2018 MLB Awards In-Depth Recap

The 2018 Major League Baseball season wrapped up on October 28th, 2018, with the Boston Red Sox capping off a historic 108-54 season with a five-game World Series win. Shortly after, awards were announced honoring the elite team members on and off the field for personal and club success. From the Executive of the Year to the Cy Young, here’s a comprehensive discussion of award recipients and runner-ups.

Early Awards

Yadier Molina (C, STL) received the Roberto Clemente award after his relief efforts in Puerto Rico following the devastating Hurricane Maria. Molina dedicated countless hours in PR last offseason and raised $800,000 to go towards the relief effort. He plans to visit his home country to aid this offseason again.

Vice President Billy Beane won the first ever Executive of the Year title after bringing the underfunded A’s to 97 wins and a postseason berth.

The Hank Aaron hitting awards went to Christian Yelich (OF, MIL) and J.D. Martinez (OF/DH, BOS) in the NL and AL, respectively. Both of their incredible seasons at the plate will be talked about later in the article, but it is worth initially noting that both chased the Triple Crown title in the last few weeks of the season.

Reliever of the Year awards went to Josh Hader (RP, MIL) in the NL and Edwin Diaz (RP, SEA) in the AL. Hader posted an ERA of 2.43 and WHIP of .81 alongside an incredible strikeout rate of 46.7%. Diaz accumulated 124 strikeouts and 57 saves in 65 games with an ERA of just 1.96.

GOLD GLOVE

While new quantitative measures can accurately assist in highlighting a player’s defensive skill without bias, it hasn’t completely changed the way the Gold Glove recipients are chosen. This year, the awards were picked through a combination of votes from managers and coaches, alongside the MLB’s official sabermetric index.

There are a few points from this year’s awards that deserve mentioning. In the National League, Zack Greinke (SP, ARI) won his fifth straight Gold Glove and Nolan Arenado (3B, COL) took home his sixth award in six seasons. Yadier Molina (C, STL) won the ninth of his career, making him the third-winningest catcher in MLB history, and he continued his status as the most awarded current player. Ender Inciarte (CF, ATL) won his third straight award at the position and tied with Harrison Bader (CF, STL) for the highest outs above average in baseball (21).

In the American League, Dallas Keuchel (SP, HOU) received his fourth award in five years, and Alex Gordon (LF, KCR) won his sixth. Andrelton Simmons (SS, LAA) won the fourth glove of his career after saving seven more runs than any other shortstop in the AL this season. Matt Chapman (3B, OAK) took home his first Gold Glove after leading all of the MLB in runs saved (29), and Mookie Betts (RF, BOS) earned his third award after an MVP-level season at the plate, on the bases, and in the outfield.

Some honorable mentions include Kolten Wong (2B, STL), who was robbed of an award by DJ LeMahieu (2B, COL) after Wong saved more defensive runs than any player in the MLB while playing over 200 fewer innings than LeMahieu. Adam Duvall (LF, CIN) and Lorenzo Cain (CF, MIL) also had clear awards taken away from them by random winner Corey Dickerson (LF, PIT) and Ender Inciarte, respectively.

Alongside the golden award is a Platinum Glove, given to the best defensive player of each league regardless of position. High School teammates and third basemen Matt Chapman (OAK) and Nolan Arenado (COL) each deservingly took home a platinum glove after exceptional seasons acting as key parts of late-season comebacks and playoff attempts.

SILVER SLUGGER

In the National League, Paul Goldschmidt (1B, ARI) won his fourth award, making him the most awarded first basemen in MLB history. Javier Baez (2B, CHC) and Trevor Story (SS, COL) won their first awards after having incredible seasons; Baez lead the NL in RBIs and set career highs in AVG, OBP, slugging, HRs, 2Bs, 3Bs, and SBs, and Story became the only SS in history to achieve the 40 2Bs, 30 HRs, and 25 SBs mark. Nolan Arenado (3B, COL) became the third-winningest 3B in MLB history after bringing in the fourth award of his career, and fellow teammate German Marquez (SP, COL) received the award after presenting an impressive pitcher slash line of .300/.300/.350.

Over in the American League, Jose Altuve (2B, HOU) had another great season at the plate, leading him to win his fifth Silver Slugger, and making himself tie with Robinson Cano (2B, SEA) for the second most awards at the position in MLB history. Jose Ramirez (3B, CLE) took home his second straight award after producing an MVP caliber season and Mike Trout (CF, LAA) received his sixth in seven seasons, making him the most awarded of any current MLB player. J.D. Martinez (OF/DH, BOS) won his second and third award at DH and outfield, and also became the first player in MLB history to win multiple awards in one season.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

While often overlooked, the selection for the Manager of the Year award had interesting results in both the American and National League. The finalists for the award were Brian Snitker (ATL), Craig Counsell (MIL), and Bud Black (COL) in the National League; and Bob Melvin (OAK), Kevin Cash (TB), and Alex Cora (BOS) in the American.

