A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted a comparison of Mike Trout’s 2014 season — when he won his first AL MVP award — and Trout’s 2018 season. My point was to show how much Trout has improved by leaps and bounds, even after winning the top yearly award.
Somehow, Red Sox fans took that tweet as a slight to Mookie Betts. Debates ensued.
Let’s further those debates here, shall we? Obviously, so many things could change between now and the end of the season. This isn’t a prediction of how the final order will be, just a look at how the race stacks up right now. Numbers, as always, courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.
1. Mike Trout, Angels
Necessary numbers: .309/.459/.624, 197 OPS+, 30 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 82 runs, 60 RBIs, 191 wRC+, .315 ISO, 7.8 bWAR, 7.6 fWAR
The case for Mike: Trout has firmly established himself as the best player in baseball, and if this wrist injury is truly a minor hiccup (he received a cortisone shot Monday and is listed as “day to day”), he could be on the way to posting the best season of his career. For a guy with two MVP awards and four seasons with a bWAR of 9.0 or higher, that’s really saying something.
Of course, it needs to be said that 2018 Trout isn’t competing against 2012-17 Trout for the 2018 AL MVP award. He’s competing against a field of outstanding players having great years.
So … he leads the majors in WAR — both by the Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs’ calculations — and also leads the majors leagues in OPS, OPS+, on-base percentage, walks, times on base, intentional walks, wRC+ and wOBA. In the AL, he’s top-five in batting average, slugging percentage, ISO, runs scored, total bases, home runs and stolen-base percentage.
Here’s the tweet that sparked the “debate” in my mentions, by the way.
Mike Trout won his first AL MVP award in 2014.
In 157 games that year, he had a 7.6 bWAR, 36 homers, 16 stolen bases, 83 walks and a .377 on-base percentage.
In 106 games this year, he has a 7.9 bWAR, 29 homers, 20 stolen bases, 98 walks and a .462 on-base percentage
— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) July 30, 2018
2. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Necessary numbers: .342/.428/.652, 184 OPS+, 26 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 89 runs, 58 RBIs, 186 wRC+, .310 ISO, 7.1 bWAR, 6.7 fWAR
The case for Mookie: Betts finished second in the 2016 AL MVP voting, a handful of votes behind Trout. And here’s the thing: Betts’ production in 2018 dwarfs most of the numbers he put up that year. That sounds familiar, eh?
In 2016, Betts hit .318 with 31 homers, 26 stolen bases and an .897 OPS; this year he’s at .342 with 26 homers, 21 stolen bases (already) and a 1.080 OPS. Any conversation that doesn’t include Betts as one of baseball’s best players is a conversation that should be adjusted quickly.
Let’s discuss a talking point that Red Sox fans love to bring up. As they’re quick to point out, Betts plays for baseball’s best team. That means, they figure, Betts should get the advantage because the Angels would miss the playoffs with or without Trout, right? Look, I’m not going to claim to know the mindset of every single voter, but I can confidently tell you that even though “playoff bound” might have been a primary consideration in past generations, it’s very low on the collective priority list (if it’s there at all). I know that when I had a vote for the 2014 NL MVP award, a team’s final place in the standings wasn’t much more than an afterthought. This is the award that’s supposed to honor the best player in the league, and dinging a player just because his teammates have struggled seems, well, silly. Hell, if anything, it’s harder to put up good offensive numbers when the guys around you in the lineup are struggling, so maybe the Angels’ issues should actually be a boost for Trout.
3. Jose Ramirez, Indians
Necessary numbers: .300/.410/.629, 172 OPS+, 33 home runs, 26 stolen bases, 78 runs, 83 RBIs, 174 wRC+, .329 ISO, 7.4 bWAR, 7.5 fWAR
The case for Jose: As The Athletic’s Jayson Stark pointed out Tuesday morning, Ramirez has a chance to become the first player in AL history — and only the second in MLB history — to lead his league in home runs (tied for first), extra-base hits (alone in first) and stolen bases (tied for first). That’s just incredible. And, just to keep this whole “this guy just keeps getting better” train moving, Ramirez finished third in the AL MVP voting last year, when he posted a 6.9 bWAR, 29 homers, 83 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and a .957 OPS in 152 games. Take a look at the previous paragraph and you can see that he’s either eclipsed or tied those numbers already, in just 110 games. Incredible.
Francisco Lindor, Indians: Any other year, a guy with 27 homers, 96 runs, 17 stolen bases and a 6.5 bWAR in early August just might be the favorite to win the MVP award. This year, Lindor is fourth in the running, at best. It’s a tough year to be awesome.
Matt Chapman, A’s: Bet you didn’t know Chapman’s bWAR is already up to 6.2 on the season. He’s been very good at the plate — 15 homers, 137 OPS+ in 97 games — but where he’s elite is with his glove. He’s going to win multiple Gold Gloves, probably starting this year.
J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: You’d be hard-pressed to find any free agent, ever, who has had a better first year than Martinez has had with the Red Sox. He’s tied for the MLB lead (with Jose Ramirez) with 33 homers and leads the bigs with 93 RBIs and 261 total bases, to go with a .324 average and 1.033 OPS. Think about this: We’re in early August and Ramirez already has a 4.8 bWAR as a designated hitter. Know how many times legendary Boston DH David Ortiz had a full-season bWAR higher than 5.2 (a mark Martinez should easily pass)? Twice. That’s it.
Chris Sale, Red Sox: He leads the AL with a 2.04 ERA and 2.07 FIP, and his strikeout numbers — 13.2 per nine innings — are downright stupid. There are plenty of AL starters having outstanding seasons (as many as seven or eight will receive top-three Cy Young votes) but Sale has been the best of the bunch so far.
Aaron Judge, Yankees: In a field this competitive, missing multiple weeks is a crushing blow to anyone’s MVP chances. Judge has been pretty great, though.
Jose Altuve, Astros: Same thing goes for the 2017 AL MVP, if his knee injury keeps him out. He’s been great again — .329 average, 141 OPS+ — but his power numbers are down a tiny bit and, yeah, the competition for the award is as intense as it’s ever been.