The first half of the MLB season has seen a lot of action. While plenty of players had positive first halves, only a select few can be called top contenders for the league’s most prestigious awards.
Some races are more intense than others. The American League MVP and NL Rookie of the Year Awards have very clear frontrunners. On the other hand, very little separates Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger and his Milwaukee Brewers counterpart, Christian Yelich, in the NL MVP race.
With less than half of the MLB season left to be played, these are the current leaders in the race for the league’s top awards.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Jake Odorizzi, starting pitcher, Minnesota Twins
After seemingly breaking out in 2015 and 2016, Odorizzi struggled in 2017 and 2018. Over those two seasons, he posted a 4.33 ERA and 1.297 WHIP. This season has been a different story. Odorizzi sports a 3.15 ERA, 1.118 WHIP, and a 9.7 K/9 rate. That’s had a huge hand in the success that the Twins have enjoyed through the first half of 2019. Beyond simply being a top Comeback Player of the Year candidate, Odorizzi has been one of the AL’s top pitchers this year.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Josh Donaldson, third baseman, Atlanta Braves
The injury bug hit Donaldson hard over the 2017 and 2018 seasons as he played in only 165 combined games. The 2019 season has been a revival. Donaldson is hitting .250/.361/.494 with 18 home runs for a first-place Atlanta team. Donaldson entered the year as a 33-year-old who had suffered through two injury plagued seasons. It wasn’t unreasonable to wonder how much he had left in the tank. Donaldson has done a lot to answer those concerns in 2019.
Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year: Brad Hand, closer, Cleveland Indians
While the first half of the season has had some bumps, the Indians are in playoff contention at the break. Their closer has been a big reason why. Hand’s 23 saves are second to Aroldis Chapman in the American League. But while Chapman has three blown saves, Hand has only one. When we weigh that with the rest of his numbers (2.17 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 55 strikeouts in 37.1 innings), it’s safe to say that Hand has been the AL’s top reliever through the first half.
Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year: Kirby Yates, closer, San Diego Padres
We move from San Diego’s old closer to its current one. Yates leads all of MLB with 30 saves. While that comes from having ample save opportunities, Yates has been very efficient as well, blowing only one save. He also has a 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 60 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched. Without Yates, this would be a heck of a contest between the likes of Kenley Jansen, Will Smith, Felipe Vazquez, and Josh Hader. With Yates in the mix, though, those guys are just in a very competitive race for second.
AL Manager of the Year: Aaron Boone, New York Yankees
If you had told us at the beginning of the year that the Twins would be within 1.5 games of the Yankees at the break, the Manager of the Year would have easily been Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli. This year hasn’t unfolded as we expected, though. New York has dealt with significant injuries to guys like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and many others. The Yankees have thrived despite that and hold the AL’s top record at the break. While you can’t go wrong with Baldelli, Boone gets the edge here.
NL Manager of the Year: Dave Martinez, Washington Nationals
Two months into the season, the Nats were one of MLB’s worst teams. At that time, Martinez was very much on the hot seat. Since the final week of May, it’s been a much different story for Washington. The Nationals aren’t simply in playoff contention. They occupy the NL’s top Wild Card spot at the break. That doesn’t happen if a clubhouse is in turmoil. Keeping a struggling veteran team from breaking down is a sign of a good manager. Martinez fielded plenty of blame when things weren’t going well. Now that they are, it’s only fair to give him some credit.
AL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Lowe, second baseman, Tampa Bay Rays
While Lowe didn’t come into his rookie season with the fanfare of someone like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Eloy Jimenez, he’s been incredibly effective. He’s hitting .276/.339/.523. The .276 average leads qualified rookies in the AL. Lowe also has 16 home runs, which ties Jimenez for the AL Rookie lead. Also, the fact that he’s on a team currently in playoff position only helps Lowe’s standing. Lowe will definitely have his work cut out in the second half. Through the first half, though, he’s clearly the frontrunner.
NL Rookie of the Year: Pete Alonso, first baseman, New York Mets
It’s not that the NL doesn’t have quality rookies. Fernando Tatis Jr., Alex Riley, Mike Soroka, and Chris Paddack (just to name a few) are all doing wonderful things. As great as those guys have been, though, this award is clearly Alonso’s to lose. He’s hitting .280/.372/.634, which is impressive enough. Alonso’s 30 home runs also put the rookie home run records of Cody Bellinger (National League) and Aaron Judge (MLB) well within his sights. Alonso’s isn’t just this season’s top rookie. He’s having one of the greatest rookie seasons ever.
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, starting pitcher, Houston Astros
Cole’s 3.09 ERA is fifth in the AL, while his 1.02 WHIP is fourth. Where Cole really moves to the top is that he leads the AL in strikeouts (170), quality starts (15), and quality start percentage (79%). What could potentially hurt Cole’s chances here is that his primary competition is Justin Verlander. Teammates do have a knack for splitting votes, after all. That doesn’t change the fact that at the break, Cole has been the best pitcher in the American League.
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, starting pitcher, Washington Nationals
Scherzer has a 2.30 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Both numbers rank third in the NL, while Dodgers ace Hyun-Jun Ryu leads both categories. While Ryu is a solid candidate, Scherzer has two advantages. One is that he leads the NL in quality starts with 16 (Ryu has 14). Scherzer’s big edge is strikeouts. Ryu has 99. Scherzer has 181, which leads the NL by a considerable amount (Stephen Strasburg and Jacob deGrom are tied for second at 138). Only an historic year from deGrom kept Scherzer from winning his third straight NL Cy Young Award in 2018. Thus far in 2019, there’s nobody standing in his way.
AL MVP: Mike Trout, center fielder, Los Angeles Angels
For anyone who thinks that playing for a losing team will doom Trout’s chances, know that the Halos look to be better than they were in 2016 (74-88) when he won the MVP. More importantly, there isn’t an AL player whose overall offensive stats are close to Trout’s (.301/.453/.646). That doesn’t even factor in what he does in the field. Fair or not, playing for a team that doesn’t look to be a playoff contender will hurt Trout’s MVP chances. His first half performance has easily been strong enough to overcome it, though.
NL MVP: Cody Bellinger, right fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
With respects to Alonso and Josh Bell, this is really a race between Bellinger (.336/.432/.692, 30 home runs) and Yelich (.329/.433/.707 31 home runs). There is very little separating the two. Being on a better team certainly doesn’t hurt Bellinger. While Yelich’s Brewers are in contention, the Dodgers are hands down the best team in the NL. That will only help Bellinger in the eyes of the voters. Additionally, while both are top-tier defenders, Bellinger has played great defense in both the outfield and at first base. Either man could distance themselves from the other in the second half. At the break, though, Bellinger is the NL MVP.