The first All-Star voting results came out this week, and we’ve got just about a month to go before the game’s brightest stars shine at the Midsummer Classic, so it’s a great time to focus on the individual achievements of the season to date.
Mike Trout, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Shohei Ohtani have dominated the headlines, but which other players are delivering notable performances? Who has the best shot at a Cy Young Award? Which rookies are making the most of their debut seasons? Where does Bryce Harper fall in the MVP ballot? Our experts weigh in.
Who are your AL and NL MVPs to this point?
Sam Miller: In the AL, it’s obviously Mike Trout, who is on pace to post the second-best WAR in history. He’s having the best offensive season of his career while doing things in the field and on the bases that he hasn’t done since he was a rookie. I might well have picked Mookie Betts a few weeks ago, before Betts hit the disabled list, but with the difference in playing time, it’s an easy call.
Funny thing: The top-five hitter WARs in baseball are currently in the AL. Lorenzo Cain and Freddie Freeman are at the top in the NL, and again, I’ll give more credence to the offensive standout — Freeman, who leads the NL in OPS+ — over the small-sample fielding metrics. There’s also a fair case for a pitcher: Max Scherzer or even Jacob deGrom.
Bradford Doolittle: In the AL, I’d go with Trout. There’s no reason not to. While the MVP award isn’t necessarily aligned with the “best player” question, if it’s close, I prefer to go with the guy with the longer track record. To me, that is validation of the one-season performance. But Jose Ramirez is close enough to make it interesting, as is Betts if he ever gets back on the field.
In the NL, it’s Scherzer, who is on pace to have a 3-WAR edge on every other player in the league. If he comes back to the pack, and we get to the position-player cluster in that league, Freddie Freeman is my guy.
David Schoenfield: Trout is the easy call in the AL, despite amazing seasons from Betts and Ramirez. In the NL … Scherzer. It’s a wide-open race among positions players, which could open the door for the player who has a big edge in WAR over any of the hitters.
Who are your AL and NL Cy Young picks at this point?
Miller: Justin Verlander in the AL and Scherzer in the NL. I don’t believe that a pitcher’s record matters at all for this question, yet I do wonder if I’m not being subtly influenced in Scherzer’s direction because I see the bold ink 10-2 on his player page and the sad, brutally unjust 4-1 on deGrom’s. Officially, I’m picking Scherzer because of the innings edge and a strikeout rate (38 percent) that would be an all-time record for starting pitchers.
Schoenfield: Justin Verlander over Corey Kluber, Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole in what is shaping up as an epic Cy Young race. Scherzer over deGrom.
Who is one player you feel has made the leap to superstar status this season?
Miller: The word implies not just one remarkable performance but repeat remarkable performances, so for me it’s guys who aren’t dramatically outperforming their earlier levels but are proving them to be real: Ramirez, Severino, deGrom. I already had Andrelton Simmons at that level, but thanks to his batting, it’s less idiosyncratic to say so.
Doolittle: I don’t know about leaps, but I think Betts has played at such an elite level long enough that with the season he’s having (pre-injury), it puts him in the game’s top tier. I would have had Betts close to that before the season, but now his status is clear. There aren’t many players I’d pick over him if we were drafting from scratch.
Schoenfield: Severino is showing that last season — when he finished third in Cy Young voting — was no fluke. Doing it again and arguably doing it with even more dominant results, he’s a proven ace and one of the top starters in the majors.
Miller: Look, here’s the thing: Throw in Juan Soto, and one of these guys is going to have 90 career WAR, one is going to have 45, one is going to have 22. Those totals don’t look remotely close, which implies that there’s a clear and obvious answer, like asking in 2018 who was better: Adrian Beltre or Aramis Ramirez or Paul Konerko. But in 1998, nobody could distinguish between the futures of those three guys! At this moment, anybody who is sure of who will get the 90 WAR and who will get the 22 is lying to you or themselves. Anyway, I’ll take Acuna Jr.
