The 60-game MLB season in 2020 didn’t provide the usual time or opportunities to evaluate player performance, but it was long enough for some players and to make big impressions on their peers.
That’s the takeaway from Sporting News’ annual survey of players, managers and executives used to determine the end-of-season superlatives that we’ve handed out since 1936. Polling was conducted in September to pick the MLB Player of the Year, as well as each league’s top rookie, comeback player and manager.
Meanwhile, executives chose the top person in their ranks and also picked the annual Sporting News All-Stars in each league. As a rule across all categories, respondents cannot vote for members of their own team.
Here are the recipients of Sporting News’ 2020 MLB awards.
MLB Player of the Year: Jose Abreu, White Sox
It’s not always easy to improve upon a season in which you hit 33 homers, drive in a league-leading 123 runs and make the All-Star team, but Jose Abreu managed to do it in 2020, albeit in a truncated way.
During the 60-game 2020 campaign, the White Sox’s first baseman led the AL in hits (76), RBIs (60), slugging percentage (.617) and total bases (148), while finishing second in homers (19). Add it all up (2.8 bWAR, by the way) and it’s pretty easy to see why he was the overwhelming choice for Sporting News’ 2020 MLB Player of the Year.
In a survey of 180 MLB players, Abreu received 47 votes, making him the runaway winner. Indians pitcher Shane Bieber came in second, with 25 votes. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman rounded out the top three, with 20 votes. In all, 15 players received votes in the category.
Abreu’s exploits helped lead the White Sox to their first winning season since 2012 and their first postseason appearance since 2008. He’s the third White Sox player to take the Player of the Year honor, after Early Wynn in 1959 and Frank Thomas in 1993.
NL Rookie of the Year: Jake Cronenworth, Padres
The Padres made the playoffs in 2020 thanks to a nice mix of veteran performers and exciting young players. One of their biggest successes in the latter category was rookie infielder Jake Cronenworth, who contributed daily with the bat (.354 on-base percentage and a 128 OPS+) and the glove (a team-leading three defensive runs saved and 76 assists) to help pace San Diego to its first postseason berth since 2006.
His peers noticed, which is why he trounced the competition in voting for SN’s National League Rookie of the Year. Cronenworth received 48 of the 84 votes cast in the category by NL players. The next-highest vote-getter was Brewers pitcher Devin Williams (4-1, 0.33 ERA, 53 strikeouts), who received 25 votes.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Daniel Bard, Rockies
When a pitcher loses the ability to throw strikes, stays away from major league competition for six years, then returns to perform competitively and successfully at age 35, that would seem to be the perfect definition of “comeback.” So it was with Daniel Bard in 2020.
The Rockies pitcher was the runaway winner in the voting for NL Comeback Player of the Year, receiving 37 of the 85 votes cast, which was well more than twice as many as anyone else.
After pitching in two games for the Red Sox in 2013, Bard spent the next six years either bouncing around the minors or out of pro ball completely, thanks to control issues (aka the “yips”). But he made the Rockies’ roster as a reliever in 2020, pitching to 4-2 record and a 3.65 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 24.2 innings.
That kind of comeback is rare, and it’s pretty impressive no matter how you slice it. Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer was the next-highest vote-getter, with 14.
NL Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Marlins
Despite a COVID outbreak that decimated his team’s roster early in the season, Don Mattingly pushed the right buttons and got the most from the pieces he had to steer the Marlins to a 31-29 record, their first winning record since 2009, and a surprising postseason berth — the team’s first since 2003.
The Marlins did more than just get there, though, as they then swept the Cubs in Wild Card Series. Mattingly, who just completed his fifth season as manager in Miami, narrowly edged out Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts in voting among NL managers, but won with a 50 percent plurality of the vote. Mattingly is the third Marlins manager to win the award, after Joe Girardi in 2006 and Fredi Gonzalez in 2008.
AL Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, Mariners
As was the case with the vote for top NL rookie, the tally for the SN American League Rookie of the Year wasn’t particularly close. Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis was the easy winner in a survey of 92 AL players.
