Most years, the MVP is a highly debatable award. Should pitchers be considered? Does a team’s playoff appearance matter? What’s your definition of “valuable”? And, most years the votes are going to be split based upon the writers’ answers to those questions. Most years. But, not this year. While choosing the order of spots 2-10 on the writers’ ballots might be up for debate, I doubt very seriously the top spot in either league will be highly contested. So, in order to give some recognition to some guys who had excellent seasons, I’m going to give my top 5 in each league.
There really is little debate regarding the top two in the AL this year. The real debate starts at #3, and down the list. Let’s start with the name I expect to be the biggest surprise in either league: J.D. Martinez. Outside of Tigers fans, I doubt very many noticed that he put together a spectacular season while Miggy & VMart were on the DL for significant periods of time. His slash line of .282/.344/.535 was very nice, to go along with his 38 HR & 102 RBI. And, while he might be the least defensively-minded guy on the AL list, he’s no liability in right field (7.7 UZR & 4 DRS are both 2nd among AL RF).
I also don’t believe Cain should be ahead of Machado on this list. While Cain is obviously the BBWAA’s 3rd place guy (since he’s a finalist and Machado isn’t), I can’t quite piece together why he received more votes than Machado – other than the fact that he was playing for the best team in the AL, while the Orioles floundered in a weak AL East. Take a look at their comparable stats:
- Cain: .307/.361/.477, 16 HR, 72 RBI, 28 SB, 56 XBH, 263 TB, .306 RISP
- Machado: .286/.359/.502, 35 HR, 86 RBI, 20 SB, 66 XBH, 318 TB, .298 RISP
Many of their stats are neck and neck, but Machado’s OPS is 23 points higher, he has more than twice as many home runs, and over 50 more total bases. They also are both elite defenders (Machado won the award at 3B, and Cain was a terrible snub in CF, as Trout was a finalist more because of his name than defensive prowess this year). So, I would have to give the edge to Machado over Cain.
Mike Trout had yet another MVP-calibur season in LA. He led the league in SLG (.590) and OPS (.991). He had a .299/.402/.590 slash line with 41 HR, 90 RBI and 11 SB. But, it looks like he’s going to finish 2nd yet again. But, don’t feel too sorry for the guy. He has only played 4 full season in the majors (and he just turned 24 in August), and assuming he finishes second in the voting, he will have 3 runner-up finishes, 1 MVP award and 1 ROY. Since the introduction of the MVP award in 1933, no AL player has ever accomplished as much in his first four full seasons.
But, this year’s award has to go to Josh Donaldson. Donaldson led the league in wRC+ (172), RBI (123), XBH (84), TB (352), runs (122), and hit .353 with a 1.058 OPS w/RISP. Plus, he is an elite fielding 3B, and should have been a finalist for the Gold Glove ahead of Longoria.
- Bryce Harper (WSH)
- Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)
- Anthony Rizzo (CHC)
- Joey Votto (CIN)
- Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
One of the things that this year’s MVP race in the NL tells me is this: the playoff teams this year were very balanced teams. Notice that the highest ranked playoff contender is 3rd. This is part of the reason there’s no room for debating whether a team’s playoff push would make one candidate any more deserving than the others. Rizzo would have likely made that argument more valid if he hadn’t struggled during the second half of the season. Through the first half, his .955 OPS and 16 HR were looking pretty good. But, he struggled late, putting together just an .833 OPS in September. Be that as it may, he still finished the year with a nice slash line and ranked 5th in HR, 3rd in RBI, 6th in XBH, and 6th in TB. And, for a 6’3″, 240 lbs. first baseman . . . 17 stolen bases is pretty impressive. Which leads me to question Joey Votto’s presence among the MVP finalists. Here’s the comparison:
- Rizzo: .278/.387/.512, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 17 SB, 72 XBH, 300 TB, .303 RISP
- Votto: .314/.459/.541, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 11 SB, 64 XBH, 295 TB, .291 RISP
Not that Votto’s numbers aren’t good. But, outside the slash line, where is the evidence that his season was better than Rizzo’s? Even within the slash line, you don’t see the whole picture. Votto only had 8 more hits than Rizzo – his average and OBP are significantly higher because he walked over 140 times. Votto also struck out more often, and grounded into more double plays. Rizzo is also the better defensive first baseman (tied for 2nd in the NL in DRS, and 6th in UZR – both ahead of Votto). And, the stat that tells me that Rizzo was unfortunate at the plate, while Votto was decidedly more lucky: BABIP – Rizzo: .289, Votto: .371.
McCutchen didn’t have a bad year, per se (5th in MVP voting would be far from a disappointment), but he started the season much slower than his usual pace. Through the first month of the season, he was batting just .194 with a .636 OPS, 2 HR and 0 stolen bases. That turned out to be a very difficult hole to dig out of. And, to make matters worse, he struggled down the stretch as well (.236 with a .743 OPS in September). In the end, however, his numbers weren’t terrible: .292/.401/.488 slash line with 23 HR, 96 RBI, and 11 SB.
Goldschmidt continues to put together quality season after season, offensively and defensively. And, one of these days, he’s going to win an MVP. But, this year he’ll have to settle for his second runner-up in three years. Despite having the best slash line numbers of his career: .321/.435/.570, and finishing 4th in HR (33), 2nd in RBI (110), 5th in XBH (73), and winning his second Gold Glove, his numbers ended up being just behind those of Harper.
If Harper had ever had people on base ahead of him, he would have had a legit shot at the Triple Crown. He came up two hits shy of the batting title (batting .330), was tied for the league lead in HR (42), but ended up with just 99 RBI (5th in NL). This, in spite of a .301 average and 1.023 OPS w/RISP. The problem was that he only had 113 AB’s with runners in scoring position – 53rd in the NL. But, in spite of those limited opportunities, he still had a phenomenal season, leading the league in OBP (.460), SLG (.649), OPS (1.109), and runs (118), while finishing 2nd in XBH (81) and TB (338). As in the AL, I don’t believe there’s any real debate over who should win the MVP.