MLB Awards winners at season’s halfway point

By Michael Dixon
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018 MLB season half over, there are a number of players whose achievements deserve recognition. Still, some stand out above the rest. As we head into the second half of the season, these guys are the leading candidates for MLB’s top awards.

Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is the game’s best player and is having arguably his best season. But Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts is also thriving. Which one of these supremely talented players is our American Leahue MVP? The National League, meanwhile, is a much more open race, at least from what we’ve seen so far.

New York’s two teams have produced strikingly different results. But the Yankees and Mets have one thing in common — each has an overwhelming ace pitcher. While the game has become dominated by a number of overpowering relievers, both the National and American Leagues have one guy who stands out above the rest.

Of course, there’s a lot of baseball left to be played. So, these players may not end up as the winners in November.

That said, they are MLB’s main award winners through the first half of the 2018 MLB season.

Stats accurate through play on Monday, July 2

NL Rookie of the Year: Juan Soto, right fielder, Washington Nationals

While he technically has a home run before he debuted, Soto wasn’t even called up until late-May. He  wasted no time getting going and has continued to impress ever since. He’s hitting .313/.429/.570 with eight home runs and has really helped eased some of the concerns about what the Nats will look like if Bryce Harper leaves after the 2018 season. We anticipate a good race through the remainder of the year. But for our money, Soto enters the second half with a slight edge over his fellow senior circuit rookies.

AL Rookie of the Year: Gleyber Torres, second baseman, New York Yankees

Gleyber Torres

The Yankees are producing young stars like nobody’s business. In 2017, it was Aaron Judge who was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year. A returning Shohei Ohtani could have a lot to say about this in the second half, but the first-half race really boils down to Torres and teammate Miguel Andujar. It’s a tight race between the Yankee teammates, but we’re giving the edge to Torres. He’s hitting .296/.353/.560 with 15 home runs. It’s more than made up for the inconsistent from guys like Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton.

NL Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves

This really boils down to Snitker and Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell. Milwaukee has definitely flown under the radar in 2018, but was an 86-76 team in 2017 and had an active offseason, acquiring Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Atlanta, meanwhile, hasn’t made the playoffs or even sniffed a winning season since 2013. Yet, the Braves turn into the halfway point leading the National League East and actually sporting the NL’s top record. Snitker deserves praise for overseeing such a drastic turnaround.

AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics

Entering spring training, did anyone out there think that the A’s would be 46-39 at this time of the year? How about during spring training, when A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton both underwent Tommy John Surgery? This was not exactly a team known for its pitching to begin with. Losing two pitchers is quite significant. But Melvin and the A’s have weathered the storm quite well. It’s not easy to give a manager this award if his team isn’t in playoff position. But we can make an exception here.

NL Hank Aaron Award: Nolan Arenado, third baseman, Colorado Rockies

Nolan Arenado is obviously the Rockies' best player.

Here’s a hypothetical. You’re down one run two outs and two on and can pick any hitter in the National League to take the at-bat. Who are you taking? There are plenty of good options there, but one would be hard pressed to look beyond Arenado. He’s hitting .310/.397/.597 with 21 home runs. Arenado is also on pace to strike out only 124 times, which is an incredibly modest total for a power hitter in 2018. He’s been the National League’s top bat.

AL Hank Aaron Award: Mookie Betts, right fielder, Boston Red Sox

Betts is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. But it’s his bat that deserves praising here. He’s done pretty much everything to help the Boston offense in 2018. Betts is hitting .337/.430/.679, has hit 21 home runs and recorded 43 extra-base hits. As if that wasn’t enough, Betts has also done damage on the bases, stealing 15 bases and getting caught only twice. You can’t ask for much more from a hitter than that.

NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, starting pitcher , New York Mets

If you still can’t get past the unimpressive win-loss record, we don’t know what to tell you. deGrom has been simply brilliant. He’s posted a 1.84 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and has struck out 11.2 hitters per nine innings. Now, to be fair, we have to say that Washington’s Max Scherzer has comparable — and in some cases, better — numbers. But the New York offense has struggled so much that deGrom knows he has no margin for error. Despite that, he’s been consistently brilliant.

AL Cy Young: Luis Severino, starting pitcher, New York Yankees

Yankees pitcher Luis Severino

We don’t envy the voters in a race where legit arguments could be made for (at least) Severino, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole. But at the halfway point, we’re giving Severino the edge. In 118.1 innings, he’s struck out 138 batters. He’s also posted a 1.98 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Those are great numbers anywhere, especially in the American League and even more so for a guy making half of his starts at Yankee Stadium. That’s all enough to give Severino an edge in a crowded field.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Kemp, left fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers

From 2013-2017, Kemp hit .273/.320/.470, averaging only 22 home runs a year. Even that home run total was buoyed by a 35 home run season in 2016. When the Dodgers acquired Kemp in the offseason, it seemed like it was just setting up a later trade. After all, what good would he do on a probable World Series contender with a deep outfield? But Kemp has really carried the Dodger offense for much of the year, hitting .323/.359/.565 with 15 home runs. He’s been invaluable to the team and the senior circuit’s best comeback story.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Tyler Skaggs, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Angels

Once a highly-touted pitcher, Skaggs entered the season with a 4.59 ERA and 1.35 WHIP with a 7.7 K/9 rate. He’s been a different pitcher in 2018. Skaggs has posted a 2.64 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and a 9.8 K/9 rate. That’s helped the Angels stay above .500 and at least in position to contend if one of the presumptive Wild Card teams hits a rough patch. Regardless of what the Halos end up doing, it’s awfully hard to overlook the comeback season being enjoyed by Skaggs.

Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year: Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Were it not for the brilliant seasons being enjoyed by both deGrom and Scherzer, we’d make an argument for Hader as the NL Cy Young Award winner. He’s been that good. Hader has thrived in both the set-up and closer roles, locking down seven saves and 13 holds. As anyone who’s faced him will attest, Hader has been unhittable. He has a 1.30 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and a staggering 17.5 K/9 rate. The Brewers have had a great year and it’s hard to say that anyone on the team has been as valuable as Hader.

Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year: Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners

The ninth inning hasn’t been an issue for Seattle. Diaz has locked down 32 of 35 saves, and done so in dominant fashion for the Mariners. He’s posted a 2.45 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and has struck out 71 hitters in 44 innings (for a 14.5 K/9 rate). The run differential would suggest that Seattle has over performed. We can see that as a sign that regression is coming. But it’s much easier to outperform your run differential when you’re winning close games. That happens when you’re good in the late innings. Thanks to Diaz, the Mariners are.

NL MVP: Freddie Freeman, first baseman, Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta offense has been one of baseball’s best in 2018. Freeman has by no means been the only reason for that, but he has been a catalyst. The Braves’ first baseman has hit .311/.401/.537 with 16 home runs. Additionally, there’s real way to measure just how much Freeman’s veteran leadership has guided this team. With guys like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta is a young team. Freeman has actually been through postseason battles. All of that considered makes Freeman our first-half NL MVP.

AL MVP: Mike Trout, center fielder, Los Angeles Angels

As great as Trout has been in his career, Trout is having arguably his best season. He has career highs in OBP (.456), slugging (.633) and naturally, OPS (1.089). With 24 home runs, Trout is also on pace to break his career-high home run total of 41. As if that didn’t make Trout enough of an offensive weapon, he’s also stolen 13 bags. On top of all of that, he plays Gold Glove caliber defense at a premium position. You can never go wrong giving an MVP vote to Trout. The 2018 season has been absolutely no different.