He was one of the few bright spots in a bad year for Seattle, which finished below .500 for the third straight year and missed the postseason for the 19th straight season. Lewis, who led Mariners regulars in hits (54), homers (11), walks (34), on-base percentage (.364) and total bases (90), was named on 55 ballots — more than twice as many as anyone else. That gave him the biggest share of votes (roughly 60 percent) in any voting category.
Lewis is the first Mariners player to win a Sporting News rookie award since Rafael Soriano in 2003, when SN gave awards for both rookie pitcher and position player in each league.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Some things seem more obvious than others in players’ minds. At least, that was the case in the voting for AL Comeback Player of the Year. Carlos Carrasco of the Indians was the easy winner of the 2020 award, as he received 31 of the 81 votes cast in the category (a 38 percent plurality).
Carrasco was the obvious choice for many players as he continues his comeback from a leukemia diagnosis in June 2019, which kept him off the field for two months. He returned to pitch out of the bullpen in September of last year and, coincidentally, received the Players’ Choice vote for MLB’s own 2019 Comeback Player of the Year award.
His peers continued to admire his example in 2020, when he made 12 starts for Cleveland and accumulated a 3-4 record and a 2.91 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 68 innings. In all, Carrasco’s season was worth 1.6 bWAR.
Rounding out the top three in voting were Salvador Perez of the Royals (18 votes), Dylan Bundy of the Angels (six votes) and Lance McCullers Jr. of the Astros (six votes).
AL Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash, Rays
Kevin Cash has joined an exclusive club with his second straight Sporting News AL Manager of the Year award. More on that in a minute. First, the details: Cash built on the Rays’ success in 2019, when Tampa Bay broke a six-year playoff drought, and guided the team to an easy division title in 2020 and the best record in the American League (40-20).
Cash’s exciting young squad has stayed strong in the postseason, having advanced to the ALCS, where they hold a 3-1 series lead on the Astros as of this writing. The Tampa Bay skipper was the clear winer in voting among his peers, receiving 67 percent of the vote.
Cash becomes the sixth manager in history to receive the honor in consecutive years, joining Billy Southworth of the Cardinals (1941-1942), Bobby Cox of the Braves (2002-2005), Terry Francona of the Indians (2016-2017), Craig Counsell of the Brewers (2017-2018) and Brian Snitker of the Braves (2018-2019).
Cash joins Joe Maddon (2008, 2011) as the only Rays managers to win the award.
Executive of the Year: Rick Hahn, White Sox
For baseball rebuilds to produce positive results, it takes a balanced mix of outcomes: Prospects have to pan out, acquisitions need to make big contributions, and pieces already in place need to keep performing at or near their optimal levels. Each of these happened for the White Sox as they went from being annual non-factors to making the playoffs in 2020 for the first time in 12 seasons — and a lot of that success can be attributed to the work of executive Rick Hahn, who was selected the Sporting News Executive of the Year in a survey of MLB front-office leaders.
Among Hahn’s successful moves that paved the way for a 35-25 season in 2020: signing lefty Dallas Keuchel, who pitched to a 1.99 ERA in 11 starts; re-signing slugger Jose Abreu, who led the AL in several key offensive categories; signed free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal, who provided solid contributions with the bat (eight homers, .351 on-base percentage) and behind the plate (five defensive runs saved above average); brought up top prospect Nick Madrigal on the last day of July, providing the team with another offensive threat (.376 OBP in 109 plate appearances).
The end result was Chicago’s first winning season in eight years. Hahn received six of 18 votes from the panel of MLB executives, winning with a 33 percent pluarity. Padres general manager A.J. Preller finished second with four votes while Dodgers president Andrew Friedman and Rays GM Erik Neander finished tied for third with three votes each. Marlins president Michael Hill and A’s GM David Forst also received votes.
Coming Friday: The 2020 Sporting News MLB All-Stars, as selected by a panel of executives.
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