MLB Awards Watch: An epic MVP race, Cy Young picks and more

Ross handicaps the MVP and Cy Young races (1:56)

David Ross give his top candidates for the MVP and Cy Young Awards at the midseason point. (1:56)

Midway through the MLB season, the races for the 2019 awards are starting to take shape. Who is positioned to be at the center of this year's MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year battles? ESPN's David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle use Doolittle's Awards Index formula and their own takes to break down who has the lead right now, whom to watch out for and what will happen in the second half.

Jump to ... MVP races | Cy Young battles | Top rookies


Awards Index leaders

1. Cody Bellinger

2. Christian Yelich

3. Josh Bell

4. Max Muncy

5. Freddie Freeman

Hypothetical odds: Yelich +150, Bellinger +175, Nolan Arenado +800, Ronald Acuna Jr. +800, Field +350

How close is this race? The race is close, though I suspect Bellinger, as the shiny new thing, would win fairly easily in a right-now vote. Breakout stars always have a little extra allure and Bellinger has a sizable lead in both of the two leading flavors of WAR. That lead has been gradually shrinking, however, as Bellinger's numbers have returned to the land of the rational. Yelich, meanwhile, just keeps on slugging along with remarkable consistency. -- Bradford Doolittle

Why the numbers favor ... Bellinger. There really isn't much difference in the terrific batting lines of Bellinger and Yelich, which actually favors the former because of park effects. Bellinger's Dodger Stadium OPS thus far is 1.260, while he's 1.030 on the road. Dominant either way. Yelich on the other hand is at 1.606 at Miller Park -- an absurd figure -- but his road OPS (.886) is almost half of that. -- Doolittle

But the narrative belongs to ... It feels like a dead heat between Yelich and Bellinger, but I might give the slightest edge in narrative to Yelich for three reasons: (1) There's the sense that he has carried the Brewers -- or had to carry them -- a little more than Bellinger has had to carry the loaded Dodgers' offense; (2) He has a chance to lead the league in both home runs and stolen bases (the last player to do that was Chuck Klein in 1932), and while that alone isn't a reason to give a guy the MVP award, it could be a tiebreaker element in a close vote; (3) It's difficult to repeat as MVP, but Yelich has managed to raise his game to another level, which solidifies that he has become a superstar, not just a guy having a career season. -- Schoenfield

A dark horse to watch: There's a sizable gap between Yelich and Bellinger and everyone else, but let's throw some money on Anthony Rendon. He's on pace for 114 RBIs and 119 runs -- even though he missed a chunk of time. It will take the Nationals making a playoff run for him to have a chance to win, but his two-way value is something voters will love, along with that potential narrative of getting the Nationals back to the playoffs without Bryce Harper (and after the team got off to a slow start). -- Schoenfield

The bottom line: Bellinger raced out to the early lead and is maintaining a nice, front-running pace. Yelich's performance has been a bit more even, despite some road struggles. Over the past year, Yelich has hit .344/.432/.709 with 53 homers and 136 RBIs. If he keeps up that pace, and the Brewers continue to slug it out with the Cubs in the NL Central, Yelich has a great shot of passing Bellinger during the second half. -- Doolittle

With the Dodgers likely rolling to the NL West title, Bellinger may not be playing any big games in September. Yelich will, which gives him the opportunity for some late-season clutch hits that could put him over the top. -- Schoenfield


Awards Index leaders

1. Mike Trout

2. Alex Bregman

3. Jorge Polanco

4. Xander Bogaerts

5. Mookie Betts

Hypothetical odds: Trout -450, Francisco Lindor +700, Bregman +800, Michael Brantley +1,000, Field +750

How close is this race? It's not. Mike Trout is threatening to lap the field. The cluster behind him is tight but it also full of players -- Polanco, Bogaerts, DJ LeMahieu -- who are more likely to regress in the wrong direction than maintain their current pace. The most likely candidates to make a run at Trout are Bregman and Betts, so this may end up looking a lot like last season's chase. -- Doolittle

