With most of the league between 40 and 42 games played, let’s take a look at the quarter-season AL awards update. Who has stood out so far in 2023?
Quarter-Season AL Awards
Quarter-Season AL Awards – MVP: Wander Franco
The Tampa Bay Rays are off to a historically relevant start, and Franco has been at the center of attention. The former No. 1 overall prospect had only played 153 games in his first two seasons, but he has been healthy and playing at an elite level so far in 2023. In 40 games, he is slashing .301/.354/.521 for a robust 146 OPS+. When factoring in his boost for playing shortstop, Franco leads the AL in offensive WAR, and his total of 2.4 WAR is tied with Marcus Semien for most among AL position players.
Franco has 15 doubles, seven home runs, and 12 steals in addition to above-average defense at shortstop. The Rays have plenty of deserving candidates (including Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz), but Franco has had the best performance in all facets even if Arozarena is the team’s lightning rod and Diaz is a superior hitter at the moment.
Outside of the Rays, Shohei Ohtani is once again in the conversation with his mix of hitting and pitching excellence. Matt Chapman has been in a bit of a cold spell, but he had been the front-runner for most of the year before now.
Quarter-Season AL Awards – Cy Young: Sonny Gray
Through 45.1 innings, Gray has been phenomenal. He leads the Majors with a 1.39 ERA through eight starts, aided by his ability to limit the long ball (0 home runs allowed). Gray has a 1.89 FIP (best in the AL) and a massive 312 ERA+. He is striking out over 11 batters per nine innings, and his walk rate is in line with his normal numbers. He ranks in the top 20% of the Majors in many expected stats.
Gray is a six-pitch pitcher, and four of his six pitches have been stellar. Gray’s curveball, cutter, sinker, and sweeper have all been worth at least -2 run value with his curveball’s -6 RV third in the Majors behind Charlie Morton and Phil Maton. Opponents have whiffed on over 40% of Gray’s curveballs and sweepers, fueling his massive strikeout rate.
Eduardo Rodriguez is having an excellent season as well as is Gray’s teammate Joe Ryan. Gerrit Cole and Luis Castillo were early-season favorites, but they have faced some resistance in recent starts.
Quarter-Season AL Awards – Rookie of the Year: Masataka Yoshida
Through April 18, Yoshida was slashing .167/.310/.250. After getting an off day on April 19, Yoshida nabbed two hits and two RBI on April 20. He got a hit in his next 15 games, extending his streak to 16 before running into Charlie Morton’s curveball on May 9. During his hitting streak, Yoshida slashed .438/.479/.750 with 10 extra-base hits and five walks. He nearly doubled his batting average from .167 to .321 and became one of the top hitters in the league.
Yoshida had a disastrous series in Atlanta, but he looks to have settled into MLB pitching. He rarely strikes out, and his quality of contact is in the top quarter of the league. At this point, Yoshida could receive some down-ballot MVP consideration and an All-Star nod.
Yoshida’s stiffest competition early in the season was Logan O’Hoppe, but he will miss most of the season with an injury. Josh Jung had been on Yoshida’s tier, but he is scuffling at the moment. The Oakland Athletics have a pair of contenders in Ryan Noda (139 OPS+) and Esteury Ruiz (18 steals), but it appears to be Yoshida’s award to lose – unless Seattle’s Bryce Miller (0.47 ERA in 19 innings) continues to be prime Greg Maddux.
Quarter-Season AL Awards – Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash
Cash has already won two AL Manager of the Year Awards (2020 and 2021), but this is his best team yet. The Rays were challenging modern records for the best undefeated start and best home-undefeated start, and they have settled into a .738 winning percentage through 42 games. If the Rays maintain the top spot in the AL and win more than 100 games, Cash will be a lock to win his third award.
He has been in the top six of voting in five straight seasons, but he won the award both times the Rays won the AL East. Despite being in an ultra-competitive division, the Rays are leading by four games. Cash has done a masterful job of putting his team in a position to be successful.
The Orioles’ Brandon Hyde is lurking, but the Rays would have to be kicked off their historic pace for Hyde to win the award. The Twins’ Rocco Baldelli and Rangers’ Bruce Bochy could be interesting candidates if their teams hold on in their division races.