Many expected this bizarre season to pave the way for some peculiar award candidates around the league, and that premonition reigns true. Let’s dive into whether some of the most unexpected contenders have a real shot at these accolades.
All stats as of 9/3
Jake Cronenworth: NL ROY
Stats: .356/.411/.624, 4 HRs, 20 R, 17 RBIs, 1.4 fWAR
The 26-year-old rookie has run roughshod through the league this season. A former Rays farmhand, Cronenworth has seized the Padres’ 2B job from Jurickson Profar and shot to the top of the NL rookie rankings in hits and runs scored. As of writing this, he is tied with Luis Guillorme (yeah, that’s right) for the NL rookie lead in wRC+ at 175. Counting stats aside, Cronenworth has been a Statcast KIIING: red ink everywhere!
While Cronenworth has seemingly come out of nowhere (he did not have pre-season odds for ROY), his minor league track-backs up his production.
Even after leading the International League in wRC+ last season, he could not carve himself out a role in Tampa Bay. If he was part of a less talented organization, there is no doubt he could have broken out years prior, but the Rays sent him to San Diego in the Tommy Pham trade. Now, it seems as if he has a home on the Padres. His award candidacy is legit as long as neither Dustin May nor Tony Gonsolin goes on a tear to finish the season, but even that may not be enough to overtake Cronenworth.
Max Fried: NL Cy Young
Stats: 6-0, 1.60 ERA, 2.30 FIP, 24.7 K%, 1.8 fWAR
A polarizing player during draft season, Fried has delivered on his lofty expectations and then some. Formerly a middling prospect, Fried was once known to wild but effective, set apart by his unbelievable curveball. Just look at this bender:
Max Fried, Beautiful 76mph Curveball…and Sword. ⚔️
And Devers reaction. pic.twitter.com/qL74STGatl
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 1, 2020
Due to leaning on it so heavily, he arrived in the major leagues in 2017 without even featuring a third pitch. This began to change early last season when he introduced a new slider to his repertoire. As the season progressed, he threw it more and more while simultaneously decreasing his fastball usage. Eno Sarris noticed this adjustment after last September and wrote on it during the offseason, citing that the change could pay big dividends and boy oh boy was he right.
This season, Fried is throwing the slide-piece and curve at virtually the same rate. Unbelievably, it has become as effective, if not more so than the curve. Their whiff rates are within mere percentage points of each other (CB 32.8, SL 30.3), they are responsible for the exact same number of strikeouts (14), and the slider has produced a substantially lower EV (89.0 vs 82.8). Certainly, single-pitch results have not reached a stable sample, but this is incredibly encouraging. Plus, the slider is just gross.
Max Fried, Sliders. pic.twitter.com/7vv0PISHSs
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 15, 2020
(Shoutout to Pitching Ninja, he is one of the best accounts on Twitter)
As far as his Cy Young candidacy, it is absolutely legit. Fried is currently tied with both Yu Darvish and Jacob deGrom for the NL lead in fWAR among pitchers and again with Darvish in wins. He is striking out fewer batters than each of the two, but he has literally put the Braves rotation on his back this campaign. Fried was the only Braves pitcher to win a start this season until Ian Anderson came up, yet they still have a stranglehold on the NL East. His dominance in the wake of hardship should wear heavily on the voters.
Luis Robert: AL MVP
Stats: .288/.338/.592, 10 HRs, 22 R, 24 RBIs, 1.6 fWAR
While Fernando Tatís Jr. has gotten all the shine, he is not the only breakout MVP candidate this season. Robert is (relatively) quietly having one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in recent memory. Playing with reckless abandonment, Robert’s all-or-nothing style has led to an astounding amount of success thus far. He is in the 98th percentile in Barrel %, but the 1st percentile in Whiff %. That dichotomy makes for lots of plays like this:
Luis Robert demolished this baseball. 😳 pic.twitter.com/70R2zZVmT2
— MLB (@MLB) September 1, 2020
And others like this:
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 12, 2020
Regardless, Robert’s immense talent is apparent every time he steps on the field. He has an infectious vibrancy to his game that has helped lift the White Sox straight into contention. They are in second place in the AL Central: 1.5 games ahead of the Twins and just one game back of Cleveland while posting the fourth-highest winning percentage in the American League as of September 3rd.
With a few exceptions (Mike Trout), a big part of winning an MVP award is playing on a playoff-bound team. Those waters are more muddied this year given the expanded field, but it is difficult to find a more deserving player on such teams. Robert’s 1.8 fWAR is currently tied for third in the AL, trailing only Anthony Rendon and Nelson Cruz. Losing team, DH: out, out. Matt Chapman, Brandon Lowe, and José Ramirez will all be considered, but Robert’s candidacy is certainly legit.
This column should be titled “This is Legit” this week. All three of these players have taken vastly different paths to the show and all three have exploded this season. It would not be surprising to see all three take home their own respective hardware.
(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)