MLB awards week: MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year experts' picks, results and analysis ESPN logo
Friday, November 19, 2021

We've been heading in this direction over the past decade, but it's now official: The Most Valuable Player Award has become, to the delight of analytics aficionados across baseball land, the best player in the league award. Traditionally, the writers based MVP honors on some sort of undefined fusion of on-field performance and team performance. The MVP winner usually -- but not always -- came from a playoff team.

This season, none of the six finalists reached the postseason. This is especially glaring with the National League finalists, asBryce Harper'sPhillies finished 82-80, Fernando Tatis Jr.'s Padres finished 79-83 andJuan Soto'sNationals went 65-97. At least the Phillies finished with a winning record -- barely. This is the first time since 1987, when Andre Dawson of the Cubs and George Bell of the Blue Jays won, that both MVP winners failed to reach the postseason. The only other two times this happened since the Baseball Writers' Association of America began voting in 1931 were 1977 (George Foster and Rod Carew) and 1978 (Dave Parker and Jim Rice).

So the debate is essentially over. That doesn't mean it makes it any easier to select the winner.

Here are all the results and analysis from awards week, along with our ESPN MLB experts' picks. -- David Schoenfield

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Cy Young: NL | AL

Rookie of the Year: NL| AL

Manager of the Year: NL | AL

National League MVP

Winner: Bryce Harper, Phillies

Final tally: Harper 348 (17 first-place votes); Juan Soto, Nationals 274 (6); Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres 244 (2); Brandon Crawford, Giants 213 (4); Trea Turner, Nationals/Dodgers 185 (1)

ESPN MLB experts'picks: Harper 8, Soto 4, Tatis 1

Bradford Doolittle's take: In this race, the top contenders -- particularly the three finalists, Harper, Soto and Tatis -- were so tightly bunched that a pure metrics-based argument simply doesn't get it done. It also means it's hard to quibble about the final result: a fairly close tally in which five different players (a group that happened to also be AXE's top five) received first-place votes.

Harper would have gotten my vote, but not without a good deal of deliberation. When there is no clear distinction in the value metrics, you start looking at context and narrative. The Phillies didn't make the playoffs, but they stayed in the race as long as they did largely because of Harper's huge finish to the season, along with the work of Zack Wheeler on the mound. That context shows up in probability-added metrics: Harper led the NL in both win probability added and championship probability added.

Even in a high-powered race like this one, Harper was a deserving winner. When he won his first MVP at age 22, it seemed like he might well reel off a string of them, becoming the NL's counterpart to the AL's Mike Trout. It took a few years, but Harper now has two MVP awards before turning 30 and is building what is going to become a very strong case for Cooperstown.

Here's how my AXE leaderboard had it:

1. Harper (140.9)

2. Soto (140.6)

3. Tatis Jr. (139.8)

4. Turner (138.6)

5. Crawford (135.2)

Note: AXE is an index that creates a consensus rating from the leading value metrics (WAR, from Fangraphs and Baseball Reference) and contextual metrics (win probability added and championship probability added, both from Baseball Reference).

More: Phillies superstar Bryce Harper wins second career MVP

American League MVP

Winner:Shohei Ohtani, Angels

Final tally:Ohtani 420 (30 first-place votes);Vladimir Guerrero Jr.(Blue Jays) 269;Marcus Semien(Blue Jays) 232; Aaron Judge (Yankees) 171; Carlos Correa (Houston Astros) 163

ESPN MLB experts' picks: Ohtani 13 votes (unanimous choice)

Doolittle's take:Despite a relatively slow finish and despite playing on a noncontender, Ohtani's season was just too historic for the voters to ignore. And, considering the unanimous vote, no one did. It was historic not just because of the novelty of Ohtani becoming the best single-season two-way player in MLB history, but for the real value he contributed in his dual role. He wasn't just good at both hitting and pitching, he was outstanding --and the same was true of his baserunning, as well. It's ridiculous.

Among the top five AL contenders by AXE, which includes the three finalists, only Guerrero created more runs than Ohtani (144 to 122), though he also made 21 more outs in creation of those runs. However, Guerrero can't make this claim: Ohtani was also 41 runs above replacement as a pitcher and had an individual wins-above-average percentage in that role of .630, which compares favorably to the three AL Cy Young finalists. Robbie Ray, the winner, was at .657, Lance Lynn at .645 and Gerrit Cole at .630.

The magnitude of what Ohtani accomplished this season is staggering. His 156.1 AXE score is the best in baseball since Albert Pujols put up a 157.1 in 2006. It's the best by an MVP since Barry Bonds' monster 174.2 season in 2004.

Guerrero was great, but he just picked the wrong year to emerge as a superstar, at least if racking up MVPs is one of his aims. As it was, his 141.2 AXE was better than that of 56% of all players who have won an MVP award. He didn't win the honor this season, but Guerrero very much had an MVP-caliber season. Since he's just 22, it will be no surprise if there are a lot more of those to come.

