2015 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2015 Fantasy Baseball: The AL MVP Race

As we saw in our last edition, the fantasy baseball regular seaaon is coming to a close for most players, so it is actually a good time to take a look at MVP races. At the time of this writing, there are only four weeks of baseball left, so most of the awards races are beginning to take shape. The winners may yet to be determined, but at least we can identify three or four major candidates for each of the awards. We’ll take a look at the candidates for the AL MVP race today and handicap what they need to do to win the award.

Lorenzo Cain — Kansas City Royals

Key Stats: .312/.368/.491, 14 HR, 87 Runs, 26 SB

I have to hand it to Royals fans. They stuffed the all-star game ballot box and they got Alex Gordon into the MVP conversation last year and they got Cain in this season without gaudy numbers to back it up. The Royals fans are right in that Cain has been a very valuable player this season on the strength of his 1.9 dWAR. His +13 defensive runs saved rank him third in the AL among center fielders. Considering Leonys Martin is on the shelf, Cain will likely finish second to Kevin Kiermaier in that stat. Add that to his offensive numbers and you can see his value isn’t a mirage.

What does he need to do to win?

Maybe if he hits 20 home runs and drives in 40 runs in the last month he can win. Otherwise, he is essentially a novelty candidate propped up by a fan base. Like with Gordon last season, Cain is an interesting instructional piece on the flexible nature of value, but he really doesn’t belong in the MVP conversation.

Where would I place him?

He is fourth among the group of four players we are looking at. He did spend a couple of weeks on the shelf and sacrificed about 50 plate appearances in the process. If he had those 50 PA, he might have some better counting statistics and could have as much as half a win more to his credit. However, that’s all window dressing as Cain has always been on the outside looking in.

Nelson Cruz — Seattle Mariners

Key Stats: .310/.380/.587, 39 HR, 77 runs, 82 RBI

The baseball world made fun of Jack Z for signing Cruz in the offseason. He was a one year wonder in Baltimore and everyone thought he’d turn back into a pumpkin in Safeco Field. As it turns out, he’s been even better. The only trouble is that with Robinson Cano struggling for the first four months, Cruz hasn’t had anyone else worthwhile around him in that lineup (I know Franklin Gutierrez just fell off his couch). Couple that with a few nagging injuries and he’s just a shade off the race.

What does he need to do to win?

He just doesn’t have the counting numbers to get there. He’s missed the past three games with a nagging quad injury and he’s likely to miss more. If he can return and go on one more hot streak before the end of the season, then he might get himself back into the conversation. Like Chris Davis, his home runs will create a buzz, but unlike Davis, he doesn’t have the RBIs to go with them. He also has virtually zero defensive value.

Where would I place him?

At this point, he is running neck and neck with Lorenzo Cain for third place. I would tend to favor him over Cain for that slot because Cruz has hit all of these home runs and put up those percentage numbers in a poor hitter’s environment and in a lineup with little other support. However, he will have to have a strong finish to keep that third spot.

Josh Donaldson— Toronto Blue Jays

Key Stats: .300/.368/.581, 36 HR, 104 runs, 112 RBI

The battle for the AL MVP will come down to the power of counting numbers of Donaldson versus the power of percentage statistics of Mike Trout. Mind you, Donaldson is still very strong in the percentage numbers (.949 OPS through Saturday), but the strength of his candidacy is two-fold. First, he leads the league in runs scored and RBI. Traditionally, that has been enough to get a guy the award. This is especially true when his team leads his division. Donaldson also ranks fifth in all of baseball with +9 defensive runs saved at third base. His 1.2 dWAR will certainly help his cause.

What he needs to do to win?

If Donaldson remains healthy and productive, he will likely win the award. Voters like black ink and when you lead the league in a major statistical category that certainly will help. However, the biggest boost will come should the Blue Jays hang onto their division lead. Donaldson’s main competition comes from Trout, and his Angels are currently on the outside looking in.

Where would I place him?

I’m a big OBP guy, so I would favor Trout at this point. Still, the difference between Donaldson and Trout is miniscule, so I would cop out and say I will wait and see how the season ends. Trout has been in a slump recently and if that continues he could eventually drop out of the lead. If Trout reverses his course or Donaldson slumps, it could change the race considerably.

Mike Trout— Los Angeles

Key Stats: .297/.396/.575, 33 HR, 87 Runs, 74 RBI

I’m not a huge fan of counting statistics. Sure, they are impressive at first glance until you realize the amount of bias that goes into them. Josh Donaldson has Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki on his team. Trout has Albert Pujols. I focus on a 30-point lead in on base percentage and nearly identical slugging percentage. Plus, Trout plays a more difficult defensive position than Donaldson, so his dWAR is not far behind even though he normally rates as an average center fielder.

What does he need to do to win?

This one is pretty simple. It would help immensely if the Angels are able to surge into the wild card or even the division title. That isn’t likely to happen at this point, but even a late season push would bring more positive attention to Trout. If he just plays well down the stretch it could be enough for him to win. He won the MVP last season with 7.9 WAR (he has 7.5 now), so you can definitely claim that he has done enough to win.

Where would I place him?

Like I said under Donaldson, I would be inclined to vote for Trout if the season ended today. That being said, the difference between the two is minuscule. The almighty WAR count has Donaldson with a 0.1 lead in the category as of Sunday May 6th. That kind of lead can disappear over the course of a week, much less a month. So, I’ll wait and see on this race.

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