On Thursday night, their divergent trajectories intersected when Bellinger and Trout were named the 2019 MVPs of the National and American leagues, respectively.
Bellinger, 24, received 19 of a possible 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to beat out Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich. Yelich, the 2018 NL MVP, received 10 first-place votes and finished second, while Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon received the remaining first-place vote and finished third.
In the AL race, Trout, the 28-year-old center fielder of the Los Angeles Angels, received 17 of 30 first-place votes to earn a narrow victory over Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who received the remaining 13 first-place votes and finished second. Oakland A's shortstop Marcus Semien finished third.
For Trout, the MVP was the third of his career, placing him in a 10-way tie for second most in history with Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. Only Barry Bonds, with seven, has won more.
Trout has finished first or second in the MVP voting in an unprecedented seven of his first eight big league seasons — the only exception being his injury-shortened 2017 season, when he finished fourth.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Trout said on MLB Network’s telecast of the awards announcement. “My career so far has gone by so fast, and it’s been unbelievable.”
In a span of three days this September, Trout and Yelich both saw their seasons end prematurely with injuries. For Yelich, those lost three weeks appear to have cost him a second MVP award; he led the NL in most key statistics, including batting average (.329), on-base percentage (.429) and slugging percentage (.671), but fell behind Bellinger in counting categories such as homers and RBI. Bellinger and Yelich tied in wins above replacement (WAR), as calculated by Fangraphs, at 7.8.
“It was hard not to see what he was doing on a nightly basis, especially with all the social media,” Bellinger said of his season-long duel with Yelich, immortalized in MLB’s “Belli vs. Yeli” ad campaign. “It made me a better player, for sure.”
Bellinger’s case also was helped by his defensive prowess — he played stellar defense at three positions in 2019, making 102 starts in right field, 28 at first base and 21 in center field — while Yelich may have been hurt by the fact the Brewers went 13-6 and surged to a playoff spot in his absence.
Rendon, 29, seemed to have inserted himself into the Belli-vs.-Yeli narrative with a sizzling August, during which he hit .394 with a .450 on-base percentage and a .712 slugging percentage and blasted eight homers. But he fell back some in September (.239/.400/.420), and voting was completed before the start of the postseason, which means Rendon’s exceptional October (.328/.413/.590, three homers, 15 RBI) in leading the Nationals to the World Series title had no bearing on the outcome.
Rendon, however, was one of four Nationals receiving MVP votes. Left fielder Juan Soto was named on 20 ballots (one sixth-place, six eighth-place, nine ninth-place and four 10th-place votes) and finished ninth; right-hander Stephen Strasburg received one eighth-place and one 10th-place vote and finished tied for 15th; and right-hander Max Scherzer received a single 10th-place vote and finished tied for 22nd.
In the AL, meanwhile, voters decided 134 games’ worth of Trout’s production — which included an AL-best 1.083 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and major league-leading 8.6 WAR before his foot injury — was better than 156 games of Bregman’s.
Having long since earned the mantle of best player in the game, Trout is still unearthing new facets and improving in ways small and large. In 2019, he boosted his power, setting career marks in home runs (45) and slugging percentage (.645) and posting the highest line-drive rate (26.6 percent of all his batted balls) of his career.
“The power surge, being able to square up baseballs, knowing my swing — sometimes it takes a minute or two minutes in the [batting] cage, [and] sometimes it takes an hour,” Trout said. “[But] I know when I’m right, and when I’m going right I think I can hit anything.”
- Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
- Christian Yelich, Brewers
- Anthony Rendon, Nationals
- Mike Trout, Angels
- Alex Bregman, Astros
- Marcus Semien, Athletics
DeGrom, Verlander win Cy Young Awards
The consensus-best-pitcher-on-the-planet label has moved around a few times these past few years, passing from Clayton Kershaw to Max Scherzer and, beginning around the second half of 2019, to Gerrit Cole. But there is at least a case to be made that Jacob deGrom deserves a prominent place in that debate — a case that gained momentum when he earned his second straight National League Cy Young award on Wednesday.
For the second straight year, it wasn’t even close. DeGrom, the New York Mets’ ace right-hander, earned 29 of a possible 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, easily outpacing Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who earned the only first-place vote that didn’t go to deGrom and finished second. Washington Nationals aces Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg finished third and fifth, respectively.
In the American League vote, veteran right-hander Justin Verlander topped his Houston Astros teammate Cole to win his second Cy Young award. Verlander earned 17 first-place votes, with the other 13 going to Cole. Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, himself a former Astro who pitched in the same rotation as Verlander and Cole in 2018, finished a distant third.