Here's how my AXE leaderboard had it:

1. Ohtani (156.1)

2. Guerrero Jr. (141.2)

3. Jose Ramirez, Indians (139.0)

4. Semien (137.7)

5. Judge (137.5)

More:Shohei Ohtani unanimously wins AL MVP

National League Cy Young

Winner:Corbin Burnes, Brewers

Final tally:Burnes 151 (12 first-place votes); Zack Wheeler, Phillies 141 (12); Max Scherzer, Nationals/Dodgers 113 (6); Walker Buehler, Dodgers 70

ESPN MLB experts'picks:Wheeler6 votes, Scherzer 4, Burnes 3

Doolittle's take:Wow, that was close. On one hand, you have to be thrilled for Burnes, who was 1-5 with a 8.82 ERA just two years ago and was left off the Brewers' postseason roster. Since then, he's become a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) superstar, leading the NL in both strikeout rate and homers allowed rate this season, while allowing just 1.8 walks per nine innings.

On the other hand, you can look at this outcome as a possible tipping point where the evaluation of starting pitchers has tilted completely away from volume to efficiency. Wheeler produced one of the most valuable seasons of any player in baseball this season, not just with elite run prevention, but also by leading the majors with 213 1/3 innings pitched -- 46 1/3 more than Burnes.

That's really why I don't agree with the outcome of the vote. Wheeler faced hitters for a third or fourth time 126 more times this season than Burnes did. You can say that it's a philosophical difference between the Phillies and Brewers, or a statement about the respective strengths of those teams' bullpens. For me, that 46 1/3-inning gap is too much to ignore, more than enough to account for the gap in per-inning run prevention.

Here's how my AXE leaderboard had it:

1. Wheeler (144.3)

2. Burnes (138.8)

3. Buehler (136.4)

4. Brandon Woodruff, Brewers (130.6)

5. Kevin Gausman, Giants (130.3)

6. Scherzer (129.6)

More: Brewers' Burnes edges Wheeler for NL Cy Young

American League Cy Young

Winner:Robbie Ray, Blue Jays

Final tally:Ray 207 (29 first-place votes); Gerrit Cole, Yankees 123 (1); Lance Lynn, White Sox 48; Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox 41; Carlos Rodon, White Sox 34

ESPN MLB experts' picks: Ray 10 votes, Cole 2, Lynn 1

Doolittle's take:In a season where there was not a no-brainer AL Cy Young candidate, AXE nailed a tightly-packed top five, but liked Cole over Ray for the top spot. Looking at the season as a whole, it's a very close race. Cole had a 12-inning deficit, but better numbers in all the fielding-independent categories. Ray was more consistent, with a higher quality start percentage and average game score.

Given how close the numbers were, it's hard to quibble with the selection of Ray. The only surprise here is that he garnered all but one of the first-place votes. The trajectory of their respective seasons likely played into this final gap in the balloting. Cole had a 2.68 ERA before the All-Star break but a 4.14 mark after. Ray improved from 3.13 to 2.53 from one half to the next, though he was only so-so over the last three weeks as the Blue Jays unsuccessfully challenged for a wild-card slot.

All in all, Ray was a deserving choice in becoming Toronto's first Cy Young winner since Roy Halladay in 2003.

Here's how my AXE leaderboard had it:

1. Cole (133.5)

2. Ray (130.3)

3. Lynn (129.2)

4. Eovaldi (129.0)

5. Rodon (128.5)

More:Jays ace Ray caps career year with AL Cy Young

National League Rookie of the Year

Winner:Jonathan India, Reds

Final tally: India 148 (29 first-place votes); Trevor Rogers, Marlins 86 (1); Dylan Carlson, Cardinals 22; Patrick Wisdom, Cubs 5; Ian Anderson, Braves 3

ESPN MLB experts' picks: India (11 votes), Rogers 2

Doolittle's take: As expected. The metrics were close between the three NL finalists, but in the end, the final tally mirrors that of the AXE system from spots 1 to 4, and the Cardinals'Edmundo Sosaedged out Anderson for the fifth spot by a fraction. India and Rogers were close enough statistically that it's a slight surprise India took 29 of 30 first-place votes. Rogers threw only 23 innings after July 31, and it was after that point that India caught and passed him on the ROY pecking order.

As Johnny Bench mentioned while announcing the results of the NL balloting, India is the eighth Cincinnati player to win Rookie of the Year. He's the first position player to do it for the Reds since Chris Sabo in 1988. Of the eight Reds Rookies of the Year, only Frank Robinson (128.8 in 1956) posted a better AXE while winning the honor. So that's rarefied air for a player who should be a fixture at the keystone in Cincinnati for years to come.