In the National League, Brian Snitker won the honor after bringing the Braves back to the playoffs during what should have been a rebuilding year. Great performances from players like Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Mike Foltynewicz gave Snitker the opportunity to lead his Braves past the rest of the rather weak NL East and into the playoffs, where they lost to the Dodgers in the NLDS.

While the Braves did exceed pre-season expectations, the MOY recipient stood out as a surprise win. Counsell and Black both lead their teams far past pre-season expectations as well, Counsell leading his team to 96 wins and Black leading his to a wildcard berth and win over the Cubs. An expectation was for Counsell to win the award after bringing together an alright team, getting late-season acquisitions, pushing late, going 9-1 in the last 10 games, beating the Cubs in the division, and posting the best record in the National League.

Honorable mentions in the NL go to Mike Shildt (STL) and Joe Maddon (CHC), who came fourth and fifth in the voting, respectively. Shildt showed an MLB-best 19-9 record through his first 28 games with the Cardinals and ended the season with a 40-28 record. Maddon led his Cubs to have the best record in the NL for most of the season, however, choked in the last few games and took back-to-back losses to the Brewers and Rockies to lose the division and then the wildcard game to end their expectedly promising postseason.

The American League had a close race between Alex Cora and Bob Melvin, however, it was Melvin that ultimately took the award home. In his rookie season, Cora’s Red Sox won 108 games, put up the third-best record since the league moved to 162 games in 1961, and became the fifth manager in MLB history to win the World Series in his rookie year.

Despite Cora’s accomplishments, Melvin won by quite a margin, and the reasoning is because of the quality of the team. The Red Sox were an absolutely stacked team this season, with a lineup full of good power and contact hitters, as well as an incredible rotation and bullpen. The A’s, on the other hand, were projected to win 72 games, had the lowest opening day payroll in baseball (⅓ of the Red Sox’s), but still came out to win 97 games (22 more than in 2017) and make the playoffs. The lineup 1-4 turned out to be extremely strong, the rotation and bullpen solidified mid-season, and the A’s rode their heat down to the very end. Melvin won his third MOY award (‘07 ARI, ‘12 OAK) and joined an incredible group of seven managers to win it that many times. Despite being outside of the close race, Kevin Cash of the Rays deserves tremendous applause for a surprise 90-win season and also exceeding expectations, but it was Melvin who shined the most in this respect.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Unlike the MOY, the Rookie of the Year award winner was very predictable at the beginning of the year. In the NL, the finalists were Juan Soto (LF, WSH), Ronald Acuña Jr. (LF, ATL), and Walker Buehler (SP, LAD). As for the AL, Shohei Ohtani (SP/DH/OF, LAA), Miguel Andujar (3B, NYY), and Gleyber Torres (2B, NYY) finished the season as the top three ranked rookies.

Ronald Acuña Jr. received 27/30 of the first place votes to take the award in the National League. The 20-year old Venezuelan outfielder showed incredible current and future talent this season after making his MLB debut on April 25th, 2018. Acuña ended the 2017 AAA season batting .344 with a .940 OPS, leading him to be an important player to watch in spring training, where he slashed .432/.519/.727. After called up, Acuña played promisingly, but it was the second half of the season that really solidified his place in this ROY race. Post-All Star game, Acuña had an OBP of .403, slugged .625, and hit 11 home runs in August, five of which came in consecutive games.

Finalists Soto and Buehler also had great rookie seasons; 19-year old Soto produced similar numbers to Acuna and Buehler pitched phenomenally throughout the regular and postseasons. Soto stood as a potential pick for the award the whole season, hitting .292/.406/.517 with 22 homers, but Acuña’s incredibly dominant second half really offset any chance for Soto to take the honor home. Buehler also had an incredible season with a WHIP of .96 and an ERA of 2.62. Only three other starting pitchers in the National League had a sub-1 WHIP and a sub-3 ERA, and they are the three finalists for the Cy Young award.

Honorable mention goes to Jack Flaherty (SP, STL), who finished fifth in the voting, is a finalist in the players-choice awards and boasted the fourth-highest rookie K/9 in MLB history (10.85).

