Law: Kluber or Sale? Altuve or Judge? Making tough awards picks

Both Chris Sale and Corey Kluber are worthy of Cy Young honors in 2017. Which ace has done more on the mound? Jason Miller/Getty Images

With the regular season winding to a close, Baseball Writers' Association of America members who vote on postseason awards must submit their ballots by Monday, before the start of any playoff games (which cannot be considered in the voting). I've put together provisional ballots for myself for the five awards on which I'm not voting this fall.

I have the NL Rookie of the Year ballot, yet again, so I won't discuss that vote here (although I expect that winner to be obvious and, if not unanimous, very close to it).


1. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

2. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

3. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

4. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

5. Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels

For readers unfamiliar with how I look at individual player awards, a bit of background might help. The Most Valuable Player award is an individual award, not a team award, and thus team performance is completely irrelevant. The value a player produces isn't tied to how the rest of his teammates performed. I don't ignore production by a star on a bad team, and I don't buy into narratives that ditch hard evidence.

The Most Valuable Player should be the player who produced the most value, full stop.

Altuve leads in bWAR, while Judge leads in fWAR, with the differences both under a win. I give the nod to Altuve here because he has performed almost as well offensively as Judge has (162 wRC+, which is park-adjusted, for Altuve, vs. 169 for Judge, playing in a better hitters' park) while adding more value on the bases and playing a more difficult position.

I wouldn't argue against Judge as the top pick, and I think Sale and Corey Kluber have reasonable cases as well that won't matter because there are still people who think pitchers shouldn't win MVPs and that the Tooth Fairy is real, but Altuve would top my ballot.

Simmons' inclusion may surprise some readers, but he's the most valuable defensive player in baseball, and has been at that level since he reached the majors. He's already in Baseball-Reference.com's top 40 all time for defensive WAR, and B-R has him as the fifth-most valuable defensive shortstop in MLB history already, behind only Mark Belanger, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken and Joe Tinker (of "Tinker to Evers to Chance" fame).


1. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

2. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

3. Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals

4. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

5. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

I have a feeling Stanton is going to end up winning this award, especially if he reaches 60 homers on the season, and it's not unreasonable given his overall production. He leads all NL position players in Baseball-Reference's WAR, and is fourth in FanGraphs' version but just 0.4 wins behind the leader, Bryant, which isn't very significant if at all.

The biggest gap between the two systems, and the hardest to explain away, comes on Arenado, whom FanGraphs (via UZR) rates as a plus defender right in line with his past few years, while Baseball-Reference (via dRS) rates him as the most valuable non-catcher on defense in the National League.

Bryant leads in fWAR by a 10th of a win as I write this -- well within any reasonable margin of error -- over Rendon, whose candidacy has been largely overlooked even though the Nats ran roughshod over the NL East. Rendon posted a career-best line of .299/.401/.532, and his 141 wRC+ is good for 10th in the NL (at this writing), along with superb defense at third base as usual.

Right behind them? The unheralded Votto, leading the NL in wRC+ at age 34 and slowly burnishing a Hall of Fame case that's sure to spark years of debates when he gets to the ballot.

AL Cy Young

1. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

2. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

3. Luis Severino, New York Yankees

4. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

5. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians

Sale has the better FIP because of his higher strikeout rate and very, very slightly lower home run rate, while Kluber has the lower ERA, so Sale leads in FanGraphs WAR by 0.6 and Kluber leads in Baseball-Reference WAR by more than a win and a half.

Baseball Prospectus, which tracks the quality of batters a pitcher faces, has the two in a near dead-heat by any measure of strength of competition. As with the MVP races, there are multiple good answers here, but I'd choose Sale for the higher K percentage and for making four extra starts. Either is a worthy choice, however.

It's immaterial to the race, but I was amused to see that Sale has had just four outings all year where he allowed more than four runs and two came against Cleveland.

NL Cy Young

1. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

2. Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks

3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

5. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Of the four ballots I've discussed so far, I think this is the most clear-cut.

Scherzer is second in the NL in ERA and in FIP, and sixth in IP (4 1/3 innings behind the leader), so he leads the league in both major versions of WAR. The next three could go in any order. I pushed Greinke above Kershaw (who leads the NL in ERA) on the basis of his higher innings total and thus slightly greater value produced to his team.

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

2. Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox

3. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics

No surprises here as Nos. 1 and 2 were pretty clear for most of the season, and while I considered Rafael Devers, by far the youngest regular in the American League for even part of the year, Olson's performance outweighs Devers' youth and greater long-term potential.

I expect Judge to win this unanimously, with maybe a half-dozen other players, including Devers, Matt Chapman, Chad Green and Mitch Haniger, collecting second- and third-place votes.