The 2019 Canadian MLB Awards

Now that the 2019 MLB Awards have all been given out it’s time for Canuck Baseball Plus to deal out the annual (this is the second year) Canadian MLB Awards. There are no trophies or plaques and this victory will not be mentioned on any player’s Baseball Reference page – but we think it’s an honour worth addressing.

THE CLASS OF 2019

Most Valuable Canuck (MVC) 

2018 Winner: Freddie Freeman  Atlanta Braves

Predictions: Freeman, Joey Votto, or Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

I should start off by saying that there is a strong case to be made that Mike Soroka should win four of the five awards in 2019. The Calgary-native had truly one of the best seasons by a Canadian this decade and one of the best seasons by a Canadian rookie pitcher.

But due to this author’s belief that pitchers and Designated Hitters should never win MVP honours, I will NOT be giving this award to the Braves ace. Therefore the MVC will go to another Braves Canadian.

2019 Winner: Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves 

113 runs, 38 home runs, 121 RBI, .295 batting average, .389 OBP

Freeman led Atlanta to another National League East title, with his fourth all star campaign and earned his first career Silver Slugger (beating out Mets sensation Pete Alonso). The Braves slugger came strong out of the gate, looking like he was going to beat Larry Walker’s all-time, single-season, Canadian home run record of 49.

He continued to hit well but his power production slowed in the second half. But his home run total was still the second highest ever by a Canadian (tied with Matt Stairs 1998).

If you take pitchers out of the equation – as I have – Freeman did not have any competitors for the MVC in 2019. If we use Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to compare and contrast players, Freeman’s 4.4 WAR is far superior to Guerrero Jr.’s 2.1, and Votto’s 1.6. Again. Soroka’s 5.6 WAR would be kilometres ahead of the pack.

Canadian Cy Young (aka “the Jenkins”)

2018 Winner: Jameson Taillon.

Predictions: Taillon, James Paxton, or Soroka.

2019 Winner: Mike Soroka –  Atlanta Braves 

13-4, 2.68, 1.11 WHIP, 142 strikeouts 

In his rookie campaign, Soroka finished sixth in the NL Cy Young race, second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, and earned his first all star appearance.

The 22-year old led the Majors in Earned Run Average on the road (1.54), had the third best combined ERA in the National League (2.68) and fifth best in MLB, and had the fourth best adjusted ERA (I69) in baseball (a stat that adjusts ERA for variables such as park factors).

Soroka said what he was most proud of this season was staying healthy. In 2018, he was limited to just 5 MLB starts and had further injury woes this Spring Training. But Soroka was able to make his first start by April 18th and remained healthy for the whole season.

Teammate Freddie Freeman summed it up nicely saying, “If (Soroka) stays healthy, he’s going to be one of the greats.”

The 22-year old also made one post-season start for the Braves and pitched seven innings, giving up only one earned run, and striking out seven.

Rookie of the Year (aka the “Jason Bay Trophy”)

2018 Winner: Tyler O’Neill – St. Louis Cardinals

Predictions: Guerrero Jr., Soroka.

2019 Winner: Mike Soroka – Atlanta Braves 

Please see above.

But seriously, Canuck had one of the most memorable campaigns by a Canadian rookie. I would say Soroka’s rookie campaign was the second best all time to Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Russ Ford‘s 1910 rookie season (26 wins, 1.58 ERA, 209 strikeouts).

Mets slugger Alonso, ran away with the NL Rookie vote this season with his rookie record 53 home runs. Andrew Baggerly of the Athletic cast the sole first-place vote for Soroka and wrote a pretty convincing article about why he made this decision.

The Mets slugger earned 29 of the 30 first place votes and seemed to have earned the trophy before the All Star Game. Despite having the third most strikeouts in the league, a pedestrian .260 average and a .358 OBP – Alonso seemed to prove the theory that the “(Baseball Writer’s Association of America) really dig the long balls.”

Whether it is a matter of a New York-bias, an American-bias, or the difficulty of comparing pitchers and hitters – this author believes that this race should have been nowhere close to unanimous. But this may be my Canadian-bias.

