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Yankees earning awards consideration at the quarter mark

Yankees litter the early-season contenders list for MVP, Cy Young, and Reliever of the Year.

MLB: MAY 17 Yankees at Orioles Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the 2022 season approaches the one-quarter mark, the 27-9 Yankees are off to a fantastic start as a team, pacing the majors in many categories, including best record. The offense, starting rotation, and relief staff have all greatly contributed to the club’s white-hot start.

With that team start, several Yankees players from the starting lineup, rotation, and bullpen have put up numbers in the early going that should have them on the shortlist for MLB’s individual awards for players – Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, and Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year.

American League MVP

There are a couple of Yankees who are off to starts that might garner them some down-ballot attention in the MVP race, but this list starts and ends with one Aaron Judge. The hulking right fielder, who’s playing his way towards a gargantuan free agent payday, has come out of the gates smoking hot, including another two-homer game last night.

He’s not the only one off to a great start. There are four names that litter most leaderboards as teams approach their 40th games.

AL MVP contenders

Player OPS+ wRC+ wOBA xwOBA fWAR rWAR
Player OPS+ wRC+ wOBA xwOBA fWAR rWAR
MIke Trout 227 225 .476 .487 2.7 2.7
Aaron Judge 214 213 .459 .487 2.6 2.1
Taylor Ward 255 253 .517 .440 2.5 2.1
José Ramírez 178 176 .408 .380 2.0 1.7

Could 2022 be the rare year when Mike Trout plays a full season and is NOT the AL MVP? Trout is off to another of his ho-hum otherworldly starts, but Judge is right beside him, and the latter is hitting for prodigious power in the Bronx. If Ward continues his hot start for the Angels and/or Shohei Ohtani really heats up (1.2 fWAR as a pitcher early, but “only” 0.6 fWAR at the plate), they could also siphon MVP votes away from Trout.

Judge might not be immune from vote splitting. Giancarlo Stanton’s name appears near the top of AL leaderboards in a lot of offensive categories, and he is doing his best to match Judge dinger for dinger. If the two engage in a season long game of tit-for-tat killing baseballs (please yes), it’s not inconceivable that Stanton could erode some of Judge’s MVP support. Of course, Judge’s superior all-around game would likely net the majority of the head-to-head votes.

American League Cy Young

On the mound, the Yankees rotation has been inarguably invaluable to the Yankees’ early season success. And that has success has been underwritten by the starts of two men. Gerrit Cole, who has bounced back from a rough couple of outings to be dominant ever since, and Nasty Nestor Cortes, who has continued right where he left off in 2021. Well, scratch that. He’s improved on where he left off in 2021.

AL Cy Young contenders

Kevin Gausman 45 30.9% 1.1% 2.40 0.82 .242 .270 2.5 1.1
Dylan Cease 43.2 36.8% 9.3% 3.09 2.14 .277 .254 1.5 1.3
Nestor Cortes 40 32.5% 7.3% 1.35 2.43 .229 .251 1.2 1.7
Justin Verlander 45.2 25.3% 5.6% 1.38 3.08 .199 .278 1.2 1.9
Paul Blackburn 37.2 20.4% 3.5% 1.67 2.29 .242 .293 1.1 1.9
Michael Kopech 35 24.1% 12.4% 1.54 2.74 .207 .295 1.0 1.6

Nestor finds himself in a bit of dogfight for the imaginary quarter-season Cy Young. Lucky for the rest of the field, there is more to the award than fWAR. Toronto’s Kevin Gausman is out to an enormous lead in that metric early, almost lapping the rest of the field.

Other than that though, different names find themselves leading categories. Gausman also sits atop BB%. Cease leads in K%. Nestor leads in xwOBA and barely beats out Verlander to pace the junior circuit in ERA. Verlander leads in innings pitched, wOBA, and bWAR alongside Blackburn.

If the leaderboards stay this jumbled over the course of the season, the Cy Young could become dependent on narratives. And in that case, Verlander might be tough beat out, returning from injury to regain his previous dominant form.

But Cortes boasts his own compelling story. The former Rule 5 pick who the Orioles later returned to the Yankees has turned himself into one of the AL’s most dominant pitchers over the last two years, and if he carries this performance through to the end of the season, he will surely find himself with legitimate Cy Young hopes.

Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award

Numerous American League relievers are off to hot starts, including multiple Yankees. Interestingly, neither Aroldis Chapman nor Jonathan Loáisiga, arguably the two names fans would most have expected to see on a list like this before the season started, are anywhere to be found. Instead, two less-heralded Yankee arms represent New York in the race for the top reliever in the American League.

AL Reliever of the Year contenders

Michael King 25.2 39.4% 4.3% 1.40 1.17 .203 .258 1.4 1.4
Clay Holmes 18.1 26.5% 2.9% 0.49 1.61 .200 .197 0.6 1.0
Jordan Romano 14.2 27.9% 8.2% 3.07 3.56 .301 .364 0.2 0.3
Rafael Montero 14.2 30.9% 5.5% 0.61 2.27 .207 .283 0.4 0.7
Liam Hendriks 17.1 35.5% 6.6% 4.15 3.26 .326 .347 0.3 0.1

Romano and Hendriks, while lagging behind in some of the other metrics, sit one and two in the AL in saves in the early going, and it is worth mentioning that the former has already won Reliever of the Month this season.

Saves notwithstanding, this award should not be particularly close at this point in the season. King has been absolutely dominant out of the pen, striking out nearly 40 percent of the batters he faces. By fWAR, he has more than lapped the field when it comes to accumulated value early on, and the only reason he has not done so in bWAR is the dominance of his teammate Holmes.

There we have it. In the races for individual player awards, a trio of Yankees have given themselves legitimate shots if they continue to play well, with Judge and Cortes credible challengers for the MVP and Cy Young awards, and King in the pole position in the race for Reliever of the Year.

Moreover, Stanton, whose name appears sprinkled throughout offensive leaderboards, is lurking in the MVP race, especially if he goes on a couple more of his patented supernova hot streaks. If Cole continues his recent dominance, he will pitch his way into Cy Young consideration. And Michael King’s dominance is the only reason Clay Holmes isn’t at the front of the pack for reliever of the year to this point. Plenty of storylines to watch as the season progresses.