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Tim Kelly’s 2018 IBWAA awards ballot

Not even Mike Trout could beat out Mookie Betts for the American League MVP. (Arturo Pardavila III)

Each year, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) votes on their own MLB end-of-season awards. The awards consist of MVP, Cy Young Award, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Reliever of the Year for both the American League and National League. As a voting member, I was asked to turn in my ballot Sunday evening. The ballot features the top 10 finishers in each league’s respective MVP Award, the top five finishers in each league’s Cy Young Award and the top three finishers in each league’s Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Reliever of the Year.

Without further ado…

American League MVP: Right Fielder Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

Two-time American League MVP Mike Trout hit 39 home runs and posted a 9.8 fWAR in just 139 games. You could make a case that when Trout was on the field in 2018, this is the best offensive season of his career. And yet, I think he’ll finish runner-up for the American League MVP for the fourth time in his career, perhaps the most amazing accomplishment the future Hall of Famer has.

Even despite missing 23 games with a wrist injury, Trout likely would have received my vote in most years. But Mookie Betts, while playing for the sport’s best team, slashed .346/.438/.640 with 81 walks and 32 home runs. The Boston Red Sox right fielder may very well win his third consecutive Gold Glove Award in right field. And from here, he’s likely to add his first American League MVP.

For as difficult as slotting the National League Cy Young Award was, the American League MVP was even more difficult. It feels crazy to me for Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez – who finished the season with an fWAR north of eight – to not win this award. The same goes for his teammate Francisco Lindor. It just shows how dominant the American League’s best teams (and best players, for that matter) were in 2018.

Full American League  League MVP voting: 

  1. Right Fielder Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
  2. Center Fielder Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
  3. Third Baseman Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
  4. Shortstop Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
  5. Third Baseman Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
  6. DH J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
  7. Third Baseman Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics
  8. RHP Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
  9. RHP Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
  10. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels

American League Cy Young Award: LHP Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays

If Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale had pitched a full season, he very likely would have run away with the American League Cy Young Award. His 2.11 ERA and 6.5 fWAR added onto what is becoming a very strong Hall of Fame case for the 29-year-old. But ultimately, 158.0 innings just wasn’t quite enough to garner my vote.

Though I struggled with the fact that Houston Astros starters Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole topped Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell in innings, FIP and fWAR, I just couldn’t take my eyes off of the 1.89 ERA that Snell posted in the American League East. So the 25-year-old – who went 21-5 for an upstart Rays team – received my vote, with Verlander finishing second and Cole coming in third.

Full American League Cy Young Award voting:

  1. LHP Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
  2. RHP Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
  3. RHP Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros
  4. LHP Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
  5. RHP Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians

American League Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics are one of the easiest teams to forget about in sports. They play second-fiddle in the Bay Area to a team that’s won three World Series titles in the last decade. They play on a field also shared with a football team that’s about to relocate because of how behind-the-times their stadium is. They’re a small market team – their payroll was 28th in baseball in 2018 – that regularly trades any established players at the July non-waiver trade deadline.

But after a three-year postseason drought, the A’s, at least for one game, will return to the national stage, as they are set to square off with the New York Yankees Wednesday evening in the American League Wild Card Game. Bob Melvin guided a team that had three consecutive losing seasons to a 97-65 record in one of the most competitive divisions in the sport.

I will say, I struggled not to give my vote to Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash. Despite being an All-Star in 2017, the Rays non-tendered Corey Dickerson and ultimately traded him in a cost-cutting move before the season. The Rays sold at the deadline, trading Chris Archer and Wilson Ramos. And yet, in a division that featured two teams that won 100 games, Cash guided the Rays to 90 wins. He also helped the team to overcome a lack of starting pitching depth by using “the opener,” a move that found success, despite criticism from more traditional observers. The 40-year-old former catcher has a bright future as a manager.

Oh, and in his first season as Red Sox manager (or manager of any team), Alex Cora helped guide the Red Sox to 108 wins, the most in franchise history. For that, he’ll get a bronze medal (and a chance to win a World Series).

Full American League Manager of the Year voting: 

  1. Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
  2. Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
  3. Alex Cora, Boston Red Sox

American League Rookie of the Year: DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

Mike Trout probably won’t win the American League MVP, but one Los Angeles Angel will be taking home some hardware this season. While Shohei Ohtani’s season feels like a letdown in some senses – he’s going to have Tommy John Surgery in the near future, putting his 2019 season and future as a two-way player in question – Ohtani still electrified the baseball world when he played.

