Earlier this week MLB and the BBWAA announced the winners of 2020's major awards. Kyle Lewis and Devin Williams are the Rookies of the Year, Kevin Cash and Don Mattingly are the Managers of the Year, Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer won the Cy Youngs, and Jose Abreu and Freddie Freeman were named MVP. Well deserving, all of them.
The 2020 MLB season was unusual for countless reasons, including the 60-game schedule. That's a little more than one-third the normal 162-game slate, so awards decisions were based on small samples. Also, regional play meant unbalanced schedules. Take a look at each region's batting line:
- East: .257/.334/.439
- Central: .233/.312/.396
- West: .243/.319/.417
The Central Region objectively stunk. Sorry, but it's true. The Central Region housed nine of the 12 lowest scoring offenses. What do, say, Jacob deGrom's stats look like if he had Bauer's schedule? Bauer made eight of his 11 starts against four of the nine lowest-scoring offenses (Brewers, Pirates, Royals, and Tigers). The NL Cy Young race could've been very different if not for regional play.
Of course, you can only play the schedule you're given, so it's not Bauer's fault he started so many times against bad teams. Unlike the other major sports, MLB has different awards winners in each league because the leagues never used to play each other. Interleague play put an end to that, but there are separate AL and NL awards because they were separate leagues for a long time.
In 2020, the three regions (East, Central, West) were separate entities with no overlap, and seeing how the two leagues have separate awards because they didn't overlap all those years, wouldn't it make sense to give each region its own set of awards this year? For just this one year, of course, not permanently. Everything else about this season was unusual. Why not have three sets of awards too?
With that in mind, let's hand out regional awards now that the actual awards voting has concluded. Here are the official CBS Sports regional awards for the 2020 MLB season, starting with the best coast and working west.
MVP: Freddie Freeman, Braves. You can't really go wrong with the best player on a division winner as the MVP pick. Freeman was the best non-Juan Soto hitter in the National League during the abbreviated season, and while I'm generally not a "the MVP should come from a contender" guy, I'm willing to use it as a tiebreaker during this weird season. Freeman was remarkable.
In addition to Soto, Freeman's biggest MVP competition in the East Region is Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu, who finished third in the AL MVP voting. LeMahieu led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, and OPS+, and played very good defense at second base. He was the best player on a postseason team. For me, Freeman, Soto, and LeMahieu were the cream of the crop in the East Region. Here's how East Region players fared in the actual MVP voting:
- Freddie Freeman, Braves: 410 points
- DJ LeMahieu, Yankees: 230 points
- Juan Soto, Nationals: 172 points
- Marcell Ozuna, Braves: 167 points
- Brandon Lowe, Rays: 104 points
- Luke Voit, Yankees: 85 points
- Trea Turner, Nationals: 83 points
- Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves: 21 points
- Dominic Smith, Mets: 16 points
- Several tied with 10 or fewer points
Freeman was truly a cut above everyone else in the East Region this year. Beyond the traditional stats, Freeman also led baseball in win probability added, so he was excellent in the clutch. A deserving MVP winner, through and through.
Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, Mets. For my money, deGrom is the best pitcher in the sport. He led the league in strikeouts this year and was in the mix for the ERA title until a bumpy final start. deGrom did that despite pitching in the best offensive region and with a terrible defense behind him. Our regional awards don't count, but this would give deGrom a third straight Cy Young. Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux are the only men to do that (they each won four straight).
deGrom's competition for the East Region Cy Young: Yankees righty Gerrit Cole, Phillies righty Aaron Nola, and Blue Jays lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. Braves lefty Max Fried and Phillies righty Zack Wheeler are in the next tier down, mostly because they each missed a little time with injury. By some advanced stats, Nola was a top three starter in baseball this season because he faced a brutal opposing schedule. Here's how the Cy Young voters stacked up the East Region pitchers:
- Jacob deGrom, Mets: 89 points
- Hyun-Jin Ryu, Blue Jays: 51 points
- Gerrit Cole, Yankees: 50 points
- Max Fried, Braves: 15 points
- Several with five points or fewer
Three pretty distinct tiers there. deGrom is alone at the top, Ryu and Cole are close together as the runners-up, then there's everyone else. To be clear, I'm not simply giving our regional award to whoever accrued the most points in the actual awards voting. Things have just aligned that way to this point. deGrom was the East Region's top pitcher in 2020.
Rookie of the Year: Alec Bohm, Phillies. The Phillies did not summon Bohm until Aug. 13, limiting him to 44 games, and I can't help but wonder whether they'd have made the postseason had they called him up even a week sooner. Philadelphia missed the postseason by one stinkin' game and, among the 203 players with at least 150 plate appearances in 2020, Bohm was sixth in win probability added. He came up with many enormous hits in those 44 games.
