Who Are the Front-Runners for the American League MVP?
With the season approaching its halfway point, it time to take a look at the front-runners for the American League MVP award. While it's been a down year for many in the AL, there are still plenty of candidates worthy of MVP consideration. The usual suspects in Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are up there, but they're joined by a few who aren't normally talked about as among the best in baseball.
We'll take a look at numberFire's nERD metric, used to measure of runs a player contributes, or in the case of a pitcher, prevents, above or below the league average, along with a few other sabermetrics to determine the leading candidates for the AL MVP award.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
nERD: 4.35 | fWAR: 3.6 | wOBA: .436
The former triple crown winner is back at it again, hitting an astounding .350/.456/.578 with a .436 wOBA this year. He leads the American League in batting average, slugging and on-base percentage, while his 184 wRC+ tops out in the AL as well. Not only has Cabrera been hitting for power, but also he's been walking at a career high rate, 15.9 percent of the time. And with a 4.35 nERD, third best in major league baseball, Cabrera is contributing 4.35 runs per 27 plate appearances more than the league average. However, where Cabrera falls short is his fielding. Cabrera has a -1.3 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) at first base, leading to his lower fWAR. But the Tigers first baseman may not be a top this list for long as he's headed to the disabled list for the first time in his career with a calf injury.
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians
nERD: 3.71 | fWAR: 4.8 | wOBA: .399
After an awful season last year, Jason Kipnis has bounced back -- and in a big way. After a historic May in which he posted a 3.1 fWAR in the month, Kipnis has continued to dominate opposing pitchers, hitting .341/.419/.506 with a .399 wOBA on the season. Kipnis leads the AL in fWAR and is only behind Bryce Harper in the entire MLB. The Indians second baseman ranks third in average, second in on-base percentage and fourth in wOBA in the AL. Topping it all off, he's improved defensively this year, with a 2.2 UZR compared to a -8.0 UZR last year. Kipnis has been a revelation for the Indians and has placed himself firmly in the discussion for AL MVP.
3. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
nERD: 3.56 | fWAR: 4.5 | wOBA: .407
The reigning AL MVP continues to be among the best in baseball. For the season Trout is hitting .299/.393/.575 with a .407 wOBA but he's striking out in 23.4 percent of his plate appearances. The Angels outfielder has posted a 170 wRC+ good for second in the American League behind Cabrera. With a 4.5 fWAR, he's second in the AL behind Kipnis, but ZiPS projections predict he'll double his fWAR over the rest of the season, putting him at 9.0 WAR, which would top his stellar, MVP season last year. While Trout may not be performing as well as he has in previous years, he's still firmly in the discussion for the AL MVP, and with a Trout-esque second half, could easily vault himself to the top of the standings.
4. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
nERD: 3.10 | fWAR: 4.3 | wOBA: .378
Since coming over in an offseason trade with the Oakland Athletics, Josh Donaldson has been absolutely fantastic for the Blue Jays, earning himself an All-Star start. Donaldson is hitting .296/.352/.527 with a .378 wOBA and a wRC+ of 142 this year. Donaldson isn't just valuable at the plate, either. Donaldson leads the American League in UZR with 6.1 and has 8 defensive runs saved (DRS) this year. Further, he is an impact player on the base paths where he has 3.2 BsR, a baseball running statistic from Fangraphs. Donaldson might not be outstanding at any one category, but he's been very good at everything, putting him right in the mix for the AL MVP.
5. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
nERD: 3.02 | fWAR: 3.7 | wOBA: .378
Coming off an injury-plagued season, Manny Machado has returned to form this season, hitting .299/.356/.522 with a .378 wOBA, leading a power-hitting Orioles team into contention. Similar to Donaldson, Machado may not be the hitter that Trout or Cabrera is, but he makes up for it in the field. Machado is third among AL third basemen with a 5.1 UZR but first with 9 DRS. With a 3.7 fWAR, fourth in the AL, and his 3.02 nERD, sixth in the AL, Machado has firmly put himself in the American League MVP race.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers
Prince Fielder is among the top AL performers in our nERD metric, with a 3.56 nERD, and after missing most of last season with injury, the Rangers first baseman is on fire, hitting .347/.413/.530 with a .403 wOBA. But with Fielder, most of his value lies at the plate. He's been awful on the base paths and in the field, and with a 2.0 fWAR, hasn't really moved himself into the MVP discussion just yet.
Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
With a 3.17 nERD, Jose Bautista has returned to form this year, hitting .246/.397/.520 with a .393 wOBA. He's been great at the plate with a 152 wRC+, but with another MVP candidate on his team in Donaldson, he's been a bit overshadowed this year. Bautista does have a 3.1 fWAR, so while he may not be in the AL MVP discussion just yet, if he continues to hit like this, then he absolutely should be by season's end.