Who Has the Edge in the American League MVP Race?
Sorry Zach Britton, but you don't get to play with these guys.
Amid the talk about Baltimore's outstanding closer being considered as a Cy Young or even MVP candidate, there are actually a number of American League position players who are having tremendous seasons. And while a shutdown closer is extremely valuable in today's specialized game, not even the very best ones can hold a candle to the five players (and probably more) that are the most obvious candidates to win the MVP in the American League.
Of course, when you're talking about the MVP award, you're talking about a piece of individual hardware that has many different possible definitions. Some believe a player who plays for a losing team shouldn't be seriously considered for the award. After all, how valuable can they be if their team didn't even make the playoffs? Or at least that's the thinking behind that philosophy.
Then there are those who see the MVP as an individual award, one that should be given out to the player who has had the best season regardless of situation.
This is the camp in which I live. The player who is having the best all-around season -- offensively, defensively and on the bases -- is automatically the most valuable, in my eyes. Here is a look at some of the most important statistics to consider.
The numbers under fWAR are each player's Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs. rWAR is Baseball Reference's version of WAR while tWAR is the total of fWAR and rWAR. WPA is wins probability added, which captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or subtracts the player based on how their action impacted their team’s odds of winning.
For example, say the Angels have a 35% chance of winning a game before Mike Trout comes to the plate. Trout hits a three-run homer, and the blast increases their win probability to 60% so he is credited with 0.25 WPA for that plate appearance.
Finally, nERD is numberFire's player evaluation tool that tells you how many runs a player has been worth over a league average player at their position.
With that being said, here are how I would rank the top five candidates for American League MVP.
5. Manny Machado - Baltimore Orioles (3B)
In a three-game series against the New York Yankees over the weekend, Manny Machado's all-around brilliance was on display. He logged seven hits in the series and also made a couple sparkling defensive plays, including this one.
The 24-year-old is having the best season of his career with career highs in batting average (.306), on-base percentage (.358) and slugging percentage (.560). His weighted runs created (wRC+) of 139 is also a career high, but it is noticeably lower than the four players ranked above him. He also has 31 dingers this year, 4 shy of what he did last year.
Still Machado's numbers don't quite measure up to the American League's best. And interestingly, after stealing 20 bags last year, Machado doesn't have a single theft this season. He does, however, lead all the players here in defensive wins above replacement (dWAR) at 1.9, which ranks sixth in the American League.
He's been amazing, but short of a miracle, he's probably not winning the MVP award this season.
4. Josh Donaldson - Toronto Blue Jays (OF)
Josh Donaldson blasted three bombs on Sunday, and he followed that up with another jack on Monday.
Could watch this over and over again. @BringerOfRain20's hat trick from yesterday 🐐☔️☔️☔️ #BlueJays pic.twitter.com/gPQBk0V5eP
— LOYAL to a TEE ⚾️ (@LOYALbaseball) August 29, 2016
Donaldson now has 34 home runs on the season, which is more than any player listed here and tied for third-most in the American League. Last year's MVP comes in fourth in terms of combined WAR among American League players, even though in many respects he's having a better season than last year.
According to Fangraphs' WAR, he's second in the American League but not by much. Baseball Reference's WAR has him fourth-best, and among these five players he has the second-most wins probability added, which means he's done more to help his team win baseball games than anyone else listed -- except for one player (who we'll get to in a minute).
Donaldson does lead in one category, our nERD metric, which says he's worth 4.28 runs per game more than a league average player. That means a lineup consisting only of Josh Donaldson would score 4.28 more runs per 27 outs than a lineup full of league-average players.
3. Jose Altuve - Houston Astros (2B)
I wrote about Jose Altuve a few weeks ago and noted he was on pace to have the best season in baseball history by a player who stands less than or equal to 5'6" and 165 pounds. In 1923, Joe Sewell put up a 7.5 rWAR season, and Altuve is right on his heels at 7.2. Barring a September collapse, he's going to catch the Sewell, but is it enough to win him the MVP?
Altuve hit another bomb on Monday night, continuing a season of surprising power for the young second baseman.
.@JoseAltuve27 collected his 22nd homer of the season tonight. #ALMVP pic.twitter.com/SnzAua4C2F
— Houston Astros (@astros) August 30, 2016
His .983 OPS is far and away better than any other second baseman and is fourth overall in the American League. According to wRC+, he's been the second-best run producer in the league, and our nERD metric has him ranked third.
It's pretty clear that, no matter the situation, Altuve consistently delivers.
#Astros Jose Altuve 2016
Bases empty - .345/.395/.537
Men on - .385/.461/.625
RISP - .411/.486/.679
Two or more men on - .414/.461/.707
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) August 26, 2016
That he's having this kind of season but only comes in third in the MVP rankings tells you just how strong of a group we have this year.
2. Mookie Betts - Boston Red Sox (OF)
Mookie Betts, like Altuve, is not the biggest guy in the world, but he isn't letting that stop him from hitting the snot out of the ball.
On Monday, Betts went yard for the 30th time this season. He also has 21 steals, giving him an outside chance at becoming baseball's first 30-30 player since Ryan Braun and Mike Trout did it back in 2012.
Betts is second in the league in combined WAR and fourth in WPA and nERD. Much of his true value comes from his outstanding defense in center field. His 1.8 dWAR is second among the players on this list and is tied for seventh overall in the American League.
Betts is the second-best defensive player on this list (although Machado isn't far ahead), and his offensive production is incredible, especially for a center fielder. In a world without the player listed below, Betts is this year's MVP.
But unfortunately for him, he lives in a world where Mike Trout exists.
1. Mike Trout - Los Angeles Angels (OF)
There are only two reasons why a person wouldn't vote for Mike Trout to be the American League MVP. Either they mistakenly think that an MVP has to play for a winning team (Trout cannot control the dumpster fire that is the rest of the Angels' roster, by the way), or they simply have Trout fatigue.
By the numbers, Trout is once again the clear choice. He is worth 1.7 combined WAR more than Betts, the next closest player. He leads all players -- in both leagues -- in WPA, on-base percentage and wRC+ while his nERD ranks second.
Trout's OPS trails only David Ortiz. His 25 dingers and 21 stolen bases also give him a shot at another 30-30 club, which would be his third such season.
Trout also plays outstanding defense with the third-best dWAR of players on this list.
Mike Trout is, simply put, the best player in baseball. He's having the best season of anyone in the American League. No matter what metric you use, any objective observer should have Trout penciled in as the leader in the clubhouse for MVP.
Of course, there is still another month of baseball left to play. For those MVP voters who give bonus points to players whose teams are in pennant races, Trout will undoubtedly be hurt by the Angels being out of contention. Of course, he can't pitch for the Angels, and he can only bat once every time through the lineup.
Nevertheless, if things look like they do now at the end of September, Trout should take home his second career MVP award.