In many ways, handicapping the Cy Young awards (and Rookie of the Year) is infinitely easier than handicapping the MVP award. All we have to do is determine who the best pitcher or best rookie is. The MVP award comes with its own caveats because of the disagreement over the meaning of the word “value.” For some, it is merely a mathematical term meant to determine who is responsible for helping his team win the most games. That would be the best player definition. For others, it is a more esoteric question of which player on a winning team could that team ill afford to live without.
The idea there is that while Mike Trout might be the best player in the game, the Angels aren’t a winning team, so he is not particularly “valuable.” As you might suspect, I find this argument not to be all that persuasive, but since we are handicapping this deal we have to look at what the voters will likely think. Some of them won’t vote for Trout because his team isn’t going to the playoffs. We will introduce a number of numbers here and none of them will be WAR. We will include the player’s slash lines, their run production (HR, Runs, RBI), their defensive runs saved, baserunning runs (according to billjamesonline.com), and their total runs. Total runs is a Bill James statistic that combines runs created, defensive runs saved, and baserunning runs to come up with one number. The site also includes a positional adjustment we will remove. All statistics are accurate coming into Saturday’s action.
The Favorite: Mike Trout– Los Angeles Angels
Total Runs: 130
Listen, I get it. Some are tired of Trout being touted as the MVP every single year. He’s won multiple times and you could argue he should have won two or three more. This is all on a team that has been to the playoffs once in his career. It’s hard to deny he is the best player in the American League and you could argue he inches out Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich for the top spot in all of baseball.
So, what exactly does he need to do to get the award? I would say simply finishing the season healthy and playing reasonably well should do it. As great as he has been, he has never hit 50 home runs in a season. That feat might cement it for him. His total run lead means he is more than a win better than the next closest player. He may very well be a favorite on sites like ATS.io where the successes of top sportsmen and women translate into cash. You have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to give the award to someone else.
Primary Challenger: Mookie Betts–Boston Red Sox
Total Runs: 118
Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the top two vote getters played for teams out of the playoffs? Betts has been a top five player for a few seasons now. The total runs tell the tale. He combines good hitting with great fielding and solid baserunning. So, if you only look at the offensive numbers you ignore a lot. Still, 121 runs scored before the calendar flips to September is pretty draw dropping.
It is hard to see Betts catching Trout in total runs at this point, but if the Red Sox could find a way to sneak into the playoffs you could make an argument that he is close enough to have his leadership count extra. This is particularly true if he were to have a huge month and get up to a .300 batting average or 140 runs scored. I think he could get close, but it is hard to see that happening.
Other Challengers: Alex Bregman–Houston Astros
Total Runs: 108
Bregman narrowly edges out Michael Brantley as the Astros representative in this discussion, The team with the best record alnost has to have a candidate on general principle. His numbers only serve to highlight the ridiculousness of Trout. Bregman has nearly 100 walks and he still can’t come close to Trout’s OBP. Bregman will likely be the player of the month for August after hitting over .400 and having a slew of doubles.
Let’s say he does it again and the Astros wind up with the best record in the sport. He still would trail Trout by nearly 20 runs and two wins. So, to give him the award you would have to overlook a lot. Bregman has improved defensively this season, so he is a player to watch in the future. If he can improve on the basepaths it might be enough to sneak in to the final conversation.
Rafael Devers–Boston Red Sox
Total Runs: 104
I’d actually argue that Brantley has been better this season, but it will be hard to ignore the runs and RBI. He could reach 130 runs and 120 RBI by the end of the season. Couple that with an average over .300 and more than 30 home runs and you can see why he gets the nod. It’s about who is percieved to be better and not about who is necessarily better when we crunch all of the numbers.
Then again, some voters might choose to look at the fact that the Astros have won more games. Brantley is currently battling with D.J. LeMahieu for the batting title. If he ultimately wins it that might get him into this slot. That being said, Devers has the gawdier offensive numbers. Offense usually carries the day in awards voting.
D.J. LeMahieu–New York Yankees
Total Runs: 102
Why not Brantley? Well, this gets into what some might call bizarro world where value is judged by perception. The Yankees have had a lot of injuries. LeMahieu stepped up and moved to third base when they lost Miguel Andujar. He hit better than he ever has while playing out of position. Ergo, he is the most valuable player because he single-handedly kept the Yankees afloat when they were without Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez for large stretches of the season.
The problem is two-fold. First, just because we don’t recognize the names of those that have performed doesn’t mean that LeMahieu was the only one performing. The Yankees have had a lot of “next man up” kind of magic this season. LeMahieu is one of the major factors there, but he hasn’t been the only one. Secondly, we simply can’t ignore the gap between LeMahieu and someone like Trout. Brantley also has 104 total runs so you could claim LeMahieu doesn’t even belong in the top five. He gets this spot because some will vote him higher for his percieved value in “carrying” the Yankees at certain times this season.