Examining the 2016 American League MVP Candidates
Even though Mike Trout has only won the American League MVP award once, for the foreseeable future, he’s going to enter the season as the guy to beat as long as he’s healthy and in the American League.
Josh Donaldson, the reigning American League winner, said it best at his MVP press conference a year ago: “You know going into a season that if you’re ultimately going to win an MVP, you’ve got to put up better numbers than Mike.”
Can anyone do what Donaldson did and give voters a reason to put any name other than Trout first on their ballots?
Baseball is in the midst of a special time with a plethora of young, exciting stars, and this list reflects just that. There are plenty of up-and-coming studs oozing with upside who could push for this season’s American League MVP. Of the five players to make the cut, only one is over 25 years of age.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Steamer Projections: .307/.410/.585, .418 wOBA, 36 HR, 9.0 WAR
Why start anywhere else?
Trout is on pace to be the greatest baseball player of all-time, and that’s not hyperbole. He has started his career by finishing in the top two of the American League MVP voting in four straight seasons, racking up an otherworldly 37.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in that span. Trout has led the American League in WAR in each of the past four years. Sidenote: Trout has only played four seasons. Last season was the first year of his career Trout didn’t lead all of baseball in WAR, and it took a historic effort from Bryce Harper to edge him out.
Steamer projects Trout to lap the field in WAR, forecasting him for 9.0 WAR while second-place Harper is slated for “just” 6.6 WAR. When you’re projected to lead baseball in WAR as a 24-year-old but that WAR projection would actually tie a career-low mark, you’re Mike Trout.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Steamer Projections: .285/.345/.484, .356 wOBA, 27 HR, 6.2 WAR
With the career-long dominance of Trout and Harper’s silly 2015 season, it feels like Machado gets lost in the shuffle a bit. He’s a monster in his own right. At just 23 years-old Machado has two seasons of at least 6.2 WAR to his name.
The term “five-tool player” gets tossed around too much, but Machado is one of the few who is worthy of the tag, as he became a true all-around force in 2015. He posted a .370 wOBA with 35 jacks and 20 steals -- all of which were career-high numbers -- while ranking fifth among third baseman in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) on his way to his second Gold Glove award.
He was already a stud before last season, but if the 30-homer power is here to stay (his previous high in bombs was 14), Machado will be one of the game’s truly elite players for the foreseeable future.
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Steamer Projections: .274/.352/.497, .365 wOBA, 30 HR, 6.1 WAR
Spearheaded by a career-best 21.2 home-run-to-fly-ball ratio in 2015, Donaldson blasted 41 homers, easily outdoing his previous career-high of 29 long balls. Finishing third among third basemen in UZR last season, he also provides elite defense at a key position.
While Steamer sees some regression coming in the home run department, Donaldson, entering his age-30 season, should stay in the mix for the MVP award this year.
While counting stats don’t weigh as heavily on the minds of voters as they used to, they’re still a factor. Hitting in the middle of a terrifying Toronto lineup, Donaldson is in a prime position to rack up runs and RBI. It’s not going to hurt him that Toronto figures to be a World Series contender again.
Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox
Steamer Projections: .300/.361/.474, .361 wOBA, 18 HR, 4.9 WAR
After a promising 52-game debut in 2014, Betts blossomed into one of the league’s top players last season, finishing 10th in the American League with 4.8 WAR. In his age-23 campaign, he slashed .291/.341/.479 with a .351 wOBA, 18 home runs and 21 steals.
Steamer sees Betts putting up very similar numbers this season, but if the young outfielder can make another jump, even if it’s not a significant one, he could throw his name in the hat for MVP honors. However, he’d likely have to knock a few more out of the park, as no hitter has won the American League MVP with fewer than 28 homers since Dustin Pedroia did it with 17 in 2008.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Steamer Projections: .275/.339/.458, .344 wOBA, 22 HR, 4.2 WAR
Correa marks off all the boxes of a generational star: Great player? Check. Winning team? Check. Glamour position? Check. Good looks? Check. Mensa member? Probably.
The phenom was absolutely incredible in 432 plate appearances last season, slashing .279/.345/.512 with a .365 wOBA, 22 homers and 3.3 WAR. By the way, it was Correa’s age-20 season. When I was 20, I was running triple-option 99 percent of the time on NCAA Football 2005.
Correa became the first Houston player since Jeff Bagwell in 1991 to be named Rookie of the Year, and he has a chance to be the first Astro since Bagwell (1994) to win an MVP. Steamer projects similar numbers for Correa this season, including forecasting him to stick at 22 jacks despite getting 204 more plate appearances. Like Betts, he’d likely need closer to 30 homers -- or to up his average into the .350 range -- to take home the crown.
Just Missed the Cut (with Steamer Projections):
Miguel Sano (.255/.344/.501, .362 wOBA, 32 HR, 3.2 WAR)
Jose Bautista (.257/.370/.500, .374 wOBA, 32 HR, 3.7 WAR)
Miguel Cabrera (.314/.398/.534, .394 wOBA, 26 HR, 4.2 WAR)
Edwin Encarnacion (.266/.356/.514, .371 wOBA, 25 HR, 2.6 WAR)
Justin Upton (.270/.351/.485, .359 wOBA, 28 HR, 3.4 WAR)