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Clubhouse Leaders: MLB Awards Edition 2022 – First Quarter

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We’re back! Welcome, loyal readers, to the first Clubhouse Leaders of the 2022 MLB season!

As per usual, we will be checking in regularly on the major league baseball season in an effort to determine who is in the driver’s seat with regard to the year’s major individual awards. And ALSO per usual, we fully anticipate that at least some of the contenders we mention this week will have fallen by the wayside come season’s end, just as we expect that one or two players come out of nowhere to seize the top spot going forward.

Every team has crossed the 40-game threshhold, meaning that we are ready to evaluate their award-worthiness at the one-quarter mark. Again, one strong stretch does not an award-winner make – we’ll have to wait and see how things play out going forward.

But for now? Let’s take some swings.

This is Clubhouse Leaders.

(All statistics current through May 22.)

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AL Rookie of the Year

Jeremy Pena, Houston Astros

How stoked am I to be able to put Pena’s name here? The Astros shortstop (and former University of Maine Black Bear AND member of my fantasy baseball team) has gotten off to a strong start to his career, leading all American League rookies in homers, RBI and slugging percentage while playing solid defense – all of it with the added pressure of replacing franchise icon Carlos Correa. He’s an easy pick, though there are some more celebrated prospects out there. Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez could break out, while Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. – a preseason favorite for this award – could bounce back from a tough start. Plus, there’s still time for guys like Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman to make some noise as a later call-up. Still, to this point in the season, I don’t know how you pick anyone other than Pena.

(Also noteworthy: Rodriguez; Witt Jr.; Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians; Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins; Reid Detmers, Los Angeles Angels)

NL Rookie of the Year

Luis Gonzalez, San Francisco Giants

This category might be the toughest of the bunch this time out, if only because there’s no one prospect that’s really blowing my hair back. That said, Gonzalez has had a heck of a start to his season – his .324 batting average leads all NL rookies; he’s also second in slugging percentage. He hasn’t played quite as much as some of his fellows, but he’s played enough. Chicago’s Seiya Suzuki was an initial favorite here, but after a hot start, he’s come back down to Earth. He’s still got plenty of time to continue adjusting to MLB after coming over from Japan. On the pitching side, San Diego’s MacKenzie Gore is probably the best bet – 3-1, 2.06 ERA, just over a strikeout an inning – with Miami reliever Cody Poteet hot on his heels. It doesn’t seem like a great crop just yet, but all it takes is one of these guys getting hot.

(Also noteworthy: Suzuki; Gore; Poteet; Connor Overton, Cincinnati Reds; Juan Yepez, St. Louis Cardinals)

AL Cy Young Award

Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

Man, it’s hard to believe that we’re talking about this. Sure, Verlander won the CYA in 2019, but he threw just once in 2020 and not at all last season. That’s a LONG absence. And yet here we are – Verlander is 6-1 in eight starts and leading the AL in both ERA and WHIP. Despite being 39 years old, he is the clear frontrunner for the Cy Young at the one-quarter mark. However, there are a handful of guys nipping at his heels. Chicago’s Michael Kopech’s excellence is belied by his 1-1 record – he’s second to Verlander in both ERA and WHIP and leading the AL in batting average against. Toronto’s Alek Manoah started very strong; even with a little regression, he’s still sporting a 5-1 record to go with a 1.62 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. All in all, there are five AL starters with sub-2 ERAs at the moment. Still, I’m not going with anyone other than Verlander here.

(Also noteworthy: Kopech; Manoah; Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees; Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays; Nestor Cortes, New York Yankees)

NL Cy Young Award

Pablo Lopez, Miami Marlins

Look, I’m just as surprised as you are. As someone who doesn’t follow the NL as closely – and who doesn’t follow the Marlins AT ALL – it’s kind of a shock to see a starter putting up these kind of numbers. But hey – he’s 4-1, with a league-leading ERA of 1.57 and second in WHIP, all while striking out a batter an inning. Joe Musgrove of the Padres warrants some consideration – 5-0, third in ERA and WHIP – as well as the reigning Cy Young winner, Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes, whose 1-2 record belies the sheer excellence of his other numbers – he’s second in strikeouts and leads the NL in WHIP. There are a couple of other excellent candidates as well. It remains to be seen if Lopez can continue to perform at this level – particularly for a team that seems destined to fall off – but as far as the first 40ish games are concerned, he’s our guy.

(Also noteworthy: Musgrove; Burnes; Miles Mikolas, St. Louis Cardinals; Eric Lauer, Milwaukee Brewers; Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers)

AL MVP

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

As long as Mike Trout keeps doing Mike Trout things and doesn’t get hurt, I’m going to feel safe picking him as a strong MVP candidate. And he has definitely been doing Mike Trout things – he’s tied for second in homers, in the top 10 for both RBI and batting average, and leads the league in OBP, slugging percentage and runs scored. It is a vintage season for Trout; if he keeps it up, he’s got a real shot at his fourth MVP. But he’s not alone. New York’s Aaron Judge has had a monster start to the season, leading the AL in homers and sitting third in RBI, while his runs scored and slugging percentage numbers are second only to Trout. They’re the top two, but there’s plenty to like after them – Chicago’s Tim Anderson leads the league in batting average and remains one of the game’s most exciting players. Boston’s got a couple of guys with surprisingly robust offensive seasons percolating. And of course, there’s reigning MVP and two-way phenomenon Shohei Ohtani, who is having a bit of regression with the bat but still slaying on the mound. For now, it’s Trout, but don’t be surprised if one or more of these other guys makes a move.

(Also noteworthy: Judge; Anderson; Ohtani; Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox; Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Guardians)

NL MVP

Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

Machado is putting it all together thus far in San Diego, off to an absolutely blazing start. The easiest way to show the worthiness of his candidacy? He’s leading the league in all three slash categories – batting average, OBP and slugging – while playing excellent defense. He’s got eight homers and seven steals (without being caught); he’s also second in the league in runs scored. It’s a staggeringly hot start. There are some other guys having pretty good starts as well, though. Colorado’s C.J. Cron is the NL’s home run leader and sits second in RBI, all while sporting the third-best batting average and tying Machado in slugging. Paul Goldschmidt’s power is a bit down, but he’s second to Machado in both batting average and OBP. Miami second baseman Jazz Chisholm is having an excellent start as well. Still, it’s tough to go against someone who has been so clearly across-the-board dominant as Machado – particularly when he’s playing a demanding position like third base. Whether he can keep it up remains to be seen, but here at the one-quarter mark, this definitely feels like it is Machado’s award to lose.

(Also noteworthy: Cron; Goldschmidt; Chisholm; Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals; Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 May 2022 06:20

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