Two months in, who are the Cy Young and MVP contenders?

One of my favorite things to do with THT Forecasts is to look at how projected end-of-the-year leaders change as real numbers begin to pile up, and projections both evolve and start to play a smaller role. Two months into the season, I thought it would be fun to look at which players are on-pace to capture the MVP and Cy Young awards, using the model I developed in The Hardball Times Annual last year.

Let’s start with the National League, because the races there are looking more clear cut at the moment. Remember that the model is on a 1,000 point scale (though players can and do go over that threshold on occasion), and it is exponential, meaning that small differences can sometimes be magnified, as they often are in actual award voting.

1. Albert Pujols, 434 points
2. Ryan Braun, 97
3. Ryan Howard, 90

What else did you expect? With THT Forecasts expecting the Cardinals to easily make the playoffs and Pujols to challenge for the Triple Crown, King Albert currently projects to win his third MVP in a row. I do wonder if we’ll get a Michael Jordan type situation with Pujols, where the writers look to vote for anyone but him, but until someone steps up and puts up big numbers for a playoff-bound competitor Pujols once again is the runaway favorite.

NL Cy Young
1. Roy Halladay, 304
2. Ubaldo Jimenez, 181
3. Tim Lincecum, 166

Note that the Cy Young calculations do not quite use the full version of my model, as Oliver does not project shutouts. Still, I don’t think any of the results here would materially change, except to extend Halladay’s lead even further (and give Jimenez some further separation from Lincecum). Halladay and Jimenez actually project to end the year with very similar numbers, except we think that Halladay will end up pitching around 35 extra innings. Writers love workhorses, and that’s where Halladay pulls away in this race.

(Also, I just checked, and note that if we did include shutouts, even without projecting any more for the rest of the season, Halladay would make his mark felt in the MVP race, finishing second with 107 points.)

1. Miguel Cabrera, 324
2. Evan Longoria, 158
3. Justin Morneau, 144

Behold the power of the RBI. We think Cabrera will lead the league by a good bit, and even with the Tigers currently projected to miss the playoffs, that should be enough to win him the MVP. Actually, that’s not fair. In the National League, we expect Pujols to challenge for all three Triple Crown categories; in the American League, we expect Cabrera to practically run away with two of them (home runs and RBI), and to challenge for a third (batting average). If he wins the Triple Crown, it’s hard to imagine Cabrera not winning the MVP.

Still, provided that the Tigers don’t make the playoffs, I still think that Longoria or Morneau will be better bets at season’s end. Cabrera probably won’t win the Triple Crown, and he isn’t that popular with writers after what happened last season, so it’s likely they will look elsewhere when crowning the AL MVP.

AL Cy Young
1. Shaun Marcum, 64
2. Rafael Soriano, 54
3. David Price, 44

Usually, at the end of the year, all the projected award winners have somewhere between 500-1,000 points. Since we’re only a couple months into the 2010 season, our projected final numbers are still fairly muted, i.e. whoever leads the NL in RBI will probably have around 140 or 150, but, since we don’t know who that will be, right now we’re projecting the leaders for less than 120. That in turn tones down the point totals here, but still, in the three races we’ve already covered, the leader had over 300 projected points. Here, no one even comes close to 100.

All this is a fairly long-winded way of saying that we have no clue who will win the AL Cy Young award, or even really who the contenders might be. Someone will surely eventually emerge, but thus far the candidates have been uninspiring.

And that wraps up our first look at how the award races might shape up at season’s end. There’s still a lot of baseball to play, and new contenders will surely arise as the summer wears on. I’ll plan on taking another look in a couple months to see how things have changed.

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  1. John said...

    I’ll tell you what, if Andy Pettitte keeps plugging along picking up wins, he will get the Cy Young Award, even if his other numbers are not up to snuff. And that will propel him into the HOF.

  2. Dylan B said...

    So, based on these early numbers, the Jays could have had the AL and NL projected Cy Young winners this year. An they would still be lucky to finish 3rd.

  3. Andy said...

    I have trouble seeing how anyone other than Ubaldo Jimenez could even be a candidate for the NL Cy Young award.  His ERA is a full run lower than Halladay’s, he has just as many strikeouts, and three more wins.  Halladay’s been great, but Jimenez has been ridiculous.