Offensively, Ohtani hit 22 home runs and posted a 23.7 offensive WAR. His two home run game just hours after finding out about new damage to his UCL that will require Tommy John Surgery was one of the most notable performances across the sport in 2018.

In 10 starts as a pitcher, Ohtani, while using a high-90s fastball, went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA.

What the Angels choose to do with the 24-year-old moving forward will be interesting. The man nicknamed “Ohtani Son” would seem to have next-to-no chance to pitch in 2019 after his upcoming Tommy John Surgery. There’s a very good chance he’ll return as a DH in 2019. In 2020, the Angels could try him as a two-way player again. They could also try him in right field, where as his high school film shows, his arm would play very well.

One thing we do know, Ohtani was incredible in his first season in the majors. And yet, his injury has put even more into question Trout’s future with Los Angeles’ second most famous (and successful) team.

Full American League Rookie of the Year voting:

  1. DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
  2. Second Baseman Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
  3. Third Baseman Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees

American League Reliever of the Year:

After playing almost .600 baseball in the first-half of the 2018 season, the Seattle Mariners second-half was disappointing. It wasn’t disappointing to the same degree as the Philadelphia Phillies was, but in a division that will produce two playoff teams, the Mariners aren’t one of them, extending their postseason drought to 17 years.

Perhaps most disappointing is that while their closer Edwin Diaz received a top 10 MVP vote from me, he finished in second to Oakland Athletics reliever Blake Treinen, despite recording 57 saves and posting a 3.6 fWAR in 74 games. It was a remarkable season for Diaz, who finished within striking distance of Francisco Rodriguez’s all-time record of 62 saves in a single season.

Ultimately though, Treinen was a bit better individually. The tie-breaker was not that the Athletics will play in the postseason and the Mariners won’t. It’s an individual award. The tie was broken by the fact that Treinen, a former Washington National, posted a 0.78 ERA (Diaz posted a 1.96 ERA) and pitched seven more innings than Diaz.

Full American League Reliever of the Year voting:

  1. RHP Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
  2. RHP Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
  3. RHP Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

National League MVP: RHP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Over the last few weeks, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich reopened a debate that I was pretty sure was closed when the calendar flipped to September. But while Yelich has had an MVP worthy season, Jacob deGrom has had such a dominant season that we’ll be talking about it decades from now, and that was the deciding factor for me.

I don’t expect deGrom to win the MVP as voted on by the IBWAA or BBWAA. It’s hard enough for a pitcher to build an MVP case. It’s even harder for a pitcher that only won 10 games thanks to playing on a team that gave him next-to-no run support to convince enough traditional voters to win the award. So my guess is Yelich will win the MVP.

But it’s hard to make a case for anyone in the National League having provided more production than deGrom this season. People tend to get too cute when trying to breakdown what “most valuable” really means. Alex Rodriguez won an MVP award in 2003 while playing on Texas Rangers teams that went 71-91 because he had a historically dominant individual season. The same principle applies here when voting on an individual award.

Though the Mets may not have been in contention from June on, they still continued to play against teams who were. deGrom took the mound every start knowing that if he gave up two or more runs, his team would probably lose. To say that he didn’t pitch under pressure simply isn’t true.

Yelich and his teammate Lorenzo Cain both had tremendous individual seasons and will get to play in the postseason. So will Javier Baez with the Chicago Cubs. But the MVP is an individual award and the most dominant individual that played in the National League in 2018 was deGrom.

Full National League MVP voting

  1. RHP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
  2. Outfielder Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
  3. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
  4.  First Baseman Paul GoldSchmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. Infielder Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
  6. RHP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
  7. RHP Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
  8. First Baseman Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
  9. Third Baseman Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
  10. Infielder Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

National League Cy Young Award: RHP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

The Cy Young is the award for the best pitcher. Without the semantics of deciding exactly what “most valuable” means, it’s difficult to imagine voting for anyone other than deGrom here. That doesn’t mean some voters won’t penalize deGrom for his lack of team success, though that would seem like a strange thing to do when neither Aaron Nola or Max Scherzer will be pitching in the postseason.

