserves the award.
Lopez is 10-7 with a 3.43 ERA in 178.2 innings – tied for third in the AL. Though he’s seventh in the AL in ERA, he rates high in RV because of his bat-missing ability. He’s second in the junior circuit in strikeouts with 213 and third with a 129 whiff+ among qualified pitchers.
His -27.8 total raw value leads the AL, and trails only Atlanta’s Spencer Strider (-35.2) and Zack Wheeler (-33.3) of the Philadelphia Phillies in all of baseball. Lopez also sports an elite 68 RV-, and his 111 command+ is the highest of any qualified starter with at least a 120 whiff+.
It’s a shame Felix Bautista of the Baltimore Orioles went down, because he would have made for an exciting candidate with his -20 total raw value. That’s third in the AL and second only to Tyler Rogers (-24.8) of the San Francisco Giants among all big-league relievers.
Primary competition: Joe Ryan of the Twins, Bautista
NL Cy Young: Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves
Justin Steele has the Chicago Cubs making a run at the postseason, Snell of the San Diego Padres has been on top of his game and Zac Gallen is leading the Arizona Diamondbacks’ fight for a playoff spot. All-Star Kodai Senga of the New York Mets also remains in the mix.
Strider, however, is the most overpowering pitcher on a team’s a serious World Series contender, if not favorite. He has a good shot at winning the award with a strong finish (particularly in the run prevention department, as his ERA is a bit high at 3.83).
But the right-hander leads MLB in total raw value (-35.2), RV- (55) and whiff+ (175) among qualified pitchers. He might not have the lowest ERA, but his 2.89 – lowest in the NL – confirms he is the most dominant pitcher in the league in terms of getting strikes and making hitters miss.
Primary competition: Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler, Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers
AL Rookie of the Year: Yainer Diaz, Houston Astros
Conventional wisdom would tell you that Henderson, Triston Casas and Masataka Yoshida of the Boston Red Sox are the favorites to win the AL Rookie of the Year. Josh Jung of the Rangers and Tanner Bibee of the Cleveland Guardians are other candidates.
However, even if he hasn’t played as much as those guys, Diaz is the data’s darling for the award. He leads all AL rookies in total RV (18.7) and also owns an impressive 145 RV+. As a hitter, he makes good contact (103 contact+) and damage upon that contact (165 BIP+).
Diaz’s 21 home runs are very close to Henderson’s 25 and Casas’ 24 while playing about 30 fewer games, and his .535 slugging percentage leads all AL rookies with at least 300 plate appearances.
The only thing the Astros lineup needed was an above-average hitter at catcher, and they now have one in Diaz.
Primary competition: Jung, Henderson, Casas
NL Rookie of the Year: Spencer Steer, Cincinnati Reds
Carroll of the Arizona Diamondbacks will probably run away with the award, but should he? He only has a total RV of -2.4 (yes, a negative) and a below-average 96 97 RV+.
Steer, on the other hand, has a total RV of 7.6 and an above-average 111 RV+ while helping the Reds stay in the wild-card hunt. Steer is more of a steady, unglamorous performer without the flair of Carroll, but that profile has helped him lead all NL rookies in doubles (31) and RBI (78) while slashing a solid .267/.355/.448.
Steer’s Cincinnati teammate Matt McLain (-0.1 total RV, 100 RV+) has been another disappointment in terms of the data, but Senga (-8.3, 89 RV-) and outfielder Nolan Jones (7.5, 118) of the Colorado Rockies have been solid and also deserve consideration.
Primary competition: Senga, Jones