Dodgers are team of year
More than anything else, the 2023 season has been about disappointing teams. It has been about clubs that explained failure on this timeline: It’s early … it’s worrisome … it’s over.
The Mets, Yankees and Padres had the majors’ three highest payrolls. Their combined record going into the next-to-last weekend of the regular season was 223-236 and they were a combined 64 ¹/₂ games out of first place.
The Cardinals already are assured of their first losing season since 2007 and are on pace for their worst record since 1978. The White Sox White Soxed and the Angels Angeled, the duo traversing from high expectations to the third-worst and fourth-worst records in the AL, respectively.
That is why, in these annual awards, I want to acknowledge the Dodgers as the Team of the Year. Not because they have the best record. The incredibly impressive Braves and Orioles were outdoing them entering the weekend.
But the Dodgers are a barometer. For the Yankees, they are their West Coast doppelganger. For the Mets, they are the organization Steve Cohen wants to emulate. For the Padres, they are the NL West obsession that led to collecting stars and making long-term financial commitments that screamed the future is now.
And the question should be asked of the Padres notably: If you are not going to outdo the Dodgers this year, when exactly will that occur?
Because this was a year the Dodgers took their payroll down. They also lead the majors in games lost to the injured list. Their rotation was particularly beset by injury, plus Julio Urias was placed on administrative leave by MLB as it investigated allegations of domestic violence. Nearly one-third of the Dodgers’ games this year were started by rookie pitchers.
Because these are the annual awards, consider this: The Dodgers let Corey Seager leave for free agency after the 2021 season, and he is probably going to finish second for AL MVP. They then let his replacement, Trea Turner, leave for free agency after last season, and Turner’s replacement, Gavin Lux, tore up his knee in spring training and never played an inning this season.
The Dodgers, unable to rekindle anything resembling his 2019 NL MVP, non-tendered Cody Bellinger last offseason. Bellinger has revived his career with the Cubs and likely will finish in the NL MVP top 10.
So in consecutive offseasons, the Dodgers lost two elite, homegrown, prime-aged lefty hitters and they still won the NL West in both subsequent seasons. That gives them 10 division crowns in 11 years (and the season they didn’t win the NL West, they still won 106 games). It is why they are my Team of the Year and why the actual awards begin:
Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves
It was going to be Mookie Betts. I have gone back and forth for weeks, and there is still one more week for me to flip-flop more.
For several years, I have said that if we were playing a game for all my money tomorrow and I had the first pick in the entire majors, I would take Betts because every day in some way — hitting, field, baserunning, elite baseball IQ — he helps you win. Nothing has changed.
It was, if anything, enhanced by the ability of Betts, the best defensive right fielder in the game, responding at the Dodgers’ time of middle-infield crisis by being a capable shortstop (16 games) and an above-average second baseman (63 games). Think about how valuable that is. And yet …
I just kept looking at Acuna’s season. The first 30-homer and 60-steal season, a chance to make it 40-70 (he was 40-68 entering the weekend) and already the fifth 40-40 man ever, and the first since 2006.
A big piece of Atlanta’s identity is how it ambushed opponents with 140 first-inning runs, a pace that would be the most ever (147 by the 2000 Cardinals). Acuna, as the leadoff hitter, has been a huge part of that with a 1.090 first-inning OPS plus, eight homers, 18 steals and 40 runs. But the Dodgers have the second-most first-inning runs at 111, and Betts’ stats are also awesome with a 1.088 OPS plus 12 homers, three steals and 35 runs as part of an overall .307 average, .997 OPS, 39 homers, 103 RBIs and 123 runs. With runners in scoring position, Betts had a .377 average and 1.142 OPS.
I am holding back my fingers from typing yet another flip-flop. Really, it is that close. Both seasons are that brilliant.
Equally as amazing to the 1-2 in this race will be the 3-4, because the Braves let Freddie Freeman go (to the Dodgers) and traded for Matt Olson, symbols of both of these organizations operating at such a high plateau.
2. Betts. 3. Freeman. 4. Olson. 5. Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks.
Kris Bryant, Rockies
In the first two seasons of his seven-year, $182 million deal with the Rockies, an injury-slowed Bryant had played in just 117 games and had a minus-0.4 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference), including minus-0.8 in 2023.
Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado finished second and third, respectively, for the NL MVP last year, and their fall from elite to meh was central to the Padres and Cardinals being so disappointing this year.
2. Machado/Arenado. 3. Starling Marte, Mets. 4. Jean Segura, (released by Guardians after trade from Marlins) 5. Henry Davis, Pirates.
Shohei Ohtani, Angels
The endgame has been rough, notably because Ohtani stopped pitching on Aug. 23 and stopped playing altogether on Sept. 3. Then he and his representatives cloaked his whereabouts and surgery specifics like something from an Agatha Christie mystery. But let’s not forget that on Aug. 1, a claim could have been made that between what Ohtani was doing on the mound and at the plate, he was having the greatest season ever.
He heads into an offseason in which he is likely to become the highest-paid free agent ever, though it is already understood he will not pitch next season, at minimum.