Verlander, a near-lock to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, had a resurgent and charmed 2019 season at age 36, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA while mixing in his third career no-hitter and first career 300-strikeout season and passing 3,000 strikeouts for his career. His WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 0.803 was the second best in the past 100 years, behind only Pedro Martinez in 2000 (0.737).
The cases for Verlander and Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA, 326 strikeouts) were considered almost impossible to separate, but it is worth noting that both Houston-area writers with a Cy Young vote — who presumably saw both pitchers the most in 2019 — voted for Verlander. All balloting was completed before the start of the postseason, which means neither Cole’s dazzling October performance (4-1, 1.72) nor Verlander’s shaky one (1-4, 4.33) factored into the vote.
DeGrom, meanwhile, joins Kershaw, Scherzer, Verlander and Corey Kluber as the only multiple Cy Young winners among active pitchers and the 11th in history (and first since Scherzer in 2016-17) to win back-to-back.
“2011 was a magical season, but I hadn’t really had to grind through much at that time,” Verlander said on the MLB Network telecast of the awards announcement. “A lot has changed since then, personally and professionally, but it just makes it that much sweeter. Having come so close a couple other times — it’s just such an incredible feeling.”
DeGrom, meanhile, joins Kershaw, Scherzer, Verlander and Corey Kluber as the only multiple Cy Young winners among active pitchers, and the 11th in history (and first since Scherzer in 2016-17) to win back-to-back. He led the NL this year with 255 strikeouts, and his ERA of 2.43 was second only to Ryu’s.
“I said it was a dream to win one,” deGrom said. “But to win back-to-back, honestly, I’m kind of speechless right now.”
Pitching for mediocre Mets teams, deGrom’s win-loss records during his Cy Young seasons — 10-9 in 2018, 11-8 in 2019 — might have disqualified him in previous eras, but in the analytics age, the value of pitchers’ wins has been reduced to the point that voters barely notice them.
Still, Scherzer might have taken home his fourth Cy Young on Wednesday or Ryu his first had the former not lost a half-dozen or so second-half starts to injury or had the latter not posted a 7.48 ERA in August after looking like the runaway front-runner (12-2 with a 1.45 ERA) for the season’s first four months.
“It just felt like I was battling the whole second half to get healthy and find a way back on the mound when we were in the playoff hunt,” Scherzer said during the MLB Network telecast.
The best pitcher on the planet? Based on their most recent performances, it might be Cole. Based on career credentials, maybe Verlander, Scherzer or Kershaw. But over the past 24 months, deGrom’s body of work, at the very least, stacks up with anyone’s.
Rocco Baldelli, Mike Shildt win manager honors
The annual struggle to define what makes a baseball manager great played out this year in a delicious jumble of a vote, culminating in victories by Rocco Baldelli of the Minnesota Twins and Mike Shildt of the St. Louis Cardinals for manager of the year honors in the American League and National League, respectively — despite neither winning a majority or even an outright plurality of first-place votes.
Each was in his first full season as manager, and both had strong cases for the award — Baldelli for guiding the Twins to a 101-win season and an AL Central title in his rookie season on the bench, Shildt for taking the Cardinals from below .500 as late as July 12 all the way to the NL Central title — but neither was considered a clear favorite.
With their victories, both Baldelli, 38, and Shildt, 51, made history — the former as the youngest winner ever and the latter as the first to have never played professionally.
Both races were decided by just a handful of votes. In the AL, both Baldelli and Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees received 13 first-place votes out of 30 cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The difference: the 13 second-place votes Baldelli received compared with nine for Boone. Four voters left Boone out of their top three, while only two left Baldelli off. Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash received three first-place votes and finished third in balloting.
In the NL, Shildt’s victory came despite the fact he received fewer first-place votes (10) than runner-up Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers (13). Shildt received 14 second-place votes to six for Counsell, and only three voters kept Shildt out of their top three compared with six who omitted Counsell.
Washington Manager Dave Martinez was a distant fifth in the NL, behind Atlanta’s Brian Snitker and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, receiving three second-place votes and six third-place votes. Voting was completed before the postseason, so Martinez’s World Series title with the Nationals was not a factor.
Baldelli, the youngest manager in the majors, took over a Twins team that won just 78 games in 2018, leading to the dismissal of Paul Molitor, and guided them to 101 wins and the AL Central title. He became just the eighth manager to win the award after his first full season on the job — and the first since Arizona’s Torey Lovullo in 2017 — as well as the eighth manager to win following a 100-win season, the last being Seattle’s Lou Piniella in 2001.