Pitching and hitting star Shohei Ohtani of the Angels took home the award after getting 25/30 of the first place votes and producing an impressive season at the plate and on the mound. During his years in the Japan league, Ohtani posted a record of 42-15, an ERA of 2.52, an OBP of .358, and an OPS of .859. Once declaring his intent to move to the Major Leagues, he quickly became the most exciting offseason target of 2017, with rumors of him joining almost every ballclub and arguments regarding which of the two leagues would be more applicable to his multi-talented nature. Ultimately, Ohtani decided to join Mike Trout and the rest of the Angels of Anaheim.

Unfortunately, injury kept Ohtani from displaying his ability to pitch for most of the season, only making 10 starts (51.2 IP), where he accumulated an ERA of 3.31, WHIP of 1.16, 63 strikeouts, and an opponent average of .203. While these numbers are impressive, it was Ohtani’s ability to produce on offense that kept his relevancy alive during the remainder of the season. Over the whole year, Ohtani slashed .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers in just 326 at-bats (over 100 less than Acuña). After being diagnosed with a torn UCL, Ohtani took time away from the mound and continued his season in DH and OF roles, but it was on September 4th that the 24-year-old was told he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery in the offseason. The next day, he went 4-4, hit two homers, knocked in three RBIs, and scored four times. During August and September, Ohtani had an OPS of 1.042, 36 RBIs, and 13 homers. Since the end of the season, Ohtani has undergone TJ surgery and will hopefully be back on the mound soon, but in the meantime, this star will continue to slug at the plate.

Other finalists Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres also put together good rookie seasons to solidify a strong Yankees infield. 23-year-old Andujar hit 27 homers, 92 RBIs, 47 doubles, and had an OPS of .855, while 21-year-old Torres hit 24 homers and had an OBP of .328. Additionally, an honorable mention goes to the Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Joey Wendle, who finally made it to the league at age 28, where he produced a great second half with a post-All-Star game slash line of .321/.381/.486.

CY YOUNG

The Cy Young award is given to the top pitcher in each league, and this year the competition was very split. On the last day of the season, it was easy to predict the winner of the award in the National League between finalists Jacob deGrom (NYM), Max Scherzer (WSH), and Aaron Nola (PHI). On the contrary, the American League was harder to predict between finalists Corey Kluber (CLE), Justin Verlander (HOU), and Blake Snell (TB).

Jacob deGrom was the clear choice for the Cy Young award, posting an ERA of 1.7, WHIP of .91, while only giving up 10 homers and striking out 269. Unfortunately, deGrom is on one of the worst teams in the NL and deGrom’s run support per start is the second lowest of any starting pitcher in the MLB, contributing to his skewed record of 10-9. With an incredible quality start percentage of 88, deGrom proved to be the most dominant pitcher in the whole MLB. In just the NL, his ERA is 67 points fewer than anyone, his opponent OPS is 50 points fewer, and his WHIP is tied for lowest. Most impressively, however, is the fact that deGrom was charged with nine “tough losses”, meaning that all of his losses this season came when he pitched a quality start. Regardless, deGrom’s dominance shined through the Mets lineup, as he gathered 29 of the 30 first-place votes and won by a landslide.

Coming in second is Nationals starter Max Scherzer, who pitched another fantastic season and put himself in contention to win his fourth Cy Young award. Despite leading the league in strikeouts and WHIP, Scherzer was unable to beat out deGrom for the award, most likely due to the fact he gave up 21 more ERs, 13 more home runs, and had an opponent OPS that was 60 points higher. In third place is Aaron Nola with an ERA of 2.37 and a WHIP of .97.

While still posting a great season, it was his lack of Cy Young-caliber dominance that kept him back from being in true contention of winning this award, as his K/9 and K/BB both ranked at 8th in the NL (9.59, 3.86). An honorable mention goes to Kyle Freeland (COL), who helped lead his hometown Rockies to a playoff spot, and had the third fewest RBIs allowed (57), and seventh fewest HRs allowed, despite playing in Coors Field.

It was more difficult to foresee the American League Cy Young award winner, and, in retrospect, it is still arguable. Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays won the award with 17 first-place votes and just 15 points over one-time Cy Young recipient Justin Verlander and two-time winner Corey Kluber. In just his third season, Snell accumulated an MLB-best 21 wins alongside a 1.89 ERA and a .97 WHIP. The 25-year-old allowed just 38 RBIs, an opponent AVG of .178 and OPS of .554 over his 180.2 innings, leading the American League in all of the above.

What is most interesting is his comparison to the pitchers around him. Snell’s defense-independent ERA ranks fifth in the American League, his K/9 is fourth, his K/BB is 15th, his pitches per at-bat is second highest, and his quality start percentage is 12th at only 61. Verlander on the other hand, lead the AL in strikeouts (300), quality start percentage (76), WHIP (.9), opponent OBP (.242), came second in K/9 (12.2), and third in ERA (2.52). The race was extremely close between these two, and either could have walked away with a well-deserved award. Kluber also had a good season, and so did Chris Sale (SP, BOS) and Gerrit Cole (SP, HOU) who followed in the voting, however, it was Trevor Bauer (SP, CLE) that deserves honorable recognition. The overlooked 27-year-old ace posted the second highest AL ERA (2.21), third highest K/9 (11.34), highest defense-independent ERA (2.49), and obtained most tough losses (5).

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

The MLB Most Valuable Player award differs from the other big 4 sports as it is awarded to a player in both the American and National league. This season, the National League MVP award came down to the last month, whereas the American League recipient was more clear for the entirety of the year. Finalists in the National League were Javier Baez (2B, CHC), Nolan Arenado (3B, COL), and Christian Yelich (OF, MIL). As for the American League, Mike Trout (CF, LAA), Mookie Betts (RF, BOS), and Jose Ramirez (3B, CLE).

During the last two months of the season, Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich exploded to lead his team to a division title, became the top player in the MLB, which, in turn, lead him to take home 29 of the 30 first-place votes to win the MVP award by a landslide. The 26-year-old produced a slash line of .326/.402/.598, mostly due to an incredible second half where he obtained an astonishing OBP of .449 and OPS of 1.219. The star has an incredible ability to be lethal at the plate and get on base when it counted. Interestingly, Yelich had an OPS of 1.886 with runners on first and third, alongside an OPS of 1.429 with the bases loaded, contributing to his ability to bring in 110 RBIs (2nd in NL). Additionally, he led the league total bases (343) and in runs created per 27 outs at 8.72, a full run more than any other player in the NL. Yelich really chased down the Triple Crown towards the end of the season but fell short by just two homers and one RBI, which was not out of reach considering his streak in the last 10 games of the season.

Javier Baez followed in the voting after knocking in 111 RBIs, smashing 34 homers, as well as by hitting nine triples and 40 doubles. Despite this, Baez produced an underwhelming OBP of .326 (45th in the NL), came fifth for most strikeouts (167), last in BB/Ks (.17), and only created 105.3 runs (26 runs less than Yelich). Nolan Arenado capped another great season, leading the NL in homers, tying with Yelich for second-most RBIs (110), and posting the second highest OPS (.935). An honorable mention goes to Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom whose season on the mound earned him fifth place in the MVP voting. Yelich beat out all of these players by a ton in both the regular season and in the voting, and it will be interesting to see how he will lead next year during his second season with the Brewers.

Mookie Betts took home the American League MVP award after collecting 28 of the 30 first-place votes with an MLB best batting average of .346, WAR of 10.9, runs scored at 129, slugging percentage of .640, runs created at 141.8, and second most extra base hits with 84 (AL best). Additionally, Betts came second in the AL for OPS (1.078), OBP (.438), and tied for doubles (47). In addition to his incredible season at the plate, Betts also proved to be a defensive stop in the outfield, posting an MLB second best defensive WAR (1.8) for RF and earning his third gold glove award in five seasons. Betts put together a terrific season and was a clear choice for best player in the AL for most of the year. Fortunately for Betts, he played on a team that allowed for high run production and scoring due to the quality of the lineup, which leads to some skewing in RBIs and runs.

Runner-up Mike Trout plays for the 80-82 Angels but posted incredible numbers regardless, leading him to his sixth time coming first or second in the voting in seven MLB seasons. He led the AL in OBP (.460), OPS (1.088), runs created per 27 outs (11.19), walks per at-bat (.201), and came second in WAR (10.2) while hitting 39 homers with a .312 average. Jose Ramirez came third in the voting after hitting the ball hard (39 HRs, 105 RBIs), walking a lot, and limiting strikeouts (MLB-best BB/K of 1.33), however, it was the fourth place runner-up J.D. Martinez (OF/DH, BOS) that put together a season worth discussing. Like Yelich, Martinez made a run for the Triple Crown in the few weeks of the season, slashing .330/.402/1.031 with an MLB-best 130 RBIs and MLB-second best 43 HRs.

The 2018 MLB year saw several young players moving up into large roles to help their clubs exceed preseason expectations and make regular and postseason pushes. From Opening Day to Game 5 of the World Series, this season has welcomed new stars and strong teams to the future of baseball excellence. It will be nothing short of entertaining to see how these same players and clubs can perform next year, as well as who will be on next year’s list of single-season elites.

-Edds

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