IBWAA AL MVP – Mookie Betts
Looking at the BBWAA criteria for MVP voting, which I try to follow, it does not give much guidance on how to evaluate a player in a pennant race against a player who was stuck on a horrendous team but had an incredible season. Overall, this has created a rift between people who interpret MVP to mean “most valuable” and for those who interpret MVP to mean “best player.” While people stand on soap boxes and pound the podium for their side, there really is no wrong answer.
Personally, I tend to look at the “most valuable” side of the spectrum. A player who had a great year for a playoff team certainly had more value than a player who had a great year for a last place club. As the late great Ralph Kiner used to say during Mets telecasts, when he asked for a raise after a season he led the league in home runs (which he would do an impressive seven straight seasons), Branch Rickey told him something to the effect of, “We finished last with you, we could’ve finished last without you.”
While that is a little extreme, there is another factor at play. With the exception of players like Mike Scott and Bobby Richardson, it is generally accepted that the MVP comes from the team that won the postseason series. For example, in hitting three home runs, and big home runs at that, Curtis Granderson was arguably the best player in the 2015 World Series. However, the MVP went to Salvador Perez who had a good World Series for the Kansas City Royals. The guiding principle here is that you need to have an otherworldly type of series (or season) to win an MVP award for a losing team.
This is where it gets dicey as Mike Trout had one of those seasons. In 159 games, Trout hit .315/.441/.550 with 32 doubles, five triples, 29 homers, and 100 RBI. Trout would lead the league in runs (123), walks (116), OBP, OPS+ (174), runs created (148), adjusted batting runs (65), times on base (300), WPA (6.5), and wRC+ (171). His name was also scatterd across the Top 10s of the few categories he did not lead. It should come as no surprise then that he lead the majors in both bWAR (10.6) and fWAR (9.4). With a season like that, how can you justify voting for someone else?
Well, Mookie Betts was just that good. In 158 games, Betts hit .318/.363/.534 with 42 doubles, five triples, 31 homers, and 113 RBI. These are great numbers even if they are not on par with the offensive season Trout had. Betts led the league in at-bats (672) and total bases (359). He would also finish second in batting average, tenth in OBP, eighth in slugging, eighth in OPS (.897), second in plate appearances (730), second in runs scored (122), second in hits (214), third in doubles, tenth in triples, fourth in RBI, sixth in stolen bases (26), third in runs created (133), fourth in extra base hits (78), and eighth in WPA (3.1). Again, these are good numbers, but it is not the type of numbers that would cause Betts to be named MVP over Trout.
What gives Betts the edge is defense. Betts led the majors in DRS (32). He was third in the American League and fifth in the majors in UZR (17.8). Betts far outpaced Trout in both of these categories as Trout had a 6 DRS and a -0.3 UZR. Where Trout outclassed Betts as a hitter, Betts outclassed Trout as a fielder.
Accordingly, Betts was just behind Trout in bWAR (9.6) and fWAR (7.8). That was good for second in the American League. Overall, the separation between the two is like the separation between Betts and Trout was the difference between Joe Mauer and Chase Headley.
Looking at it through that prism, was there really that much of a difference between Betts and Trout? In my opinion, there wasn’t. Accordingly, Betts’ team having been in a pennant race all season, and having won the American League East, is a tiebreaker for me. With that Mookie Betts is the American League MVP.
Third – Manny Machado
Machado’s name gets lost in discussions over the young player you would rather have discussions. Most say it’s between Trout and Bryce Harper. However, Machado once again proved he belongs in the discussion. The 23 year old hit .294/.343/.533 with 40 doubles, one triple, 37 homers, and 96 RBI for an Orioles team that squeaked its way into the postseason as a Wild Card despite having next to no starting pitching.
He was his typical Gold Glove self at third base. With a J.J. Hardy injury, Machado had to slide over to shortstop for 45 games where he was above average proving that Machado can do anything in the field.
Fourth – Robinson Cano
In his third year as a Mariner, Cano finally put together a season like the ones he used to have with the Yankees. In 161 games, Cano hit .298/.350/.533 with 33 doubles, two triples, 39 homers, and 103 RBI. He did this while playing a very good second base. He was one of the biggest reasons why the Mariners were in the Wild Card hunt all the way until the final week of the season.
Fifth – Josh Donaldson
The reigning American League MVP put together yet another MVP caliber season. In 155 games, Donaldson hit .284/.404/.549 with 32 doubles, five triples, 37 homers, and 99 RBI. He finished fourth in the American League in WAR (7.4), and he led the Blue Jays to back-to-back postseason berths for the first time since 1992-1993.
Sixth – Adrian Beltre
In the Texas Rangers pre-Beltre history, they had four postseason appearances in their 50year franchise history. With Beltre, the Rangers have gone to the postseason four out of the last six years. Beltre has been a huge part of that as he was again this season. In 153 games, Beltre hit .300/.358/.521 with 31 doubles, 32 homers, and 104 RBI. By the way, the 37 year old still plays a Gold Glove caliber third base.
Seventh – Corey Kluber
Kluber was the best pitcher in the American League this year pitching 215.0 innings in 32 starts going 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 227 strikeouts, 1.056 WHIP, 149 ERA+, 3.26 FIP, and a 6.5 WAR. He led the league in pitching WAR and shutouts. He was the ace for an Indians team that won the Central. While the postseason does not count for regular season awards (and this ballot was submitted prior to the postseason), we have seen just how valuable Kluber is to the Indians.
Eighth – Kyle Seager
If we are being fair, the Mariners were a two-three man group offensively, and that group kept them in the Wild Card race until the last week of the season. Seager was the second best player on the team, and he was almost as responsible for the Mariners success as Cano was. Overall, Seager hit an impressive .278/.359/.499 with 36 doubles, 30 homers, and 99 RBI
Ninth – Jose Altuve
Tenth – Brian Dozier