Here at Canuck Baseball Plus we picked Soroka unanimously for the Canadian rookie honours. That being said there was an impressive Canadian rookie class in 2019 including Guerrero Jr., Padres starter Cal Quantrill, Cubs reliever Rowan Wick, and Padres outfielder Josh Naylor.

Manager of the Year 

2018 Winner: Stubby Clapp – Memphis Redbirds

Predictions: Clapp? Rob Thomson?  

Clapp had a few interviews last off season for open MLB manager positions, but had to settle on the first base coach job for the St. Louis Cardinals. Rob Thomson remains in his role as the Phillies bench coach, despite his Manager having been fired.

So for yet another year the MLB did not have a Canadian skipper – or so I thought?

Since this category does not have any born and/or bred Canadians, I will dig into my bag of Canadian-ish candidates. Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black, like Freeman and Taillon, is ethnically Canadian.  His father was a hockey player from Edmonton and his mother was from Saskatchewan.

Bud Black -Colorado Rockies  

Black and the Rockies took a massive step backwards in 2019, seeing their record go from 91-72 in 2018 to 71-91 this past season. But with 898 career managerial wins, Black has the most wins by a Canadian skipper of all time.

Comeback Player of the Year 

As I mentioned earlier, Soroka overcoming his 2018 and early 2019 injury woes may be enough to have earned Canadian Comeback Player of the Year. But to make things interesting I will pick another impressive Canadian rookie.

Rowan Wick – Chicago Cubs 

2-0, 2 saves, 2.43 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 35 strikeouts 

The 27-year old Vancouver native had a stellar 2018 campaign in between Triple-A and Double-A in the San Diego Padres organization and earned a September call up. Last year he pitching 8.1 innings but struggled, giving up six earned runs in that span and was traded by the Padres to the Cubs prior to the Rule-5 Draft.

Wick was a pleasant surprise for the Cubs in 2019 and played a large role for Chicago’s injury-riddled bullpen.

THE CLASS OF 2020 

For my 2019 predictions I went an unimpressive 1-4, but here are my 2020 predictions for what they’re worth.

Most Valuable Canadian 

I will make a bold prediction here and say Guerrero Jr. will dethrone Freeman as the best hitting Canadian. After a mediocre rookie campaign, many Canadian baseball and Blue Jays fans were taken aback by his early struggles.

But Guerrero showed flashes of brilliance in 2019 and if he can make it work on a consistent basis, he could surpass Freeman.

Canadian Cy Young (aka “the Jenkins”)

As Freeman said if Soroka can stay healthy he’ll “be one of the great ones.” He should be the favourite for 2020.

Paxton, Taillon, Wick and Quantrill could be in the picture.

Rookie of the Year 

From the talented 2019 rookie class Wick, Blue Jays reliever Jordan Romano, and Houston Astros infielder Abraham Toro will carry their rookie status into 2020.

Of this trio Wick would seem to be the best of the bunch. Canada’s top ranked prospect Minnesota Twins starter Jordan Balazovic appears to be a ways away from the Majors.

Manager of the Year 

Clapp was interviewed for the Pittsburgh Pirates managerial vacancy this offseason and we will wait to see if the Windsor-native gets a MLB gig for 2020. But if he does not Black would likely win again by default.

Comeback Player of the Year 

Tyler O’Neill had a solid Spring Training in 2019 and was given a starting job in April – but his inconsistent hitting led to a demotion. The 24-year old was recalled and had a surge post-All Star Game, but again quickly faded.

With Marcell Ozuna potentially leaving via free agency, O’Neill may again have a shot at a starting outfield job in St. Louis. If he can make the jump from Triple-A standout to MLB regular, O’Neill could be the Canadian Comeback kid.

It was an exciting year for Canadian baseball as a talented group of young Canadians broke onto the scene. As former Canadian greats like Votto, Russell Martin, and John Axford appear to be fading from the scene the next generation is stepping up the plate/on the mound.

(Top Photo: Austin Mcafee/CSM/Shutterstock)

A graduate of Centennial's Sport Journalism program. Grew up a Montreal Expos fan but now focus on my hometown Blue Jays. Have been blogging about the Jays and Canadian Baseball since 2015.

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