Schoenfield: This is like asking if you prefer Monet or Van Gogh. I’ll go with Torres over Acuna Jr. or Shohei Ohtani, mostly because of the injury concerns with Ohtani, the positional advantage and Ohtani has a little less swing-and-miss in his game than Acuna.
Doolittle: Acuna Jr. His tools are just ridiculous, and he has held his own from a results standpoint at age 19.
At the time of his injury, where would Ohtani have been on your AL MVP ballot?
Miller: Maybe the 10th spot? He was phenomenal, but it wasn’t as though he was a full-time pitcher and a full-time hitter. Before the injury, he was on pace to throw 130 innings and bat 350 times, and he wouldn’t have played the field at all, so we’re talking 65 percent of a full-time pitcher and about half of a DH. He was really, really good, but the multiplier effect of a two-way player is somewhat limited by reality.
Doolittle: He would not have been on it. Let’s not get carried away. He has been terrific. But he was handled very carefully by the Angels, and reasonably so. However, that limited his playing time, even if you consider both his hitting and his pitching. By WAR, he was barely on pace to crack the top 50.
Schoenfield: I don’t think he would have cracked the top 10. Having success playing both ways has certainly been the most impressive achievement of the season, but impressive isn’t the same as valuable, and Ohtani hadn’t hit enough or pitched enough to rank among the very best in the AL.
Where would you have Bryce Harper on your NL MVP Ballot so far?
Miller: He wouldn’t make my ballot. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he has such a strong second half that he could win it, but right now he isn’t much better than the 2016 version of himself, and that guy wasn’t named on any ballots.
Doolittle: Not on it. His season has been utterly baffling. I realize that he has been pitched around and has struggled with that in the Nationals’ injury-shortened lineup. But he isn’t even in the top three on his team by WAR. There is no MVP vote in that equation.
Schoenfield: Yes, he leads the NL in home runs and ranks in the top 10 in RBIs, but the rest of the game isn’t there. He’s hitting .228, which drags down his OBP despite all the walks, and the defensive metrics aren’t good. He isn’t a top-10 player right now.
Miller: Markakis. It has been only four years since Kemp was (almost) this good. It has been a decade for Markakis!
Doolittle: Markakis. Kemp has rediscovered a level of play he had not been at in a few years, but at least he had been there. Markakis, at age 34, is having arguably his best season — or at least his best since he was 23.
Schoenfield: Kemp. I was surprised he even made the team, let alone became one of the best hitters in the league so far. Remember, the Dodgers traded for him not because they wanted him but because they traded a bunch of expiring contracts for the two remaining years on Kemp’s deal, meaning they could get under the luxury tax for 2018.
Looking at the All-Star ballot, which position in each league makes for the toughest starter decision?
Miller: In the NL, Scooter Gennett and Ozzie Albies are each deserving at second. In the AL, nobody is deserving at catcher. Gary Sanchez is easily the most interesting catcher in the league, but his OPS is 153 points lower than his career average. The league leader by WAR is Max Stassi, a part-timer who isn’t even on the ballot. Tied with him is Austin Romine, Sanchez’s backup. The Marlins could make this a lot easier by trading MLB leader J.T. Realmuto to an AL team before the break.
Doolittle: Who the heck deserves to be the AL catcher? The WAR leader (at Fangraphs) is Stassi, and he has been Houston’s starting catcher in only 30 games. Only three guys — James McCann, Wilson Ramos and Sanchez — have at least 200 plate appearances. I guess it’s Ramos?
Schoenfield: AL shortstop is loaded, though it seems Francisco Lindor has slightly separated himself from Simmons and Manny Machado, in part because Simmons landed on the DL and Lindor holds the defensive edge over Machado. But how about NL third base? The best hitter has been not Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant but Eugenio Suarez, who leads the NL in RBIs entering the week, even though he missed 17 games.