Predictions for MLB’s 2011 MVP and Cy Young awards

With Major League Baseball playoffs here, the announcement of regular-season awards is fast approaching. The 2011 season awards races ended in a close finish, so despite the uncertainties as to who will win, let’s make some predictions.

There is one race that I would be willing to bet big money on. It is pretty much unanimously decided among experts and fans that Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander will win the AL’s Cy Young Award. His 24–8 record, 2.40 earned run average (ERA), and 250 strikeouts were good enough to capture the pitcher’s Triple Crown. Never before has a pitcher won the pitcher’s Triple Crown and not won the Cy Young Award.

On that same note, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw, is favored to do the same in the National League. He boasts a 21–5 record, a 2.28 ERA, and 248 strikeouts, leading all NL pitchers in those categories. Despite his astounding numbers, experts still give Phillies aces Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Ian Kennedy, an outside shot to win the NL’s Cy Young. However, given the National League pitcher’s Triple Crown and the mediocrity of the Dodgers’ offense, I predict Kershaw will edge out the rest of the pack. He could become the first Dodgers pitcher to win the award since closer Eric Gagne won it in 2003. Kershaw’s improved control on his curveball, plus the addition of an effective slider and a change-up to his pitching repertoire, have proven to be burdens on opposing hitters.

The Most Valuable Player race leaders are more ambiguous than the Cy Young races, with no clear-cut candidate in either league.

Before I begin presenting my predictions for the AL MVP race, I want to eliminate Justin Verlander from the discussion. A pitcher can legally win the race, and Verlander might win it this year, but I believe that a pitcher should not win this award. A starting pitcher only pitches once every five games. How can he be the most valuable player to his team when he is only playing in a fifth of the team’s games? Sure, he has 24 wins, but the Tigers won 95. First baseman Miguel Cabrera has to be considered more valuable than Verlander to the Tigers’ successes.

The American League MVP race is a close one. If I were one of the baseball writers who had a vote, I would vote for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. He had an MLB-leading 43 home runs, a .302 batting average, and 103 runs batted in (RBIs). However, the player who I think will actually win the award is the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson. He has had a spectacular season at the plate. His 41 home runs and 119 RBIs were good for second and first in the AL, respectively. Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano could take votes away from Granderson, but I don’t think it will be enough to prevent him from winning the AL MVP.

The National League MVP race is a two-player race between the Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfielder Matt Kemp and the Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun. Although Braun might be favored for being on a playoff team, Kemp’s flirtation with the Triple Crown makes him the favorite and my prediction to win it. The last time an offensive player won the Triple Crown was in 1967, when Carl Yastrzemski won it with the Red Sox. Therefore with Kemp coming close to leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs, he should be the sure pick for the NL MVP. He concluded the season third, first, and first in those categories, respectively, with a .324 average, 39 home runs, and 126 RBIs. Additionally, he was remarkably close to being just the fifth 40–40 player ever — that is, 40 home runs and 40 steals in a season. He finished the season just one home run short. If Kemp wins the NL MVP, he would become the first Dodgers player to win it since Kirk Gibson in the magical 1988 season.

The 2011 season was a memorable one, and the playoffs look to be even more enthralling. But before I start worrying about the journey to the World Series, I am excited to see where the regular-season awards fall into place.