As the hosts of Call To The Bullpen, Bradley and I created a ballot with three finalists for each of the major MLB awards and asked our 13 CSMN baseball writers to submit their votes. As the host of the show, I feel it is only right that I make my ballot public. After lots of back and forth and deliberation, here is my 2021 MLB awards ballot:
Most Valuable Player: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
This was the second easiest choice for me. Vlad Jr had an amazing, rare season. Shohei’s was one of a kind. On July 26, shortly after the All-Star Break, Ohtani recorded his 100th strikeout while leading all of MLB with 35 home runs. No pitcher before him had ever recorded triple-digit strikeouts and hit more than 9 home runs in a season. At the end of July, Ohtani became the only player in MLB history to have 37 home runs and 15 stolen bases at that point in the season. In mid-August he set the Angels franchise record for home runs in a season by a left handed hitter. Still not convinced? In September he joined Willie Mays as the only players in MLB history with 45 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and six triples in a season after hitting back to back triples, something an Angel hadn’t done since 2011. This season was so unprecedented that MLB even had to change the rules of the All-Star Game to accommodate his greatness. In any other year Vlad Jr. is the strong favorite for this award, but unless he posted a 3.18 ERA, 156/44 K/BB ratio, 1.09 WHIP, and went undefeated in his home starts to pair with his offensive stats he never stood a chance at this award in my mind.
Cy Young Award: Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays
This was one of the tougher awards for me to decide on. On paper Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and Ray are neck and neck, but their struggles down the stretch made me second guess. Ace’s are supposed to win big games in September. Neither Ray or Cole could do that when their team’s needed them the most, which is where Lance McCullers entered consideration. Ultimately I decided that Ray’s dominance during the entirety of the 2021 season was too strong to ignore. Despite the pathetic incident in which he accused the 110-loss Baltimore Orioles of cheating against him, Ray was clearly the most effective pitcher in the AL. He was a workhorse for the Jays, accumulating a league leading 193 ⅓ innings at a league best 2.84 ERA and 284 strikeouts. What most impressed me about Ray’s season was his ability to limit baserunners; his 1.045 WHIP also led the Junior Circuit.
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles
I’ll start by acknowledging my potential bias as an Orioles fan, but the MLB players selecting Mountcastle as the 2021 AL Outstanding Rookie should dispel any notion that this is not a legitimate pick. ROYan’s 33 home runs led all MLB rookies and his 89 RBI only trailed Adolis Garcia, while playing 76 games in the pitching powerhouse AL east on a team that ranked 26th in runs per game, 27th in team OBP, and 26th in runs scored. He also ranked third among AL rookies in hits and was tied for fourth in the American League among rookies in BB. With his 29th home run of the season, Mountcastle surpassed Orioles and MLB legend Cal Ripken Jr. for the O’s franchise rookie home run record. His WAR numbers are lacking due to the fact that he split time between DH and OF this season, neither of which are his natural position. Seeing as he was playing out of position all year, due to the presence of face-of-the-franchise Trey Mancini at 1B, I feel comfortable overlooking his defensive woes in favor of his massive offensive production.
Manager of the Year: Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners
Alex Cora leading his team from 5th place to a Wild Card spot in just a year made him a strong candidate for this award, but Servais was the manager that I felt got the most out of his ball-club. The Mariners were widely picked to finish 4th in their division by publications like Baseball America, Sports Illustrated, and PECOTA. Yet with Servias leadership the M’s battled through some early-season front office turmoil to finish second in their division. This was not supposed to be the Mariners year, rather a building block for the future, yet they managed to win 90 games and stay in playoff contention until the last day of the season. Ultimately the decision to trade bullpen staple Kendall Graveman to their division rival Astros might have cost the M’s a Wild Card berth, but that falls on the shoulders of trade-happy GM Jerry Dipoto, not Servais.
Comeback Player of the Year: Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
Shohei was the second easiest; this was the easiest. The second that Trey Mancini stepped on a Major League field on April 2 in Boston he won this award. The 2021 season was Mancini’s triumphant return to MLB after missing the 2020 season, during which he was busy kicking stage 3 colon cancer’s ass. Trey was an inspiration to Birdland, the MLB community, and the sports world as a whole. His comeback season was made even better by his appearance in the 2021 Home Run Derby, in which he made it all the way to the finals before falling to the defending champion Pete Alonso. Watching Trey ball out in the derby is and forever will be one of the most gratifying, incredible moments I’ve ever witnessed as an Orioles, baseball, and sports fan. It didn’t matter if he mashed like Vladdy or slumped like Chris Davis this year; just being back on a baseball field again was enough to win the King of Charm City the AL Comeback Player of the Year.
Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
For a while this looked like a two headed race between Fernando Tatis Jr. and Jacob deGrom, but both fell off due to injury issues. Tatis did come back from his injury and finish the season in strong consideration, but required a move off of shortstop to do so. In the end it was a different two horse race for me between former teammates Juan Soto and Bryce Harper. Soto’s plate discipline is unparalleled and he will win many MVP’s in his career, but 2021 was Harper’s year yet again. The 2015 unanimous NL MVP now owns the greatest season in Nationals history AND one of the greatest seasons in Phillies history. Bryce silenced the “overrated” crowd with an off the charts slash line of .309/.429/.615/1.044. Those kinds of numbers don’t happen unless your name is Bryce Harper or Barry Bonds. Harper’s 2021 almost mirrors Bonds’ 1992 MVP season, and it’s fair to say that without his presence in the lineup the Phillies would easily be a sub-.500 team. If he puts up these types of numbers with virtually zero protection behind him in the Phillies lineup imagine what he will do in coming years if the Phils are able to add a power hitting shortstop behind him. Harper is now a 2x MVP at just 29 years old.
Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals/Los Angeles Dodgers
This was the award that I struggled with the most. The NL was stacked with deserving pitching performances this year but ultimately I narrowed it down to Zach Wheeler and Max Scherzer. Wheeler was an absolute workhorse for the Phillies. Without Harper and Wheeler the Phillies are in the cellar of the east and possibly the National League. His 213 innings led all of MLB, as did his 3 complete games (tied with German Marquez and Adam Wainwright). In fewer starts than Scherzer, Wheeler threw more innings and recorded more strikeouts.
Ultimately I decided to give the award to Mad Max based on a few factors. First, down the stretch for the Dodgers Scherzer was absolutely brilliant. In Los Angeles, he posted a 7-0 record with a 1.98 ERA, striking out 89 over 68 ⅓ innings with just 8 walks. When his team needed him the most he did what Cole and Ray didn’t; he showed up. Second, the added difficulty of moving across the country in the middle of the season and adjusting to a new city, ballpark, staff, and catchers. Scherzer was already in the running during his final half-season in D.C., and the fact that he didn’t miss a beat, and actually got even better from making the move speaks volumes to me. Finally, although Wheeler threw more innings in less starts I found Max’s innings to be more dominant. It was near impossible to reach base against Scherzer in 2021. He led both leagues in WHIP and H/9 and led the national league in BB/9, so ultimately the award goes to him.
Rookie of the Year: Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds
This one was a toss up between India and Marlins southpaw Trevor Rodgers. Rodgers dazzled for a sub-par Marlins team, but India’s .376 OBP led all qualified rookies and .835 OPS led NL rookies and only trailed Rays OF Randy Arozarena among all rookies. The on base number really is what sold me, as he finished 6th in the entire National League. Getting on base nearly 38% of the time as an experienced player is excellent, and even more impressive as a freshman.
Manager of the Year: Gabe Kapler, San Francisco Giants
Kapler was another easy choice. The talk of the west pre-season was all about the Padres and Dodgers, but right out of the gate Kapler and the Giants took off and never looked back. I don’t know what Kapler’s secret to turning around a team of 30-something year olds several years into their decline was, but he did it and he is the only logical choice for this award.
Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
In my mind Gerald Depsey Posey has been a Hall of Famer since 2012, but if anyone had any doubts those are now erased. First ballot, greatest catcher of all time, and 2021 Comeback Player of the Year should all be on Posey’s resume. After taking 2020 off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the birth of a new child, and a down year in 2019, Posey was once again the heart and soul of a great Giants team. He posted a .300+ average for the first time since 2017, mashed more home runs than he did in 2019 and 2018 combined, and got on base a whopping 39% of the time. Another future first ballot Hall of Famer Joey Votto’s 2021 resurgence is also worth noting, but Posey’s impact on the comeback team of the year wins him this award.