That’s not a slight at Nola or Scherzer, who may have very well won the award in another season. But they or someone else, theoretically, could put up similar numbers to the seasons they have had in 2018 next year. No one, not even deGrom, is going to be able to top deGrom’s 2018 season for some time to come. 

Speaking of Scherzer and Nola, the Washington Nationals ace ultimately edged out the Philadelphia Phillies star for runner-up in my ballot. Nola did outpitch Scherzer in two head-to-head matchups in August, but boiling down a season-long race to two starts feels over-simplistic. While Nola’s ERA (2.37) was lower than Scherzer’s (2.65), Scherzer finished with a FIP that was 36 points lower than Nola’s. He also had a slight edge in innings pitched over Nola and Scherzer’s fWAR (7.2) topped Nola’s (5.6) by a comfortable margin.

Had either of Scherzer or Nola been in the American League, they would have won the award. The same could probably be said for Arizona Diamondbacks righty (and soon-to-be free-agent) Patrick Corbin. It was just the wrong year to try to win the award, because deGrom was historically dominant.

Full National League Cy Young Award voting:

  1. RHP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
  2. RHP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
  3. RHP Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
  4. RHP Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. LHP Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

National League Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves

There’s something to be said for the job Mike Schildt did in St. Louis. After the team fired Mike Matheny in July, the Cardinals climbed back into the playoff race, going 41-27 under the long-time minor league coach’s watch. Even with a report suggesting that Joe Girardi was very interested in the Cardinals job, the Cardinals decided in late August to strip the interim tag from Schilt and give him a three-year deal to manage the team. Passing over a chance to hire one of this era’s most successful managers says something.

But while Schildt had a fairly long ascension to becoming a major league manager, Brian Snitker coached in various roles in the Atlanta Braves organization for over three decades before getting a shot to be a full-time manager. With Alex Anthopoulos taking over as general manager in 2018, there was some thought that the former Toronto Blue Jays general manager would ultimately want to bring in his own manager. Snitker made that impossible for the time being, guiding an extremely talented young roster to the Braves first playoff appearance in five years.

Full National League Manager of the Year voting: 

  1. Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves
  2. Mike Schildt, St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers

National League Rookie of the Year: Outfielder Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves

Phillies fans may want to shield their eyes on this award. While the year started out with the thought that Scott Kingery could be a candidate for the Rookie of the Year Award, it’s going to end with two other National League East rookies finishing one-and-two in voting for the award.

In just 111 games, Ronald Acuna Jr. finished with a slash line of .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs, 64 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and a 3.8 fWAR. The Venezuelan native will win the Rookie of the Year Award, while helping the Braves to reach the postseason for the first time in half a decade.

That’s to say nothing negative of 19-year-old left fielder Juan Soto, who slashed .292/.406/.517 with 22 home runs, 70 RBIs and a 3.7 fWAR for the Washington Nationals. Soto was the greatest teenage hitter in baseball history in his first major league season, one that could soften the potential loss of six-time All-Star Bryce Harper this offseason.

And then there’s Walker Buehler, who will get the ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Monday afternoon’s one-game playoff to determine whether the Dodgers or Colorado Rockies are National League West champions. In 23 games (22 of which were starts), the former first-round pick posted a 2.76 ERA, 2.99 FIP and 3.2 fWAR. He figures to be near the top of the Dodgers rotation for the next decade.

Full National League Rookie of the Year voting: 

  1. Outfielder Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves
  2. Left Fielder Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
  3. RHP Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers

National League Reliever of the Year: LHP Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Full National League Reliever of the Year voting:

  1. LHP Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
  2. RHP Craig Stammen, San Diego Padres
  3. RHP Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies

Per FanGraphs, Craig Stammen was worth $18.2 million in production in 2018. The San Diego Padres played the 34-year-old just $2.25 million in the finest season of his nine-year career.

Still, while Stammen and Colorado Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino had tremendous seasons, Brewers lefty Josh Hader was so dominant that he found his way into the top five of a crowded National League Cy Young Award ballot. The 24-year-old All-Star reliever went 6-1 with a 2.50 ERA, 2.28 ERA and 2.6 fWAR in 2018. And those numbers come despite Hader posting a 5.11 ERA in September, which speaks to how dominant he was in 2018.

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