Here's how my AXE leaderboard had it:

1. India (121.4)

2. Rogers (119.5)

3. Carlson (112.6)

4. Wisdom (110.1)

5. Sosa(108.7)

More: Reds 2B India, 24, named NL Rookie of the Year

American League Rookie of the Year

Winner: Randy Arozarena, Rays

Final tally: Arozarena 124 (22 first-place votes); Luis Garcia, Astros 63 (2); Wander Franco, Rays 30 (2); Adolis Garcia, Rangers 27 (3); Emmanuel Clase, Indians 11 (1)

ESPN MLB experts' picks: Arozarena 10 votes, Franco 3

Doolittle's take: If there is one rookie in all of the big leagues this season whom you'd tab for future superstardom, it's Franco. But it's the Rookie of the Year award, not the Prospect of the Year award, and Arozarena is a deserving winner. The voting mirrored AXE's computations for spots 1 to 4, with AXE preferring Boston'sGarrett Whitlockto Clase for the fifth spot. That Clase earned a first-place vote was the biggest surprise from the balloting results, but it's nothing to get in a snit over.

Arozarena is really a Rookie of the Year for the time ... an odd time. You think of winning the award as the first great moment of a player's career, but in Arozarena's case, there were quite a few before that. For example, he played in 25 postseason games for two different organizations in the seasons prior to his ROY campaign, and was MVP of the 2020 American League Championship Series. It's strange and unique, and while Franco probably would have run away with the award if he'd been called up earlier, he wasn't.

Arozarena and Luis Garcia filled key roles on division champions from start to finish, and it's understandable that the voters wanted to reward that.

Here's how my AXE leaderboard had it:

1. Arozarena (120.5)

2. Franco (116.0)

3. Luis Garcia (115.1)

4. Adolis Garcia (114.7)

5.Whitlock (113.5)

More: Rays OF Arozarena named AL Rookie of the Year

National League Manager of the Year

Winner: Gabe Kapler, Giants

Final tally: Kapler, Giants 143 (28 first-place votes); Craig Counsell, Brewers 75 (1); Mike Shildt, Cardinals 25 (1); Brian Snitker, Braves 21; Dave Roberts, Dodgers 6

ESPN MLB experts'picks: Kapler 13 votes (unanimous choice)

Doolittle's take: The Giants used the general lack of respect prognosticators had for their chances this season as a rallying cry. But let's be real: Virtually no one saw San Francisco as a playoff team when the season began, much less as a team that would win more games than any other in the marquee franchise's history.

Kapler wasn't just a figurehead in all of this. He actually did stuff, perhaps more than any skipper in terms of pinch-hitters, pitching changes and all the things involved with getting the most from your active roster on a day-in, day-out basis.

The bottom line is that the Giants entered the season with an over/under for wins of 74.5, per Caesars Sportsbook. They won 107. No, it wasn't all Kapler, but this is as slam dunk of a Manager of the Year choice as you're going to get.

That said: One of these years, Counsell needs to win this award, because he's on the shortest of lists as the best manager in the game. This is his third time finishing second.

Here's how my EARL leaderboard had it (EARL is an estimate of how a team's win total relates to its run differential and projected strength of roster):

1. Kapler (14.5)

2. Shildt (5.8)

3. Counsell (5.2)

4. Joe Girardi, Phillies (2.6)

5. David Bell, Reds (2.4)

More: Giants' Gabe Kapler named NL Manager of the Year after 107-win season

American League Manager of the Year

Winner: Kevin Cash, Rays

Final tally: Cash, Rays 109 (19 first-place votes); Scott Servais, Mariners 71 (5); Dusty Baker, Astros 33 (2); Charlie Montoyo; Blue Jays 23 (3); Alex Cora, Red Sox 16 (1); Tony La Russa, White Sox 15; AJ Hinch, Tigers 3

ESPN MLB experts'picks: Cash 5 votes, Servais 5, Baker 3

Doolittle's take: Whenever I trot out the EARL metric, I always underscore that it should be taken with a grain of salt. The truth is, we don't have a great way to quantify what a manager does and even with the award, there isn't a lot of clarity about what we're actually voting on.

Cash is a great manager and now the first back-to-back Manager of the Year winner since Bobby Cox in 2004-05. He gets a boost from the Rays' uncanny ability to win on a shoestring budget, and he deploys his roster game by game to exploit every advantage he can uncover.

The Rays had a lot of turnover from their 2020 AL pennant-winning squad, especially on the pitching staff, and that's another boost to Cash's case. Still, the fact of the matter is the Rays do a great job of finding talent and improving talent. It's not like Cash was winning with Triple-A players.

Given where the Mariners finished in relation to their preseason expectations, and in terms of their overall run differential, it's surprising, to me at least, that Servais did not get more than five first-place votes in the balloting.

Here's how my EARL leaderboard had it:

1. Servais (13.0)

2. Cora (5.5)

3. Hinch (4.5)

4. Cash (3.8)

5. Aaron Boone, Yankees (1.3)

Also: 12. Baker (-2.3)

More: Rays' Kevin Cash repeats as AL Manager of the Year

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