  4. Aaron said...

    @Andy: While Ubaldo has been fantastic, he shouldn’t be Cy Young over Halladay, even if the vote were held today.  Wins and ERA are not good stats to judge a pitcher’s performance, as they are highly dependent on fielding (for ERA), and offensive production (for wins).  Using more advanced metrics we get the following:

    Halladay vs. Ubaldo:
    FIP: 2.40 to 2.62
    xFIP: 2.93 to 3.51
    WAR: 3.2 to 2.9
    K/BB: 5.83 to 2.69

    Halladay leads the entire MLB in those 4 categories.  What hurts Jimenez is that his walk rate is so high and over the course of the season, his unsustainable .223 BABIP will invariably normalize some, as will his 1.6% HR/FB.  Additionally, Halladay has pitched 5 complete games already, which gives him perceived additional value as he gives the entire bullpen a rest.

  5. David Gassko said...


    These are based on projected end-of-the-season numbers. Obviously, Jimenez has been out of the world up to this point, but Oliver (our projection system) expects him to fall down to earth a bit by season’s end.

  6. Andy said...

    Thanks for the feedback.  I guess I was struck by how much you have Halladay ahead of Jimenez.  Not to sound like Joe Morgan or anything, but, after watching both pitchers this year, it seems clear that Jimenez has been better.  It certainly doesn’t seem reasonable to say that Halladay has a significantly better chance of winning the Cy than Jimenez does.  Halladay did get shelled by Boston earlier this year, and no one has really touched Jimenez.  Halladay has been excellent, while Jimenez has been otherworldly. 

    Of course, other pitchers have gotten off to fantastic starts and faded down the stretch, and maybe Jimenez will do the same. 

    Good conversation!  One of the things I love about baseball is kicking around stuff like this.  Also takes my mind off how dreadful my Astros are and promise to be in the near future.

  7. Paul said...

    Love the award talk, but distressed to see Ubaldo getting so little love – he is doing pretty much what Greinke did last year for the 1st 2 months

    I guess you are using the fangraphs WAR?
    But by baseball reference Ubaldo is the WAR leader and it isn’t close (1st in NL, and 1st in WAR for pitchers) – why the difference?  And if the difference is so stark between the systems is it really such a useful indicator?

    The scores so far are 1/3 real stats + 2/3 projection – but wouldn’t this penalise the guys who have genuinely made a step up in talent (like Greinke last year, Ubaldo this year) as the projection takes time to ‘catch up’.

    Anyway if the season ended today, Ubaldo would win, win easily and deservedly so.  ESPN award predictor also loves him.

    We can accept that W/L are not the best indicator of performance, but Ubaldo fully derseves his W/L record (maybe even should 11-0), whilst Halladay has had 2 genuinely bad outings so far and has only 1 ‘unlucky’ loss from the game logs for his 7-4.

    But then Ubaldo has been lucky so far (LOB%, HR/FB) – will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  8. David Gassko said...


    It depends on what you mean by a genuine step up in talent. The Oliver projection is our best estimate of Jimenez’s current true talent level. If you want to argue that previous seasons don’t matter, and he’s a completely different pitcher this season, then yes, Oliver will underrate him, but experience shows that ignoring past numbers is not a great idea. Greinke’s a great example of that: His rest-of-the-year projection calls for a 3.32 ERA, and his ERA right now is 3.39. Ignoring everything that he did prior to last season would not have made for a better projection.

    As for the difference between B-Ref WAR and Fangraphs WAR, B-Ref uses a pitcher’s actual runs allowed with an adjustment for the team’s defense, while Fangraphs uses FIP. This can lead to big differences between what the two sites tell you about pitchers. Since WAR is a value stat, I prefer B-Ref’s version.

  9. Paul said...

    Thanks for the info on the WAR David – and please keep us updated with the awards projections

    I went from being like Andy a bit surprised about the lack of love for Ubaldo over Halladay (though it’s reasonable based on projections), but then after checking his Fangraphs page, he has been a bit lucky i suppose.

    Just hope Halladay, Ubaldo and Wainwright et all stay healthy so we can see how it plays out.

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