Seager, now with the Rangers, had two IL stints himself, or else the offensive magnitude of what he is bringing from shortstop might have made this an even closer race.
2. Seager. 3. Julio Rodriguez, Mariners. 4. Kyle Tucker, Astros. 5. Yandy Diaz, Rays.
Javier Baez, Tigers
Both anti-MVPs were on the 2016 champion Cubs. Baez has an opt-out from the last four years at $98 million after this season. I am here to tell you that a player with the lowest OPS-plus (60) among qualifiers will not opt out.
2. Tim Anderson, White Sox. 3. Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees. 4. Carlos Correa/Byron Buxton, Twins. 5. Andrew Benintendi, White Sox.
NL Cy Young
Blake Snell, Padres
Is Snell the Eli Manning of pitchers? He is fine in most seasons and so far has been magical in two. That led to him winning an AL Cy Young with the Rays in 2018 and likely an NL version this season.
I do not think he deserved to win in 2018, because Justin Verlander also was dominant and threw 33 ¹/₃ innings more than Snell — basically the equivalent of six more starts than Snell. The lefty threw 180 ²/₃ innings in 2018. He will be at about the same total this year. But there is no Verlander combining workhorse and dominance to oppose him.
Snell is heading brilliantly toward free agency by producing a 1.26 ERA in his past 22 starts and a .155 batting average against. Also, no pitcher had faced more batters from the nine teams that were averaging 4.9 runs per game than Snell’s 272, and he had a 2.60 ERA in those games and a .179 batting average against. Kodai Senga, Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler fared well in that area, too.
I also like to look at road stats to see who succeeds without the benefit of a familiar environment. Wheeler, Justin Steele and Spence Strider were strong. Another stat I value in trying to separate a crowded field is the super-quality start (at least seven innings, two or fewer earned runs). Burnes, Zac Gallen and Logan Webb are strong there.
And durability and innings matter, especially when so few starters now make all their starts and regularly provide length.
2. Gallen, Diamondbacks. 3. Wheeler, Phillies. 4. Webb, Giants. 5. Burnes, Brewers.
NL Anti-Cy Young
Miles Mikolas, Cardinals
In an unbiased world, this should be Adam Wainwright’s award. No one else in the NL pitched as consistently poorly as Wainwright. But he is 42 and retiring, and just enjoyed a milestone with his 200th career win. So we will pick his Cardinals teammate, Mikolas, who had 12 starts of at least five earned runs — four more than any other NL pitcher.
2. Yu Darvish, Padres. 3. Jameson Taillon, Cubs. 4. Carlos Carrasco, Mets. 5. Noah Syndergaard, (traded by the Dodgers to the Guardians).
AL Cy Young
Gerrit Cole, Yankees
He separated himself from the pack. He had 25 starts of two or fewer earned runs — five more than anyone else in the AL. He led the league in innings and ERA. That the Yankees could not get to the playoffs with an ace performing that well is another condemnation of the 2023 team.
2. Sonny Gray, Twins. 3. Framber Valdez, Astros. 4. Luis Castillo, Mariners. 5. Kevin Gausman, Blue Jays.
AL Anti-Cy Young
Alek Manoah, Blue Jays
The fall from third in the AL Cy Young last year to being banished to the minors is a dramatic tumble.
2. Luis Severino, Yankees. 3. Carlos Rodon, Yankees. 4. Lucas Giolito, White Sox/Angels/Guardians. 5. Brady Singer, Royals.
NL Rookie of the Year
Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks
He never sank below an .800 OPS in any month. He looked like he hit a wall bridging late July to mid-August, but surged again to lead Arizona’s attempt to make the playoffs. He is the first rookie ever to top 25 homers and 50 steals.
2. Kodai Senga, Mets. 3. Matt McLain, Reds. 4. James Outman, Dodgers. 5. Bobby Miller, Dodgers.
AL Rookie of the Year
Gunnar Henderson, Orioles
The Yankees had the 28th pick in the 2019 draft and took Anthony Volpe. Baltimore had the first pick of the second round, No. 42 overall, and took Henderson. Will Volpe grow to match the excellence of Henderson, who just kept getting better and better this season as he moved from the everyday third baseman to shortstop as the season progressed?
2. Tanner Bibee, Guardians. 3. Yennier Cano, Orioles. 4. Josh Jung, Rangers. 5. Bryce Miller, Mariners.
NL Manager of the Year
Brian Snitker, Braves
He is old school. He defies load management and instead fosters a culture in which his best players get on the field and play.
2. Dave Roberts, Dodgers. 3. Craig Counsell, Brewers. 4. Skip Schumaker, Marlins. 5. David Bell, Reds.
AL Manager of the Year
Brandon Hyde, Orioles
He rallied his group around the idea that their surge to prominence last year was no fluke. His young players grew and played well for him.
2. Kevin Cash, Rays. 3. Rocco Baldelli, Twins. 4. Dusty Baker, Astros. 5. Scott Servais, Mariners.