“Nobody takes on a job like this for personal accolades,” Baldelli told MLB Network following the announcement. “You take these kinds of roles because you want to do everything you can for your players, your staff and your organization.”
Shildt took a Cardinals team that was 44-44 at the all-star break and guided it to a 47-27 record in the second half to hold off the Brewers and Chicago Cubs for the Central title, the Cardinals’ first since 2015. He ascended to the manager’s job on an interim basis in July 2018 following Mike Matheny’s firing and was given the full-time position at the end of that season.
Shildt, whose mother, Lib, died last week, choked up after the announcement that he had won and said: “I set my sights on being the best coach I could be. The journey has led me here. I’m grateful for it.”
The AL race, in particular, offered a perfect case study in how to define a manager’s greatness, with the three finalists offering vastly different attributes and résumés. While Baldelli could claim the biggest single-season turnaround, Cash did the most with the least, taking the Rays to 96 wins and an AL wild-card berth despite having the majors’ smallest Opening Day payroll.
Boone, meanwhile, nearly overcame voters’ traditional bias against high-payroll teams. His case was built around the Yankees’ 103 wins in a season in which the team placed a major league-record 30 different players on the injured list, with some of the team’s best players lost for large chunks of time.
On the surface, those three seasons were almost impossible to compare on a head-to-head-to-head basis — and the same was true, for that matter, in the NL. And absent any better system for judging managerial greatness, that is precisely why these votes played out with such a chaotic lack of consensus.
- Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers
- Mike Shildt, St. Louis Cardinals
- Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves
- Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota Twins
- Aaron Boone, New York Yankees
- Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
Yordan Alvarez, Pete Alonso win rookie of the year
The historic rookie campaigns of Houston Astros designated hitter Yordan Álvarez and New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso were validated Monday with landslide victories for the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year awards. Álvarez won unanimously in the American League, and Alonso was a near-unanimous pick in the National League.
Álvarez, 22, became the first unanimous winner since Aaron Judge (AL) and Cody Bellinger (NL) swept the first-place votes in 2017. Alonso, 24, missed being a unanimous winner by just one vote. Voting was conducted by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and was completed before the start of the postseason.
The honors for Álvarez and Alonso came following remarkable, history-making debut seasons. The former amassed the highest on-base-plus-slugging percentage in history for a rookie with a minimum of 350 plate appearances — 1.067 — and the latter slugged 53 homers for the Mets, breaking Judge’s major league rookie record.
Asked for his reaction following the announcement, Alonso, on the live MLB Network telecast, answered, “Holy expletive.”
Baltimore Orioles left-hander John Means — who went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA for a pitching staff that ranked among the worst in modern history — was the runner-up in the AL, followed by Tampa Bay Rays and former University of Maryland infielder Brandon Lowe. Atlanta Braves right-hander Mike Soroka received the one first-place vote that didn’t go to Alonso and was the runner-up in the NL.
The AL rookie of the year race was never the same after June 9, the date Álvarez was promoted to the majors. Though he would amass only 369 plate appearances — not enough to qualify for the batting title — Álvarez’s OPS from that point was topped by only Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers, top contenders for MVP honors in their respective leagues, and he hit 27 homers, drove in 78 runs and batted .313.
Álvarez’s 87 games played are the fewest for a position player named AL rookie of the year, and only Willie McCovey, who played 52 games for the 1959 San Francisco Giants, played fewer among NL winners of the award.
The NL award could have been more of an actual race had San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. not suffered a back injury in mid-August that cost him the rest of the season. At the time, Tatís, 20, had a .317 batting average, a .379 on-base percentage and a .590 slugging percentage — for an OPS of .969, 56 points higher than Alonso’s on the same date — with 22 homers and 53 RBI in only 372 plate appearances.
Soroka, 22, had the kind of rookie campaign that might have won the award in any other, non-Alonso season. He went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA — the latter mark topped by only four other qualified pitchers in the majors — and emerged as the ace of the NL East champion Braves’ staff. Though it didn’t factor into the voting, Soroka also won his only start of the postseason in dominant fashion, limiting the St. Louis Cardinals to two hits and one run over seven innings in Game 3 of the division series.
- Pete Alonso, New York Mets
- Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves
- Fernando Tatís Jr., San Diego Padres
- Yordan Álvarez, Houston Astros
- Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
- John Means, Baltimore Orioles
Announced Thursday at 6 p.m. on MLB Network. The Post’s predicted winners are marked with an asterisk (*).
- Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers *
- Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
- Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
- Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
- Marcus Semien, Oakland Athletics
- Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels *