By: Scott RossPublished: November 9, 2022

Judge vs. Ohtani Headlines Awards Season Races

With the Houston Astros crowned World Series champs, it’s time to turn our attentions to the other postseason: Awards Season. The most interesting race has to be the one for American League MVP, between Aaron Judge, who had an historically great season, and reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani, who was better this year than he was last year and was inexplicably left off the list of 2022 AL Cy Young nominees. Curiously, there are a number of awards where the nominees are separated by rather slim margins according to Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and yet their outcomes seem preordained. And it wouldn’t be Awards Season without an outrageous snub, which weirdly has already happened in the National League Manager of the Year race—just the laziest piece of work there by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

AL MVP Award nominees
Yordan Alvarez, DH/LF, Houston Astros, 6.8 WAR
Aaron Judge, CF/RF, New York Yankees, 10.6 WAR
Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH, California Angels, 9.6 WAR

With all due respect to Yordan Alvarez, my dude has zero chance of winning this award. He’s primarily a DH, when he does play in the field he’s below-average, and he played 22 fewer games than the other two guys—he’s just not in the same class as Judge and Ohtani. He is a legitimately great hitter with a bright future ahead of him, and quite possibly an MVP to go along with his 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Award and 2022 World Series ring. But for now, he’s an also-ran.

As for the headliners on this ballot, there is no wrong answer. Judge put up a season for the ages, leading the league in runs (133), homers (62), RBI (131), walks (111), on-base percentage (.425), slugging percentage (.686), OPS (of course--1.111), adjusted OPS (211), total bases (391*) and wins above replacement (10.6). And yet…

We all know WAR has its weaknesses and limitations and no one ever thought we’d need to put a value on a guy like Ohtani. Baseball Reference’s WAR has Judge at 10.6 and Ohtani at 9.6, which, as WAR goes, is not all that conclusive a difference, given the unique factors involved. Like, I doubt Baseball Reference founder Sean Forman would bet his life on Judge having been more valuable than Ohtani this past season. Imagine you’re a general manager with Aaron Judge on your roster and I, a rival GM, call to offer you a trade: one of the five best hitters in the American League and one of the five best pitchers in the American League for Judge—are you really gonna turn down that offer? Ohtani the DH would easily fetch $20 million as a free agent, Ohtani the pitcher would easily fetch $30 million, but there’s no chance Judge gets $50 million. Judge will win and it won’t be a baseball crime, but I’d trade Judge for Ohtani and Ohtani every time. That said, Judge was 2-for-2 against Ohtani in 2022 with a single and a homer.

*Judge’s 2022 is a glaring reminder of just how hard it is to amass 400 total bases in a season. It’s only been done 29 times and was last accomplished in 2001. It’s, like, really really hard.

NL MVP Award nominees
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, St Louis Cardinals, 7.8 WAR
Nolan Arenado, 3B, St Louis Cardinals, 7.9 WAR
Manny Machado, 3B, San Diego Padres, 6.8 WAR

As with the slate of AL finalists, the NL features an outstanding player who’s not really in the conversation. Manny Machado just had may be the best year of his career and all but punched his ticket for Cooperstown, but he was a cut below Arenado and Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt was clearly a better hitter this season than his teammate across the diamond, but he played sub-par defense at first base, while Arenado was great at the dish and played elite defense at third, winning his tenth straight Gold Glove. WAR gives Arenado the edge by the slimmest of margins, 7.9 to 7.8, so this largely comes down to how good you think WAR is at putting a value on defense. At the end of the day, I’ll take the 3B who can rake and pick it over the stone-gloved slugging first basemen.

