With the calendar now turned to May, we are one month into the Major League Baseball season.
There is still a ton of time for both players and teams to correct bad starts, but those who came out of the gates hot have given themselves some wiggle room.
All-Star voting has begun, so it won’t be long before we’ve reached the dog days of summer.
But before we get too far into the second month of the season, its time to hand out some early season hardware.
Manager of the Year
American League – Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox
The most talk surrounding the Chicago White Sox coming out of Spring Training had nothing to do with play on the field, but with whether or not the club was right to ask veteran Adam LaRoche to not bring his son, Drake, to work everyday.
To most of teams, a storyline like that could’ve easily gotten out of control with a lot of finger pointing.
But Robin Ventura didn’t allow the story to go on for too long, and maybe he used the organization’s bad publicity as motivation to his team.
Chicago is off to a fantastic start, owning the best record in baseball at 18-8. The most impressive thing about the White Sox, though, isn’t that they’re winning, it’s where they’re winning.
While Ventura’s team is just three games over .500 at home (6-3), the fifth-year manager has his club playing at a 12-5 clip away from US Cellular field.
The White Sox currently have a three-game lead over Detroit, and a four-game advantage over the defending World Series champion Royals.
National League – Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals
A good case could be made for Joe Maddon to be Manager of the Year through the first month, but Dusty Baker gets the nod from me for a couple reasons.
First off, the expectations were far too high for Maddon and the Cubs going into the season to reward him now. They’re doing exactly what they should be doing.
Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the Nationals are exceeding expectations, as they are off to a 17-7 record, including being 9-3 on the road.
In his first year with the Nats, Baker and company rattled off a seven-game win streak, and after being swept by the surprising Phillies last week, they returned the favor by taking all three games from the Cardinals in St. Louis.
We’ll get a chance to see which of the two managers truly have done the best work, when Washington travels to take on the Cubs in Wrigley at the end of the week.
Rookie of the Year
American League – Joey Rickard, Baltimore Orioles
Heading into 2016, the Orioles outfield depth was somewhat in question.
Buck Showalter had more than enough players to surround All-Star center fielder Adam Jones with, but most of his options were somewhat unproven, at best.
In stepped Joey Rickard.
Rickard started his career by getting a hit in seven-straight games. He has continued to hit well from the leadoff spot, currently hitting just under .280, and he has proven to be an above-average defensive player.
The lone downside to Rickard offensively is that he’s strike out, but show me a rookie that doesn’t strike out much and I’ll show you 20 that do. More importantly, though, he provides balance to a power-heavy lineup, and is a capable leadoff man.
National League – Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Was there a better story to begin the year than Trevor Story?
I mean the kid was creating records that we didn’t even know could be created.
Story hit a home run in each of his first four games, becoming the first rookie to homer in his first four contest, and is the quickest player to reach seven home runs in a career, needing just six games to do so.
He totaled 17 extra base hits, including 10 home runs, during the first month of the season, which is something that only Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols have done. And his 10 home runs tied him for the major-league led with teammate Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, and Neil Walker.
If he keeps this up, especially in hitter-friendly Coors Field, Colorado may be a surprise team fighting for a playoff spot at season’s end.
Cy Young Award
American League – Chis Sale, Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale and the White Sox finally seem to be successful at the same time.
The White Sox are off to their best start since winning it all in 2005, and Sale is off to the best start of his career.
Sale finished the first month of the season with a perfect 5-0 record and an impressive 1.66 ERA.
In each of his five starts in April, Sale never pitched less than seven innings, and allowed one or fewer runs in three of those starts. He also finished April issuing just five walks, compared to striking out 32 would-be hitters.
Strong consideration was given to Jordan Zimmerman, but considering Sale’s team has been slightly better, he get’s the nod on the award.
Sale has yet to allow double-digit hits this year, and three of his five wins in April came on the road, including limiting a good-hitting Blue Jays team to just one run on four hits on April 26.
National League – Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner has carried his impressive 2015 season into 2016.
Jake Arrieta finished the first month of the season as the only pitcher in the National League with five wins, and is the only NL starting pitcher other than Stephen Strasburg that threw 30+ innings and has zero losses.
Arrieta’s even 1.00 ERA is second-lowest in the NL, and his 0.78 WHIP is best in the league.
He is also tied for fourth in fewest hits allowed.
Speaking of hits allowed, what even further helps his case is that he tossed a no-hitter during the first month of the season, less than eight months – and only 13 games – after he threw his first no hitter last August against the Dodgers.
Arrieta went seven or more innings in four of his five starts, and allowed three or less hits in three stats. He has also yet to have a start this year in which he’s struck out less than six batters.
The American League hasn’t seen a repeat CY Young winner since Pedro Martinez won the award in 1999 and 2000, meanwhile, it’s been nearly second nature for there to be a repeat performance in the National league.
Most Valuable Player
American League – Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles are off to a much better start than a lot of people thought they would be.
Baltimore was the last team in the majors to lose a game this season, having their best start to a season in over 50 years, and even though the Birds have cooled off a bit since the first week, they are still one of the best teams in baseball to this point in the year.
Possibly the biggest reason for that has been the play of Manny Machado, who is finally getting national recognition as a player who deserves to be in the conversation with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as best young players in the game.
The Orioles third baseman is among the American League leaders in numerous statistical categories.
At month’s end he led the AL in hits with 33 and slugging percentage at .667, he was second in average (.344), third in doubles with 10, tied for third in home runs (7) and runs scored (20), and his .394 on-base percentage also put him inside the Top 10.
Machado is also hitting .404 against divisional opponents, including six doubles and three long balls. Equally as important, he’s been performing in front of the home crowd, hitting at a .460 clip with five home runs and 13 runs batted in at Camden Yards.
Add in a Gold Glove caliber start to the season defensively, and you can see just how much he’s meant to the O’s thus far.
National League – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
I tried giving this award to someone other than Bryce Harper, but it just couldn’t be justified.
The closest comparison, statistically speaking, that can be made to what Harper did in April this year is by comparing him to Nolan Arenado.
Just comparing Arenado directly to the Nationals outfielder looks like this:
Arenado – .297/.366/.670, 27 H, 10 HR, 22 RBI, 21 R
Harper – .286/.406/.714, 22 H, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 16 R
The Rockies third baseman did hit for a slightly better average, but all of the stats he topped Harper in are only by slight margins, where as other than the RBI totals, Harper was far and away better than Arenado.
As you can see, Harper had an OBP 40 points better, and a slugging percentage that was 44 points higher than Arenado’s.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Harper’s performance thus far, is that he’s been even better on the road than he has been in his home ballpark. Not to mention his .782 slugging percentage against NL East opponents.
Both are deserving of the award, but Washington has been one of, if not, the best teams in baseball for a number of reasons and Harper has been the biggest reason.