David Ortiz may have finished behind a teammate in the regular season MVP race, but a World Series MVP Trophy is still very much in play.
“Big Papi” is at the center of a young Boston Red Sox squad. And his group is just the beginning.
Reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson had something of a down year — though his Toronto Blue Jays will take part in the Wild Card game — while CY Young winner Dallas Keuchel‘s struggles were compounded by injury. The back-to-back American League pennant-winning and 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals finished the year with a .500 record, well out of the playoff race.
There will be a complete batch of fresh faces at the forefront of the AL October celebrations.
With the Royals out, the Texas Rangers rose to top the AL in the regular season. But Boston, not Texas, were led by the top individual performers. Which, if either, will climb to win the pennant? And, did a Sock not named Ortiz do enough to spoil an otherwise perfect twilight campaign? Finally, did a New York Yankee who played just 53 games do enough to outperform all other first-year players?
MVP: Mookie Betts
The 23-year-old Boston standout finished among the top five in the AL in runs (T-2, 122), hits (No. 2, 214), RBIs (No. 4, 113), batting average (No. 2, .318) and stolen bases (No. 5, 26) — the only player in the game to do so.
Ortiz will get deserving tribute votes for his 127 RBIs (T-1), .315 batting average (No. 6) and 38 home runs (T-8). But Betts’ 9.6 wins above replacement (WAR) rating is second only to Mike Trout (10.6) and nearly two full points ahead of batting title winner Jose Altuve (7.7), and almost double that of his teammate (5.1).
Along with his potent offensive production, Betts is a Gold Glove Award winner lock, after posting an AL outfield-leading fielding percentage of .997 — one error on 361 chances.
All said, Betts is more than just the future of the Red Sox franchise. If his 2016 play keeps up, he will challenge Trout for the mantle as the game’s face.
Cy Young: Rick Porcello
Narrowly outperforming a fellow AL East pitcher — though, not a teammate — Porcello led all of baseball with 22 wins. His 3.15 ERA was fifth-best and his 1.01 WHIP was bested only by Justin Verlander‘s 1.00.
Porcello (189) didn’t stack up strikeout numbers like Verlander (254), though his 223 innings pitched were fourth-most. His closest competitor, though, was J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.18 ERA), of the Toronto Blue Jays, who finished well off the pace of the Red Sox righty in both strikeouts (163) and WHIP (1.17).
2016 was a breakout season for the 27 year-old, who recorded just nine wins a season ago. With his career-low ERA and career-high in wins, Porcello is also in the heat of the Comeback Player of the Year race.
Rookie of the Year: Nomar Mazara
Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez was a late-season call-up, and took the league by storm upon his arrival. But the season-long success of Mazara, gives him an importance advantage over the Bronx backstop.
Mazara more than doubled Sanchez’s hit total — 137 to 60 — in 315 more at-bats, as well as more RBIs — 64 to 42 — and runs — 59 to 34. Sanchez finished with a higher average — .299 to .266. And the two ended in a dead-heat with 20 home runs apiece. Where the Texas outfielder takes the clear lead over his counterpart is that his Rangers finished the regular season with the AL’s top record, while New York ended outside of the race.
For much of the season, Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fullmer (11-7, 3.06 ERA) looked poised to gallop away with the award. But, a 2-5 record, complete with a 4.76 ERA, in the second half allowed the slugging duo to pass him up.
Oakland Athletics third baseman Ryon Healy did the opposite of the Tiger hurler, putting on a late charge after his July call-up. Despite finishing with the top average (.305) among AL rookies, to go with 13 homers and 37 RBIs, it wasn’t enough.
Wild Card: Baltimore Orioles defeat Blue Jays
ALDS: Rangers defeat Orioles (4-2) — Red Sox defeat Cleveland (4-1)
ALCS: Red Sox defeat Rangers (4-2)
Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.