Have to admit: With the BBWAA awards ballots due this week, the state of baseball in 2019 -- or, more specifically, the baseballs themselves -- is making it difficult to evaluate players because of the record-breaking proliferation of home runs wreaking havoc across the sport.
Heading into the season’s final weekend, there were 56 players with at least 30 homers, with another six sitting on 29 (Brett Gardner had 28 through Friday).
Last year? A total of 27 players reached the 30-homer plateau.
So yeah, a 107% increase in guys reaching that milestone represents a legitimate epidemic, and no doubt prompted commissioner Rob Manfred to tell Forbes last week that he’d look into changing the baseball for 2020. That’s easier said than done, of course, and we should all be bracing for the unforeseen consequences.
In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the upcoming October fireworks and look forward to the BBWAA awards shows during the second week of November.
As a public service, here’s how I see the awards being handed out, and for the sake of accountability, both my preseason picks and midseason do-overs are included for comparison (in other words, to see how badly I messed up in some cases).
Also, because the BBWAA ballots rotate among members from year to year and I’m not officially voting for an award this time, you don’t have to worry about my wisdom potentially ruining the chances of your favorites (should you have a difference of opinion). These picks exist for entertainment purposes only and won’t be counted in the final BBWAA tally.
On to the show …
Most Valuable Player
ALEX BREGMAN, Astros
(Preseason, Aaron Judge. First half, DJ LeMahieu)
Every year, it’s the same debate. Most Valuable Player or Most Outstanding? And aren’t those two really the same things anyway? Mike Trout always wins the WAR crown, and we already recognize him as the planet’s best player, but the 2019 MVP trophy goes to Bregman, the relentless engine of an Astros team well-positioned to win the World Series for the second time in three years. Bregman not only has the offensive production -- 1.015 OPS, 41 homers, 120 runs, 111 RBIs -- but also moved over to be the everyday shortstop in Carlos Correa’s absence, one of many key injuries to the Astros this season, and had played 154 games through Friday. We still think LeMahieu wasn’t a bad pick, either, as the Yankees’ lone stabilizing force -- at three positions and the leadoff spot -- during their injury-riddled campaign.
JUSTIN VERLANDER, Astros
(Preseason, Chris Sale. First half, Verlander)
This race between Verlander and fellow Astro Gerrit Cole is almost too close to call. But going on the slimmest of margins, we’re sticking with Verlander, who had a lower WHIP (0.81 to 0.89), fewer BB/9 (1.74 to 2.00), more innings (217.0 to 207.1) and lower opponents batting average (.171 to .185) heading into the final weekend (both will make starts). Cole had a negligible edge in ERA (2.52 to 2.53) and slightly better K/9 (13.72 to 11.94). But don’t forget to factor in Verlander’s Sept. 1 no-hitter in Toronto, the third of his career. This last weekend figures to be a playoff tune-up for both pitchers, so we don’t expect much of a vote-swinging performance either way. Verlander should earn his second Cy.
Manager of the Year
AARON BOONE, Yankees
(Preseason, Rocco Baldelli. First half, Boone)
Tough to argue with that Baldelli pick. The last time the Twins won 100 games was 1965 — 102, to be exact — in a season that ended with a seven-game loss to the Dodgers in the World Series. But the nod here goes to Boone, who again performed admirably in all three phases of a manager’s game — the dugout, clubhouse and media room. Boone convinced everyone, his players included, that the Yankees would be fine despite suffering injuries on what seemed like a daily basis. It’s not easy to hold things together in New York when the back pages are screaming catastrophe, and Boone also showed a knack for coaxing the pinstriped newbies to be productive as well.
Rookie of the Year
YORDAN ALVAREZ, Astros
(Preseason, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. First half, Brandon Lowe)
Somehow the Astros deemed Alvarez unfit to join their major league roster until June 9, well beyond the service-time excuse that franchises use to delay even the brightest young stars. But since his arrival, the 22-year-old has been a wrecking ball, destroying the opposition as well as any competition for the ROY. Heading into the final weekend, Alvarez was hitting .321 with 27 homers, 78 RBIs and a 1.092 OPS through 84 games.
Most Valuable Player
CODY BELLINGER, Dodgers
(Preseason, Nolan Arenado. First half, Bellinger)
Bellinger didn’t have the strongest finish, slipping off his own supernatural pace during the past month or so. But he was an unstoppable force when the Dodgers were building their early NL West lead and drives the offensive bus in L.A. with 47 homers, 120 runs, 115 RBIs and a 1.033 OPS over 154 games (through Friday). Christian Yelich came close to defending last year’s MVP crown (44 homers, 97 RBIs) and yet the Brewers went 13-3 to clinch a wild card berth after he was lost for the year with a fractured kneecap. Anthony Rendon also built a convincing case with the Nationals’ resurgence (1.011 OPS, 116 runs, 124 RBIs) to round out the top three.
JACOB deGROM, Mets
(Preseason, Max Scherzer. First half, Hyun-Jin Ryu)
And to think that deGrom, last year’s Cy Young Award winner, fresh off a $138 million extension, had a 3.98 ERA through his first nine starts. That’s what made this year’s Cy repeat even more remarkable. DeGrom has a 1.89 ERA since May 22, a stretch of 23 starts, and lowered his NL-best WHIP to 0.97. His 255 strikeouts also led the NL, and his 2.05 ERA since 2018 makes deGrom one of only four pitchers since 1969 with a sub-2.10 ERA over a two-year span that includes at least 60 starts, joining Dwight Gooden (2.00), Greg Maddux (2.01) and Clayton Kershaw, who has done it twice (1.80, 1.96). This award was considered a tight race until about Aug. 17, when deGrom began a streak of eight straight seven-inning starts, with a 1.77 ERA and 66 strikeouts (eight walks) in those 56 innings. Case closed.
Manager of the Year
CRAIG COUNSELL, Brewers
(Preseason, Dave Martinez. First half, Brian Snitker)
Counsell gets our vote after finishing second last year to the Braves’ Snitker, who piloted a surprising (and young) club to a 90-win season and the NL East title. Snitker again is a solid candidate, securing back-to-back division crowns, as is Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, who helped lead an overlooked (and undermanned?) roster to 90-plus wins while trying to hold off the Brewers for the NL Central title on the final weekend. But we’ll go with Counsell, the only manager who somehow turned a single-digit run differential (plus-5) into a postseason berth. The next lowest playoff qualifier was the Cardinals at plus-95. Counsell also kept the Brewers on course after losing Yelich to a fractured kneecap on Sept. 10.
Rookie of the Year
PETE ALONSO, Mets
(Preseason, Alonso. First half, Alonso)
Nailed this one from the jump. Alonso quickly proved that last year’s minor-league domination was no fluke, and even with Brodie Van Wagenen’s unwavering support, there’s no way the Mets could have imagined him breaking Aaron Judge’s rookie homer record. Alonso also should finish somewhere in the lower half of the MVP ballot’s top 10 spots, with a .941 OPS, 101 runs, and 119 RBIs (entering Saturday) while skipping only one game the entire season and defying his critics with solid glovework at first base.