Why the numbers favor ... Trout. The current pace for his counting stats is 44 homers, 107 RBIs, 125 runs and 142 walks. The percentages -- .294/.462/.630 -- are pretty much right in the neighborhood of what he has done the past three years. So in addition to shining in the value metrics, his standard performance record is dominated by black ink. We can muse about what an actual career season would look like for Trout, but maybe he won't have that one unfathomable campaign that stands out. Maybe they are all career seasons. -- Doolittle

But the narrative belongs to ... Nobody yet. Bregman will get some extra credit given all the injuries in the Houston lineup. Bogaerts' great season has kind of flown under the radar. Polanco has received some attention. Yankees fans will try to argue for LeMahieu. The only narrative going is that Trout again is the best player in the league and his team is unlikely to make the postseason. -- Schoenfield

A dark horse to watch: The A's are quietly hanging around .500, about what they were doing last season when they surged in the second half. Matt Chapman was a beast in that run -- .309/.371/.591 -- and finished seventh in the MVP voting. He's arguably the best defensive player in the majors and if he has another monster second half (he's already top 10 in WAR), he could challenge Trout if the A's make another surprising playoff run.. -- Schoenfield

The bottom line: Building a narrative case appears to be the only avenue for an AL player to overtake Trout, who once again is putting up a historic season for an also-ran. But even when you fold in context, you have to consider this: Trout leads the AL in win probability added. -- Doolittle

It took a Herculean season from Mookie Betts last year to wrestle MVP honors away from Trout. Nobody is having that kind of season in the AL so far. -- Schoenfield

NL Cy Young

Awards Index leaders

1. Hyun-Jin Ryu

2. Zack Greinke

3. Max Scherzer

4. Kirby Yates

5. Josh Hader

Hypothetical odds: Ryu -180, Scherzer +220, Clayton Kershaw +1,200, Walker Buehler +1,200, Greinke +1,500, Luis Castillo +1,500, Field +1,200

How close is this race? This race is unsettled. The value metrics favor Scherzer, the traditional numbers lean toward Ryu, while Greinke is a blend of them both. This also could be a season when an elite reliever such as Hader, pitching in a pennant race, could sneak into the mix. -- Doolittle

Why the numbers favor ... Scherzer's WAR numbers far outstrip Ryu's, but you have to dig pretty deep into the contextual dirt to understand why. Ryu is close enough that his dominant traditional numbers would likely win over the majority of voters. He's on pace for a 20-2 record with a 1.26 ERA. Plus his strikeout and walk paces are surreal: 186 strikeouts against 11 walks. And he's doing all of this for the league's best team. -- Doolittle

But the narrative belongs to ... While voters have adapted in recent years to rely heavily on WAR for position players, they're less inclined to do so for pitchers (Aaron Nola, for example, had a higher Baseball-Reference WAR last year than Jacob deGrom). Ryu's 1.26 ERA and 17-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio are too insane to ignore. He'd be a unanimous winner at the moment. -- Schoenfield

A dark horse to watch: I like the idea of throwing a reliever into the mix. It would take a perfect storm of events, most notably Ryu, Scherzer and Greinke all struggling in the second half or getting injured, but Will Smith, Yates and Hader rank first, second and fourth in the NL in win probability added (Ryu is third). Yates is 26-for-26 in save opportunities with an ERA barely above 1.00. At the least, he should be in the discussion. -- Schoenfield

The bottom line: If Ryu keeps doing this, he'll win the NL Cy Young Award and garner some support for NL MVP. But he can't keep doing this, can he? If and when Ryu hits a rough patch, or even a normal one, this race will break wide-open. -- Doolittle

Ryu has yet to allow more than two runs in a game, which seems impossible to continue. He also hasn't qualified for an ERA title since 2013. Even if he stays healthy, the Dodgers will likely back off his innings as they pull away in the division. I think we'll end up with a race. -- Schoenfield