It was a weak year for rookies in the East Region and Bohm is the easy winner here. Braves righty Ian Anderson and Marlins righty Sixto Sanchez are the clear runners-up with Orioles outfielder Ryan Mountcastle and Mets shortstop Andres Gimenez distant competitors. If the postseason counted, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena would certainly be in the mix, but it doesn't. Arozarena only played 23 regular season games. Not enough for a Rookie of the Year candidate even a 60-game season. Bohm it is.
Manager of the Year: Charlie Montoyo, Blue Jays. Two East Region managers won the actual Manager of the Year awards (Cash and Mattingly) but these are my awards, and I'm giving East Region Manager of the Year to Montoyo. The Blue Jays were a trendy sleeper pick coming into the season and Montoyo led them to the postseason -- Toronto had the third-best record in the league the final six weeks of the season -- even though they played their home games in a Triple-A ballpark. The Manager of the Year award is kinda silly and it's impossible to properly evaluate these guys. I'm cool with giving the award to the manager who took a nomad team to October. Mattingly is my runner-up.
... but Ramirez provided way more defensive value at a more premium position, hence his MLB leading 3.4 WAR per FanGraphs. Also, Cleveland's offense was horrible -- it scored the fifth-fewest runs per game in baseball -- and Ramirez carried the team to a postseason spot (and a better record than Abreu's White Sox) the final few weeks. These two are 1A and 1B for the Central Region MVP. Because I have to put one ahead of the other, I'll go with Ramirez.
My 1C in this race is Shane Bieber. He was far and away the best pitcher in baseball this season. It was the kind of season that deserves MVP recognition even from the voters who don't believe pitchers should win MVP. For me, those three are clearly the top three candidates for Central Region MVP. Behind them, you have Twins slugger Nelson Cruz and White Sox star Tim Anderson. Here's how MVP voters lined up Central Region players:
- Jose Abreu, White Sox: 374 points
- Jose Ramirez, Cleveland: 303 points
- Shane Bieber, Cleveland: 173 points
- Nelson Cruz, Twins: 128 points
- Tim Anderson, White Sox: 125 points
- Trevor Bauer, Reds: 32 points
- Yu Darvish, Cubs: 14 points
- Several with 10 points or fewer
The NL Central was the weakest division in the game in 2020 and that is reflected in the MVP voting. It leaned decidedly toward AL Central players. The actual MVP voters overwhelmingly gave the award to Abreu and they're the ones who matter. At least one dumb blogger (me) feels it should've been Ramirez.
Cy Young: Shane Bieber, Cleveland. As noted in the intro, the Central Region was by far the weakest hitting region in baseball this season. There are some great pitchers in the region (Bauer, Bieber, Darvish, etc.) but that alone doesn't explain it. There were just some really poor offenses in the Central Region. The Brewers, the Pirates, the Reds ... yuck.
Even when considering his competition, Bieber was the most dominant pitcher in the sport in 2020. Baseball Prospectus' Deserved Runs Average stat adjusts for quality of competition and it still had Bieber as 47 percent better than league average, tops among starters in baseball. Bauer was at 41 percent better than average, Darvish 33 percent. Still excellent! But Bieber, the league leader in wins, ERA, ERA+, FIP, strikeouts, and WAR, was a cut above. Here's how Central Region pitchers fared in the Cy Young voting:
- Shane Bieber, Cleveland: 210 points
- Trevor Bauer, Reds: 201 points
- Yu Darvish, Cubs: 123 points
- Kenta Maeda, Twins: 92 points
- Dallas Keuchel, White Sox: 46 points
- Several with 20 points or fewer
Bieber is the AL Cy Young winner, he's my Central Region Cy Young winner, and if there were one single MLB Cy Young, he'd have won that too. He was as dominant as anyone could have reasonably expected any starter to be in a short 60-game season.
Rookie of the Year: Devin Williams, Brewers. The Central Regional Rookie of the Year is a two-man race between Williams and White Sox wunderkind Luis Robert. Robert really slumped in September, dragging his batting line down to .233/.302/.436, which is almost exactly league average (101 OPS+). The Gold Glove defense makes the total package comfortably better than average.
Williams, on the other hand, was arguably the best reliever in the sport this season. He allowed one earned run in 27 innings -- that earned run came in his second appearance -- with 53 strikeouts in those 27 innings. Even as a reliever in a short season, I don't think a 0.33 ERA and a 0.63 WHIP with 17.7 K/9 will ever look out of place on a Rookie of the Year award. Williams gets the nod over Robert, with Pirates third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes and Cleveland reliever James Karinchak the honorable mentions.
