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Justin Birnbaum

Behind the Ballot: Aaron Judge and Joey Votto Grab the MVPs

Managing Editor Justin Birnbaum gives us an inside look on the thought process behind his IBWAA Awards Ballot, with Aaron Judge and Joey Votto grabbing the MVP awards.

Most Valuable Player

American League: Aaron Judge over Mike Trout and Jose Altuve

I can undoubtably say that this was the toughest category on the ballot. Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, and Jose Altuve have all had outstanding seasons, and when you consider Trout spent a nice chunk of time on the disabled list, its even more remarkable. Unfortunately, an MLB leading 180 wRC+ is not enough for me to discount Trout’s absence. Durability is a key factor in judging a player’s MVP candidacy and I do not believe it would do justice to consider someone who’s played roughly 40 games less than Judge and Altuve. The decision between Judge and Altuve could have gone either way, as their value numbers shake out almost identically. However, Aaron Judge’s significance to the Yankees in 2017 is well beyond the numbers, essentially transforming a team that was supposed to be in rebuild into a playoff club and possible World Series contender. With AL Rookie of the Year pretty much in the bag, Judge has the chance to become the third player to win the MVP and ROY in the same season following in the footsteps of Fred Lynn and Ichiro.

National League: Joey Votto over Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt

As Mike Trout demonstrated last season, your team doesn’t have to be particularly good to garner MVP attention. In the face of another abysmal season in Cincinnati, Joey Votto quietly put together another magnificent year, highlighted by an absolutely ridiculous .455 on-base percentage. From a value standpoint, this is really a two horse race and while Giancarlo Stanton is on the verge of notching a tremendous home run milestone, an eight win difference between the Marlins and the Reds is not enough make his case stronger than Votto’s. Votto is indisputably the best on-base guy of this generation and a second MVP nod would be another validation of what is already arguably a Hall of Fame career.

Cy Young

American League: Chris Sale over Corey Kluber and Luis Severino

To any Yankees fans that were holding out hope for a dark horse Severino Cy Young, now is the time flush that dream down the pipe. As good as he was in 2017, Severino is simply miles behind the dominance of Sale and Kluber. As for the two real contenders for this award, we have another instance where the voting can go either way. However, it’s hard to ignore anyone who tosses 200+ innings and 300+ strikeouts in the same season. Chris Sale was a model of consistency in 2017 and proved to be well worth the prospect haul that Boston had to ship out in return. A 17-8 record doesn’t do the necessary justice for a guy like Sale, who easily could have won 25 games if not for a streaky Boston offense. With a league leading 7.7 WAR and 2.45 FIP, Sale should finally be able to climb the mountain and grab the first Cy Young of his career after finishing in the top-five in voting four times.

National League: Max Scherzer over Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg

I’m going to preface this by saying a full, healthy season of Kershaw would have certainly delivered him his fourth Cy Young award. His numbers are ridiculous as always, an 18-4 record with 202 strikeouts and a 2.31 ERA. However, the major knock on Kershaw’s case has been his durability. Persistent back problems limited Kershaw to only 149 innings in 2016 and 175 innings in 2017. Max Scherzer seems like the clear favorite to take home the hardware after leading the league with 268 strikeouts in 200.2 innings. Scherzer was an absolute bulldog on the mound, dominating hitters to the tune of 12.02 strikeouts per nine innings, as well as stranding more than 80% of the runners he put on base. Fangraphs ranks Scherzer as the most valuable pitcher in terms of WAR with a total of 6.0 wins on the season. The five-time All-Star should take home the third Cy Young award of his career, while potentially leading the Nats to their first postseason series victory since moving to Washington D.C.

Rookie of the Year

American League: Aaron Judge over Jordan Montgomery and Matt Chapman

Considering I have Aaron Judge taking home the AL MVP award, it’s a no-brainer to for him to grab Rookie of the Year honors as well. Judge smacked 52 home runs in 2017, the most ever by a rookie, and drove in 114 RBIs with 128 runs. Judge is a legitimate superstar that will dominate AL pitching for years to come. While Judge is the clear favorite, Matt Chapman was a unique and interesting dark horse. His offensive stats are respectable for a rookie (.234/.313/.472 with 14 home runs and 40 RBIs), but his case mainly stemmed from is unequivocally superb defense at third base that already has him pegged as one of the most valuable defenders in all of baseball.

National League: Cody Bellinger over Paul DeJong and Rhys Hoskins

Cody Bellinger’s rookie season was nothing short of remarkable. 39 home runs and 97 RBIs would be an outstanding achievement for any player, but it’s even more impressive when you consider that Bellinger wasn’t even called up until the end of April. The 22-year-old first baseman/outfielder did everything in record setting fashion, shattering the Dodgers’ all-time home run record by a rookie, eclipsing Mike Piazza’s 35. Bellinger also set the record most home runs by a rookie in the seventh inning or later in modern major league history. I didn’t want to count out Paul DeJong and Rhys Hoskins, who have also done remarkable things in a short period of time, but their downfall is their sample size. Hoskins only had 50 games under his belt, while Dejong had 102. Neither of which allow them to have a strong enough case to supplant Bellinger for Rookie of the Year honors.

Manager of the Year

American League: Paul Molitor over Terry Francona and A.J. Hinch

There’s no discounting what the Indians and Astros accomplished in 2017. The Astros have been a powerhouse from Opening Day, running rough shot through the American League, while the Indians added an exclamation point to an otherwise solid season with the longest win streak in modern baseball history. However, the Twins are unique in that they really rose out of nowhere to earn their first ever Wild Card berth and first playoff appearance since winning the AL Central back in 2010. The Indians and Astros are riddled with stars that have led their clubs to the postseason, but the Twins’ success is more attributable to the man pulling the strings, Paul Molitor. Many are quick to forget that the Twins are only a year removed from 103 losses. No team in Major League history has ever bounced back from losing 100 or more games to make the postseason the following season. Coupled with the ensemble cast of 16 pitchers used in the starting rotation, a number that ties them with the 2015 Dodgers for the most used by a playoff team, and you can really grasp how the steady hand of Molitor has guided this club in 2017.

National League: Torey Lovullo over Bud Black

The Diamondbacks have always been a club that has never been afraid to make a splash. They showed no hesitation to shell out $200+ million to bring in Zack Greinke two years ago, but a willingness to spend doesn’t always equate to success. The most important thing the D-Backs have lacked is an organizational direction, but the new brain trust of first-year manager Torey Lovullo and first-year GM Mike Hazen have rectified that issue in the desert. A defensive first approach has allowed Lovullo to steward to this ball club to home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card game and the chance to win a pennant with this club. An emphasis on run prevention and baserunning improvements is enough for Lovullo to edge Bud Black and the surprisingly competitive Colorado Rockies for NL Manager of the Year.

Reliever of the Year

American League: Craig Kimbrel over Andrew Miller and Chad Green

At 3.3 Wins Above Replacement, Craig Kimbrel was the most valuable American League reliever in 2017. A league leading 1.43 ERA only cements his case even further. Alex Colome and Roberto Osuna each notched a higher save total than Kimbrel, but the Red Sox closer’s higher innings total and ridiculous 16.43 strikeouts per nine innings ratio makes him a lock to take home the Best Reliever honors in 2017.

National League: Kenley Jansen over Archie Bradley and Corey Knebel

Kenley Jansen blew the competition away with a league leading 1.31 ERA and 41 saves (tied at 41 with Greg Holland). Knebel and Bradley were extremely impressive for Milwaukee and Arizona respectively, but the sum of his parts makes Jansen the most valuable National League reliever in 2017.

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