The 2021 MLB season featured a number of compelling storylines — some expected, some hoped for and some that took us by surprise. And those storylines are reflected in the 2021 Sporting News MLB Awards.
Voting for Sporting News’ annual survey of players, managers and executives was conducted from Sept. 3 through Oct. 3 to pick the MLB Player of the Year, as well as each league’s top rookie, comeback player and manager. Meanwhile, executives picked the top member of their peer group and also selected the annual Sporting News All-Stars in each league. As a rule across all categories, respondents cannot vote for members of their own team.
Sporting News has handed out MLB superlatives since 1936.
Here are the recipients of Sporting News’ 2021 MLB awards.
MLB Player of the Year: Shohei Ohtani, Angels
What’s left to say about Shohei Ohtani? He had an amazing and historic 2021 season — providing elite production as a hitter and elite performance as a pitcher. That’s why it was an easy choice for his peers to name him the 2021 Sporting News MLB Player of the Year.
FAGAN: “Beyond incredible”: Shohei Ohtani’s peers are just as amazed as everyone else
Ohtani was the overwhelming winner, receiving 56 percent of the vote in a survey of 184 MLB players. It’s really hard to argue with that: 46 homers, 100 RBIs and more intentional walks than anyone else in the American League. Plus, a 3.18 ERA on the mound and 156 strikeouts in just over 130 innings. Throw in his elite speed as a runner and the total package is basically unheard of in MLB history. He was worth 9 WAR, easily the most in MLB.
The comparisons to Babe Ruth should end now — because Ruth never had a season as good as we saw from Ohtani in 2021.
NL Rookie of the Year: Jonathan India, Reds
Jonathan India’s strong rookie campaign for the Reds didn’t allow for much competition in the NL Rookie of the Year race, at least as far as his fellow players were concerned. India was easily voted the Sporting News 2021 NL Rookie of Year, receiving nearly 53 percent of the vote in a survey of his peers.
India’s 2021 season showed that he’s developing into a complete offensive player. He popped 21 home runs and got on base at a .376 clip, which led all qualified MLB rookies, and his .835 OPS was tops among National League rookies with at least 300 plate appearances.
On defense, he led all National League second basemen with 269 putouts and finished second in assists. It all added up to nearly 4 wins above replacement, which left the Reds and their fans excited about India’s future.
AL Rookie of the Year: Adolis Garcia, Rangers
Adolis Garcia proved in 2021 that even older guys can have big impacts as rookies. After cups of coffee with the Cardinals and Rangers, the 28-year-old Garcia exploded onto the scene for Texas in 2021 and earned an All-Star nod with a first-half power surge that fueled an out-of-nowhere 31-homer season. That showing led to a Player of the Week award in April and the Rookie of the Month award in May.
It also led his American League peers to vote him the 2021 Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year. Garcia got a nearly 38 percent plurality of the vote to easily take the honor.
But he wasn’t only an offensive threat. His 16 outfield assists was tied for first in the American League, and his 16 defensive runs saved was second-most among all MLB outfielders. This means he can beat you in multiple ways, something his fellow American League players noticed and respected, and may have to deal with for years to come.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey, Giants
Buster Posey came back in more than one way in 2021. He literally returned after opting out of the 2020 season amid COVID concerns, but he also came back from an uncharacteristically bad season in 2019 to post the kinds of All-Star numbers that have defined most of his career.
That’s why his fellow National League players voted him the 2021 Sporting News NL Comeback Player of the Year. Posey received a 40 percent plurality in a survey of 124 National League players, well ahead of the next-highest vote-getter.
Posey saw dramatic offensive increases over his last full season, carrying a .304 average, a .390 on-base percentage and an OPS of .889. He was worth nearly 5 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs, despite playing in just 113 games, and he was a big reason why the Giants surged all season and led baseball with 107 wins.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Trey Mancini, Orioles
There were several American League players who had good comeback seasons in 2021, but none was as inspiring as Trey Mancini’s. After missing the 2020 season while he battled cancer. Mancini returned healthy and was again part of the Orioles’ everyday lineup. That alone is pretty remarkable, but to return as a productive player takes Mancini’s story to the next level.
That’s why he was the runaway winner of the 2021 Sporting News AL Comeback Player of the Year, receiving more than 66 percent of the vote in a survey of his peers. Mancini hit 21 homers and drove in 71 runs for the Orioles, but the results were almost secondary. Just beating cancer and getting back on an MLB field was a win that’s bigger than any statistic.
NL Manager of the Year: Gabe Kapler, Giants
Pretty much nobody saw the Giants coming in 2021, but a huge credit for their club-record 107 wins should go to manager Gabe Kapler. His fellow National League managers agreed, as they voted him the runaway winner of the 2021 Sporting News NL Manager of the Year. Kapler received a whopping 86 percent of the vote in a survey of his peers.
Kapler has never been a traditional manager. And with the help of a dynamic, forward-looking front office — led by Sporting News Executive of the Year Farhan Zaidi — he assembled a decidedly non-traditional coaching staff that, while light on dugout experience, is heavy on data-driven methods and new ways of doing things.
Combine all that with Kapler’s ability to communicate with his players and you have a recipe that turned the Giants back into contenders and has given the Bay Area a fresh baseball heartbeat.
AL Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash, Rays
Rays manager Kevin Cash just kept doing his thing in Tampa Bay in 2021, leading the team to a franchise-record 100 wins, a second straight division title and a third straight postseason appearance. The Rays have become the class of the AL East, and Cash has become a clear favorite among his American League peers.
For the third straight season, Cash’s fellow AL managers have voted him the Sporting News AL Manager of the Year, naming him on 75 percent of ballots cast. Cash is just the second manager ever to win the award in three straight seasons.
Like Kapler in San Francisco, Cash has earned a reputation for unconventional, data-driven approaches. But also like Kapler, it’s hard to argue with the results. And there’s no reason to think that Cash and the Rays won’t be right back in the thick of the AL playoff hunt in 2022.
MLB Executive of the Year: Farhan Zaidi, Giants
Success usually starts at the top, and that was certainly the case for the Giants in 2021. San Francisco paced all of baseball for most of the season and finished with more wins than any other team. And much of the credit for that goes to president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. His fellow executives agreed, as they voted him the Sporting News MLB Executive of the Year. And the vote wasn’t close: Zaidi was named on more than 56 percent of ballots cast.
Working with Sporting News NL Manager of the Year Gabe Kapler, Zaidi assembled a roster and coaching staff that might not have looked elite on paper, but proved naysayers wrong with 107 wins and the team’s first playoff berth since 2016.
Coming Friday: The 2021 Sporting News MLB All-Stars, as selected by a panel of executives.