MLB Quarterly Awards: Is Jose Abreu a Lock for AL Rookie of the Year?

Jose Abreu is crushing the ball to start the year. Is the AL Rookie of the Year his to lose?

Now that roughly one quarter of the season is in the books, fluke performances are dwindling, and Cubs fans have already given up hope, let’s take a look back at the best performances in Major League Baseball thus far.

Like any award, this exercise is designed to reward players for their past performance per se, meaning that the winners of the first quarter awards are not necessarily my choice as the winner for the award at the end of the year.

Today’s piece will cover the American League Awards. The National League Awards will be posted shortly after.

MVP: Mike Trout

Stat geeks love Mike Trout, and I’m a stat geek, so I’m picking Mike Trout. Well, yeah, but there are lots of reasons we love Mike Trout so much.

In my humble opinion, Trout has been the best player in baseball over the past two years, and looks to be well on his way to claiming that title for a third season in a row. At first glance, his statistics don't look extremely impressive, but a deeper look shows that there is much to love.

Trout isn't going to win a triple crown. His .269 average, 7 home runs, and 24 runs batted in are very mediocre for a player anointed as quarterly MVP. However, as the antithesis of players such as Miguel Cabrera, Trout derives almost all of his value from statistics other than the traditional triple crown metrics.

Staying on offense for the moment, Trout has a .356 OBP and a .519 SLG, the latter of which is the seventh best figure in the American League. Do you prefer sabermetric stats like wOBA and wRC+? Trout ranks 11th in wOBA and 7th in wRC+. He is not the best hitter in the league, but by just about any metric encompassing all offensive contributions, Trout is firmly within the top ten.

But wait, there’s more! What about baserunning and defense? Trout’s 0.6 BsR (total baserunning contribution in runs above average) is good but not close to Brian Dozier's league leading 3.9 mark. This boosts his value, but not as much as his elite defense.

Defense is difficult to measure, but Trout has arguably been the best defender in the league thus far in 2014 by multiple metrics. His 7.3 total defensive value (in runs above average) is tops in the AL, and the five tool threat also places second in UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games). Furthermore, he has an astounding .974 RZR, which measures his efficiency of converting balls in his “zone” into outs. Trout is also tied for 11th in making plays out of his zone, with 19 thus far.

This is a rare talent that is among league leaders in offense and defense, which adds up to make him the best player in the league. I fully expect Trout to continue to be the best player in the league and win the AL MVP Award.

Cy Young: Masahiro Tanaka

I’ll say it up front, I’m not on the Masahiro Tanaka bandwagon and I don’t think he will keep this up all year. But biases and calls for regression aside, I must appreciate the sheer dominance of the Japanese righty during his first month and a half in the bigs.

Here's what a love about Tanaka: the K/BB ratio. Through eight starts and 58 innings, Tanaka has posted a 10.24 K/9 and a minuscule 1.09 BB/9. Neither figure leads the league as the K/9 is fourth and the BB/9 is second, but we can still appreciate how his 66 K’s are the fifth highest total for any pitcher through his first career eight games.

Tanaka’s other numbers are almost equally as impressive. His 2.17 ERA ranks tied for third in the league and is supported by his 2.19 xFIP. The only knock on Tanaka is his propensity for surrendering home runs, but an unusually high 16.7% HR/FB rate should normalize to around 10% with an increased sample of innings.

Tanaka will face some steep competition for the award, namely from reigning winner Max Scherzer, fellow former NPB pitcher Yu Darvish, and Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez Hernandez. I picked Darvish prior to the season, but I could see any of the aforementioned hurlers winning this award. If Tanaka continues his torrid pace, however, he will be the frontrunner.

Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu

If Tanaka wins the first quarter Cy Young Award then he must also win the Rookie of the Year Award right? Wrong. Though it may seem like an instance of picking someone different for the sake of someone different, I assure you this was not the case.

The debate for AL Rookie of the Year boils down to two international imports that are living up to – and beyond – the hype. While Tanaka has certainly been great, I’ll make the case that Jose Abreu has been even better.

Through the first quarter, Abreu is doing his best Barry Bonds impression by hitting the most home runs. His 15 jacks lead the league, and it is not even remotely close. Those 15 home runs would put him on pace for roughly 60, which is a lot more than anyone else tends to hit these days.

If you’re into RBI’s, which personally I am not, Abreu has you covered. His 41 runs batted in are also tops in the league, but by a slightly less-laughable margin. The large Cuban can also hits for a bit of average at .271, but power is certainly his best tool and the key to his game.

It’s not all pretty for Abreu, as he strikes out a lot and does not take walks, but the dude mashes baseballs. The WAR’s of Abreu and Tanaka are almost identical, so picking one over the other is somewhat a matter of preference. I’m not a chick but I dig the longball, so I’ll take Abreu.

Manager of the Year: Brad Ausmus, Tigers

Sure, managing a team as talented as the Detroit Tigers may not take a whole lot of expertise, but Ausmus has proven to be more than capable of leading the AL Central favorites.

The biggest question mark in Detroit heading into the season, Brad Ausmus has quieted any doubters of his managing ability through the Tigers’ hot start. With a 24-12 record, the Tigers are by far the best team in the American League and Ausmus has proven to be an asset rather than a liability.

The trend in managers these days is hiring former players without any managing experience, and Ausmus fits that bill perfectly. Maybe his youth allows him to relate to players more easily; maybe he just happens to be a really good manager, or maybe filling out lineup cards for such a talented team is simply not that difficult. Whatever the case may be, Ausmus has done enough to earn this award. Bob Melvin of the Athletics is the runner-up, but assuming both the Tigers and A's remain atop their respective divisions, Ausmus seems like the best choice.