MVP Predictions

Posted: 09/20/2014 by levcohen in Baseball

With the baseball regular season drawing to a close, over the next few weeks I’m going to sprinkle in some MLB award predictions along with the normal football stuff, the revamping of basketball, and maybe even a hockey post or two (shocker, right?). Up today are the MVP races. Unfortunately, I probably won’t surprise anyone with these predictions, because it seems like both races are pretty close to over. Let’s start with the AL.

AL MVP: Mike Trout
It’s ironic that the year Mike Trout is finally going to win an MVP is the year he’s played the worst. Trout has not been the player this year that he was in each of the last two seasons, especially last year. His on base percentage is 55 points lower than it was last year (.432 to .377) thanks to a walk rate down from 15.4% to 11.7% and an average of .288, which is more in line with Trout’s scouting report and less in line with the .326 and .323 averages he put up in his first two seasons. He’s also struck out a lot more than he did last year, up from 19% to 25.8%. Trout also isn’t causing close to as much havoc on the base paths as he did in his first two years, as he’s dropped from 49 steals in his rookie year to 33 in his second year to just 14 this season. That drop off is amazing, especially since we’re talking about a player who just turned 23. I obviously can’t explain it, but one explanation could be that the back injury that kept him out of a few games in June might still be slowing him down. Trout still looks just as fast, though, so it might just be that he’s not running as much now that the rest of the offense is hitting so well. So Trout isn’t getting on base much and is adding less value when he does get on base. How, then, is he the AL MVP? First of all, there’s no triple crown winner in the AL this year. Miguel Cabrera, the winner of the last two MVP’s, has had an off (ish) year, as the slugger won’t come close to matching the back-to-back 44 homer seasons that led to his two MVP awards. In fact, Cabrera has 12 fewer homers than Trout, so the old-time voters who voted for Miggy will likely end up casting their votes for Trout this year, especially since Trout seems set to lead the AL in RBI this year. There’s also the fact that Trout was so good in 2012 and 2013 that even a lesser version is good enough to win the MVP. Trout’s still slashing .288/.377/.559 for a .936 OPS and a 166 wRC+ that’s second best in baseball to Jose Abreu, who might have a good MVP case if not for the fact that a DL stint means he has almost 100 fewer plate appearances than Trout. There’s no doubt that pitchers have found a weakness in Trout’s game (up in the zone) but he’s still the best player in the game. For people who value how an MVP candidate’s team plays? Yeah, Trout has that box checked too. The Angels are an MLB best 95-59 and are AL West champions for the first time in Trout’s short career. Unless Abreu or Michael Brantley somehow hit 10 homers in the last week or Felix Hernandez throws a perfect game to send the Mariners into the playoffs, Trout is your AL MVP.

Honorable Mention: Hernandez (2.07 ERA, record-breaking stretch of 7+ inning, 2 or fewer runs allowed outings), Brantley (.322/.380/.502 with 20 homers and 22 steals and 7.2 baserunning runs added per Fangraphs, third in the AL). If Brantley were a terrific defender, he’d have a real shot at MVP (playing the well-rounded Mike Trout 2012-13 role, if you will).

NL MVP: Clayton Kershaw
A little more than a week ago, this looked like it was going to be a close race all the way to the end. In one corner was Clayton Kershaw, who was having one of the best seasons a pitcher has ever had. In the other corner was Giancarlo Stanton, who was having a career year, with a .950 OPS, 37 homers, and 13 steals. Stanton was even powering the Marlins to a wild card run, as they were just a handful of games out. Then Stanton had a horrifying injury, and Kershaw kept pitching like, well, Kershaw. This is no longer a race. Even after a start yesterday in which he gave up three runs in just five innings, Kershaw has a 1.80 ERA, a 20-3 record, 31 walks, 228 strikeouts, and just nine homers allowed. The incredible thing is he missed the first month of the season with an injury, so he’s done all of that in just 26 starts. He is striking a third of hitters he faces out, and more than half the time it does get hit it’s a groundball. He’s incredible, and he pitches for a team that is close to sewing up the NL West. But there are some voters who refuse to vote for pitchers when it comes to the MVP award. Who, then, will those people vote for? Stanton is still an option, as he racked up huge counting stats while healthy. There are a few other semi-options (none of them are real options because Kershaw is so dominant). One is Jonathan Lucroy, a well known pitch-framer who has also hit very well this season en route to a 6.3 WAR that leads NL hitters (Kershaw’s is 6.8). Another is Andrew McCutchen, who won the award last year and has been nearly as good this season. One of those guys could still win, given that Kershaw is a pitcher, but the rightful winner of the NL MVP award is obviously Clayton Kershaw.

Honorable Mention: Stanton (his 37 homers are six more than second place Anthony Rizzo and nine more than third place Lucas Duda in the NL), Lucroy (basically this year’s version of Yadier Molina: good hitter and tremendous defender behind the plate. These guys never get their due), McCutchen (Pirates are likely going to end up making the playoffs again, and McCutchen is the clear leader of Pittsburgh).

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