AL Cy Young Award nominees
Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago White Sox, 6.4 WAR
Alek Manoah, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays, 5.9 WAR
Justin Verlander, RHP, Houston Astros, 5.9 WAR

Why Ohtani didn’t make it onto this ballot is a puzzle, but no matter, Verlander is gonna run away with this one. He led the league in wins (18), winning percentage (.818), earned run average (1.75), adjusted ERA (220), and walks + hits per nine (.829). Yeah, he was only fourth in WAR at 5.9, but Cease was tops in the league at just 6.4, hardly enough to be meaningful. Verlander’s transformation since joining the Astros in 2017 when he was 34 has been incredible. In his last three and a half seasons with Detroit his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 3.18 and his ERA was 3.70, since then he’s been at 7.24 SO/BB with a 2.26 ERA. How does he do it?

NL Cy Young Award nominees
Sandy Alcantara, RHP, Miami Marlins, 8 WAR
Max Fried, LHP, Atlanta Braves, 5.9 WAR
Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers, 4.9 WAR

On a per game basis, Fried was maybe the best of the three, but Alcantara pitched 43 more innings and posted a 2.28 ERA despite being backed by a below average defense that converted just .694 percent of batted balls into outs. That 2.2 WAR advantage is also hard to ignore.

AL Rookie of the Year nominees
Steven Kwan, LF, Cleveland Guardians, 5.5 WAR
Julio Rodriguez CF, Mariners, 6.2 WAR
Adley Rutschman, C, Baltimore Orioles, 5.2 WAR

Three really great candidates, each of whom would’ve been runaway winners in a lot of seasons. In fact, these three nominees along with the Atlanta Braves’ Michael Harris II represent the first time ever that four rookie position players topped 5 WAR and there’s been as many as three only twice, in 1987 and 1964. J-Rod has to be the pick here. Not only was he just the third rookie ever to steal 25 bases and hit 25 home runs, he’s the only one to do it in his first season in The Show. And at 21, Rodriguez is three years younger than both Kwan and Rutschman, which has to count for something.

NL Rookie of the Year nominees
Brendan Donovan, U, St Louis Cardinals, 4.1 WAR
Michael Harris II, CF, Atlanta Braves, 5.3 WAR
Spencer Strider, RHP, Atlanta Braves, 3.7 WAR

Harris, like Rodriguez, possesses an impressive combination of power and speed—if the Braves hadn’t kept him down on the farm until late May, he quite possibly would’ve joined Rodriguez in the 25-25 club. Given his an 80-point edge in OPS, his stealing 20 bases in 22 attempts and his top-shelf defense in centerfield, he’s gotta be the pick.

AL Manager of the Year nominees
Terry Francona, Cleveland Guardians, 92-70, 1st in AL Central
Brandon Hyde, Baltimore Orioles, 83-79, 4th in AL East
Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners, 90-72, 2nd in AL West

I will ride or die with Terry Francona, but the laurels have to go to Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, who in his fourth season guided the Birds to 83 wins a year after winning just 52, and did so not with a huge infusion of expensive free agents, but rather the sixth-youngest roster in all of baseball and an MLB-low payroll of $43,645,896, or about $312,000 more than Max Scherzer made in 2022.

NL Manager of the Year nominees
Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers, 111-51, 1st in NL West
Buck Showalter, New York Mets, 101-51, T-1st in NL East
Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves, 101-51, T-1st in NL East

Showalter had the Mets in first with a 10.5 game lead and had to win the last three games of the season just to salvage a tie for first. I don’t begrudge the Dodgers their riches or how they spend them, but Dave Roberts taking a squad that won 106 games in 2021, added Freddie Freeman and won 111 games in 2022, hardly seems an earth-shaking achievement. Snitker at least helmed the 2021 World Champion Braves to a 13-win improvement despite losing team leader Freddie Freeman and having young studs Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies miss significant time due to injuries. But fuck those dudes, Philadelphia Phillies skipper Rob Thompson should be the winner. Guy took over a team that was 22-29 and went 65-46 (a 95-win pace) the rest of the way to make the playoffs.

Major League Baseball will announce the winners of the Rookie of the Year Awards on November 14, the Manager of the Year Awards on November 15, the Cy Young Award on November 16, and the MVP Awards on November 17.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference

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