Yesterday I made my picks for all of the team-based accomplishments. Division winners, pennant winners, World Series winner. Today I will attempt to predict the individual honors, which is much harder. There are a lot fewer possibilities for division winners than there are for MVP. There’s basically a one-in-five chance that my division winner pick ends up being correct. Even for the World Series winner, there are just 30 potential options, compared to the hundreds of eligible players for each individual award.
This explanation sets up two things for me. It either illustrates just how impressive it is when I get one of these predictions right. Or it gives me an excuse when I inevitably get them wrong. With that being said, let me give you my picks for the MLB awards this season.
AL MVP: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
Lost in the incredible season that Shohei Ohtani had last year was the fact that Guerrero had a season that would have earned him the MVP award in almost any other year (and certainly in the other conference last season). He went from a young player with a ton of potential to a superstar that can dominate the game for the next decade. Guerrero’s hitting was a tool that was always expected to translate to the major league but it was the arrival of his power (48 home runs) that finally vaulted him into the upper echelon of MLBers. Making the playoffs doesn’t have as much impact on baseball’s MVP award as it does in other sports but team success could be what gives Guerrero the edge this year. He might have earned the honor last year had the Blue Jays snuck into the postseason. If Toronto is one of the best teams in the MLB this year (like I expect them to be) and Vlad is once again the best player on that team, then the MVP should finally be his.
NL MVP: Juan Soto, Nationals
Despite only being 23 years old, it feels wrong that Soto has not won this award already. He is the best pure batter in the sport and may have been so for a few years. He is not necessarily going to wow anyone with home runs or RBIs (the latter due to a really bad lineup surrounding him in Washington) but his prowess at the dish is second to none. He constantly is at or near the top in just about every batting rate statistic (average, on-base percentage, etc.) each season. If he adds enough pop to get casual fans to finally recognize his greatness, there should be no pushback on him being named the most valuable player this year. The only knock on his candidacy you could possibly make is that his team stinks. But like I already mentioned, there is no precedent for team success being necessary to win this award. Both winners last year failed to make the playoffs. Mike Trout has won a handful of these awards and has never even won a playoff game. Even if the Nationals are bad this season (which they probably will be) that will not be enough to deny Soto what is rightfully his: an MVP award.
AL Cy Young: Lucas Giolito, White Sox
It’s always tough to predict the Cy Young award because there are so many factors that play into it. There is luck (both good and bad), injuries, team performance, and actual pitching ability. It is never a guarantee that all of those things will go right for a player, but the stars usually align for at least one pitcher. Giolito could be that guy this year. The AL Cy Young race is pretty wide open after Gerrit Cole (who has his own litany of issues that could prevent him from winning the award) so Giolito has a chance to take a big step forward. This isn’t some sort of out-of-the-blue prediction, though, Giolito has finished sixth, seventh, and 11th in the past three Cy Young awards. It is clear that the talent is there, he just needs to jump over a few guys to get the trophy for himself. I predict that will happen due to a few players ahead of him stumbling combined with a leap that he makes. Giolito is only 27 years old, which is very young for a pitcher and is only getting better. Add in the fact that he could end up pitching on the best team in the AL and he has a real shot at winning the Cy Young.
NL Cy Young: Walker Buehler, Dodgers
Buehler is in a similar position as Giolito when it comes to this award, it is just that he has been a lot closer. He finished fourth in the voting for the honor last year but was a legitimate candidate that earned a lot of votes. This year is looking like it will be Buehler’s year, though, He is now the unquestioned ace of the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sure, Clayton Kershaw is still around but he is bigger than Buehler in name only (and maybe not for long). This year is set up for Buehler to take that spot atop the Dodgers’ rotation and run with it, possibly all the way to a Cy Young award. His combination of durability (led the league in games started last year) and talent (2.47 ERA last season) makes a perfect resume to take home the honor of best pitcher in the NL.
AL Rookie of the Year: Julio Rodriguez, Mariners
The race for AL Rookie of the Year could end up being one for the ages. Bobby Witt Jr., Spencer Torkelson, and Adley Rutschman all figure to be major contenders plus whatever other prospects rise up the ranks this season. But I’m not going with any of those guys because my pick is Rodriguez. Just like the other players I mentioned, there is no doubt that Rodriguez has the talent to be worthy of this honor. What it will eventually come down to is which rookie struggles the least when they do hit rough patches. I believe in Rodrigeuz’s ability to play through those slumps and struggles and eventually be named AL Rookie of the Year.
NL Rookie of the Year: Seiya Suzuki, Cubs
Suzuki presents a unique case for this award because technically he is an MLB rookie, but he certainly does not lack experience. He has played, and crushed, professionally in Japan for years so his transition to the majors shouldn’t be as drastic as others. He will have a chance to be a huge part of the Cubs; offense this year and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up being the best player on the team in his first year. It isn’t as fun to choose a 27-year-old, former international pro as Rookie of the Year over some of the wunderkinds that will also be in the conversation, but he is the favorite for a reason. He has a leg up on the rest of the competition (along with a couple of years) which makes NL Rookie of the Year Suzuki’s award to lose.
AL Manager of the Year: Charlie Montoyo, Blue Jays
There are a few philosophies when it comes to deciding Manager of the Year, but the most common one is to give it to the manager of the best team. That is what I am electing to do here with my selection of Montoyo. He has already done a very good job in Toronto by getting them to the playoffs in the shortened 2020 season and navigating through a ton of adversity in the 2021 season to nearly get them there again. If Toronto finally breaks through and is one of the top teams in the AL this year, it will be hard to give anyone else this award.
NL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter, Mets
Another Manager of the Year voting philosophy is to give it to the manager that overcame the most to achieve the level of success that he did. That is how I’m predicting Showalter will win this award. The Mets clearly have the talent to win a lot of games this year but there is no guarantee that the talent will actually be available and able to play. Showalter will probably have to manage a ton of different injuries to star players (like he is already having to handle with Jacob DeGrom) and whatever else happens over the course of a professional baseball season. He also has a chance to earn votes as the “best success in first year with a new team” candidate, which would give him a lot of votes. Showalter is obviously a very good manager; he has won the AL Manager of the Year award three times. The Mets are betting on that version of Showalter leading the team this year, and so am I.