Manager of the Year: Rick Renteria, White Sox. Fun fact: Six of the 10 Central Region managers received a Manager of the Year vote this year, the most of any region. That just reinforces my belief that no one really knows anything about managers and voters are just guessing and building narratives each year. Anyway, the White Sox made the jump from rebuilder to contender this year, and were the only Central Region team to really exceed expectations. That makes Renteria as good a Manager of the Year candidate as anyone. It's unfortunate the ChiSox do not believe he is the right man to lead the team going forward.
MVP: Mookie Betts, Dodgers. Most years, you could safely pencil Mike Trout in as the league MVP and certainly the West Region MVP. He is the game's best player and any arguments against his MVP candidacy are based on the failures of his teammates (i.e. the Angels don't contend). Trout had a subpar 2020 season, however, and when .281/.390/.603 with 17 homers in 53 games qualifies as subpar, you know you're talking about an inner circle great.
Trout being merely excellent rather than otherworldly opened the door for Betts to sneak in and win the West Region MVP. Padres infielders Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. are right there with Mookie and Trout, and we can't forget Anthony Rendon either, but I am giving the award to Betts because of his all-around excellence. He is great at everything and he was the best player on the best team in the league. That's MVP worthy. Here's how West Region players finished in the MVP voting:
- Mookie Betts, Dodgers: 268 points
- Manny Machado, Padres: 221 points
- Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres: 201 points
- Mike Trout, Angels: 172 points
- Mike Yastrzemski, Giants: 81 points
- Corey Seager, Dodgers: 43 points
- Anthony Rendon, Angels: 42 points
- Trevor Story, Rockies: 23 points
- Several with 10 or fewer points
NL West heavy, for sure. The AL West wasn't that good this year, with the Astros limping to a 29-31 finish and the Athletics losing Matt Chapman to a season-ending hip injury, and a weak division usually doesn't produce MVP candidates. Betts, Machado, and Tatis were the cream of the crop in the West Region in 2020, with Trout always deserving of a mention.
Cy Young: Dinelson Lamet, Padres. I was pleasantly surprised to see Lamet finish as high as he did (fourth) in the NL Cy Young race. A biceps injury ended his season early and kept him out of the postseason, but the Cy Young is a regular season award, and the injury didn't end his season too early. Lamet still made 12 starts and threw 69 innings, ranking him among the league workload leaders. That's more than enough to garner Cy Young consideration.
The runner-up is Rangers righty Lance Lynn, who is notable as much for his innings eating ability (MLB leading 84 innings and 344 batters faced) as his effectiveness (3.32 ERA). An ugly final start might've cost Lynn the West Region Cy Young. He surrendered 10 runs (nine earned) in 5 2/3 innings in his final game. With that one game, he went from a 2.53 ERA to a 3.32 ERA. Ouch. Here's how the Cy Young voters sized up West Region pitchers:
- Dinelson Lamet, Padres: 56 points
- Lance Lynn, Rangers: 22 points
- Chris Bassitt, Athletics: 10 points
- Several tied with five points or fewer
Shoutout to Rockies righties German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela, who did not get a single Cy Young vote between them but whose Coors Field adjusted numbers rank them among MLB's most effective pitchers in 2020. And what does it say about Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw that he threw 58 1/3 innings with a 2.16 ERA and received only two fifth-place Cy Young votes? We're taking the man for granted. He's still awesome.
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, Mariners. Great, great rookie crop in the West Region. The Dodgers had two stud pitchers (Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May), the Athletics had a very impressive rookie battery (Jesus Luzardo and Sean Murphy), and the Angels and Astros found keepers in Jared Walsh and Cristian Javier, respectively. Ultimately, this is a two-man race between Lewis and Padres infielder Jake Cronenworth. They separated themselves from the pack.
I was a bit surprised Lewis was named AL Rookie of the Year unanimously not because I don't think he deserved it, but because I expected Luis Robert to steal a first-place vote or two. Lewis led all rookies in homers and WAR and is generally just a joy to watch play the game. Cronenworth started great and slumped late, but is a valuable do-it-all type. Quite a find for the Padres. The rare one who gets away from the Rays. Cronenworth was very good and I'd take him on my team any day. Lewis was better this year though and gets the West Region Rookie of the Year nod.
Manager of the Year: Jayce Tingler, Padres. The easy way out would be giving it to Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts because he was the manager of the best team in baseball, which usually equals Manager of the Year support, but Tingler's work stood out in San Diego. As a rookie skipper, he helped the team transition out of their rebuilding phase and become a bona fide World Series contender. The Padres had the third-best record and second-best run differential in baseball. They were expected to be good in 2020, or at least begin to get good. Instead, they vaulted right by good and became great.