AL Cy Young

Awards Index leaders

1. Lucas Giolito

2. Justin Verlander

3. Mike Minor

4. Jake Odorizzi

5. Charlie Morton

Hypothetical odds: Giolito +250, Verlander +275, Gerrit Cole +300, Chris Sale +500, Odorizzi +600, Morton +1,200, Jose Berrios +1,200, Field +1,500

How close is this race? You can barely slip a sheet of paper between the five guys listed above. Beyond these front-runners, you also have some pitchers with strong FanGraphs WAR totals -- Matthew Boyd, Berrios, Lance Lynn, Frankie Montas and Sale. All of these players have to be considered to be in the running. The most proven gun in the holster is clearly Verlander, who has been doing this for a long time, and rates as the favorite to emerge in a close race. -- Doolittle

Why the numbers favor ... Giolito. With a double-digit K/9 rate and the league's best home run rate, Giolito has the AL's top FIP, which underscores his league-leading 2.22 ERA. His 10 wins also top the circuit, while his 95 strikeouts rank 11th. The homer rate is, of course, subject to regression, and keeping the ball in the park will be the key for Giolito to maintain his breakout season. -- Doolittle

But the narrative belongs to ... Giolito. He has been great and his riches-to-rags-to-riches story as a former top prospect who struggled mightily in the majors only to suddenly transform into an elite starter is one of the feel-good stories of the season. -- Schoenfield

A dark horse to watch: Trevor Bauer is 5-6 with a 3.41 ERA and has struggled with his control, but he's also capable of going on a big run and is likely to lead the league in innings pitched (unless Verlander does). -- Schoenfield

The bottom line: We really don't know much about how this race is going to play out. A potential young gun (Giolito) versus old gun (Verlander) would be a great narrative, but we've got a long way to go in this category. And don't discount the narrative aspects of the Twins' magical season in boosting the cases of Berrios and Odorizzi. -- Doolittle

Verlander is on pace to allow 44 home runs and yet his ERA is 2.59. Nobody has ever allowed 40-plus home runs and had an ERA under 3.00. He's the favorite given his track record, but it would seem he can't keep giving up that many home runs and keep that ERA so low. -- Schoenfield

NL Rookie of the Year

Awards Index leaders

1. Pete Alonso

2. Mike Soroka

3. Austin Riley

4. Bryan Reynolds

5. Fernando Tatis Jr.

How close is this race? Alonso is the clear front-runner, but he has nothing wrapped up at the head of what looks like a stellar rookie class in the Senior Circuit. But if the guy hits 50 homers playing for a team in the Big Apple, who is going to out-point him? -- Doolittle

The bottom line: Soroka, Riley, Tatis -- all could catch Alonso with big second halves, especially if Big Pete goes on a strikeout binge that is timed with a homer drought. At this point, it looks like it's Alonso's race to lose. -- Doolittle

If Tatis hadn't missed 34 games, it would be a great debate as Tatis' defense and baserunning make him a more valuable all-around player than Alonso. But if Alonso hits 50 home runs, it's going to be difficult to deny him, no matter Tatis' final numbers or Soroka's ERA. -- Schoenfield

AL Rookie of the Year

Awards Index leaders

1. Brandon Lowe

2. John Means

3. Adrian Sampson

4. Spencer Turnbull

5. Ty Buttrey

How close is this race? This race is a little sleepy at the moment. Most of that is because the leading performers are all mostly anonymous. It's also because the players we hyped before the season -- Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez -- have not exactly exploded out of the gate. Lowe is having a terrific season for an AL playoff contender, so, for now, he looks like the early leader. -- Doolittle

The bottom line: This race will get a lot sexier if and when Vlady and Eloy take off. They've been friends since their days growing up in the Dominican Republic, and if these two take off in the weeks to come, it'll be a great story. Jimenez could end up with the narrative edge if he helps keep the upstart White Sox on the fringes of wild-card contention. -- Doolittle

Lowe is thriving despite a 34% strikeout rate (thank you, .387 BABIP). If the strikeouts become too much to overcome, look for Vladdy in the second half. After that 13-game homerless streak to begin his career, he has hit .278/.328/.513 with seven home runs in 30 games. -- Schoenfield