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AL MVP Race Will Come Down To The Wire

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The AL MVP award is still up in the air. Who’s the favorite?

Some years, the MVP candidates make themselves clear. Some years, it’s not even a matter of “candidates,” because a player in each league will put on a performance that stifles any real debate. 2016 is not such a year, at least on the American League side of things. Over in the National League, Kris Bryant is looking like the odds on favorite — and deservedly so. 

Bryant (.295/.389/.564, 39 HR) has had an excellent season at the plate, as detailed by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in this article.  His batting isn’t the only way he’s impressed — while he’s primarily spent his time manning third base, he’s also spent time at first base and all three outfield positions. Bryant looks to be the best all-around baseball player in the NL, which is supported by his 8.3 fWAR. Only Mike Trout boasts a higher fWAR (9.0), which brings us nicely to the matter of AL MVP.

With about a week left in the regular season, the MVP title is still up for grabs in the AL. Here are some likely candidates.

1. Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)

Image titleGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


Mike Trout is, as usual, one of the AL’s best performers. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been particularly hapless this year — they’re probably going to finish with the worst record they’ve had in decades and miss out on the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Some voters may hold this against him. They would be wrong to do so. 

Unlike in a sport like basketball, where one player can practically single-handedly carry a team to success, a star-calibre baseball player can only do so much for his team. After all, he only bats once every nine times, and he can’t catch a ball that isn’t hit to him. The fact that the Angels have been miserable this season holds no bearing on the fact that Trout is one of baseball’s best. 

Trout’s .438 OBP leads the majors, and he ranks in the top five in the AL in both batting average and slugging percentage. (Only David Ortiz also holds a spot in the top five for batting, OBP, and slugging.) 

However, the MVP award should be about more than just batting, and while there are several different defensive metrics to consider, Trout’s play in center field is certainly above average. While he doesn’t rate as highly as players like Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays or Lorenzo Cain of the Kansas City Royals, he’s still comfortably one of the best outfielders in the AL

Trout’s well-roundedness is reflected in his league leading fWAR of 9.0. 

Unfortunately, Trout’s stellar year will likely go unrewarded, as voters tend to stay away from players on losing teams. 

2. Jose Altuve (Houston Astros)

Image titleTroy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few years, Altuve has established himself as one of the best offensive second basemen in the major leagues. This season has been no different. Altuve’s slash of .337/.395/.536 is impressive by any standards, and it’s looking like he’s a lock for the AL batting title. 

Altuve has also seen an increase in power this year — he’s eclipsed his previous home run mark (15 last year) with 24 so far, and there’s still a week left. There’s time for a few more bombs, and there’s also time for him to hit that 100 RBI mark. (He’s at 95 as of Monday night.) 

Fangraphs has his defensive marks at about league-average according to most advanced metrics, and at a basic level, his .988 fielding percentage is just about league-average as well. That’s nothing special, but over the course of a full season, it’s more than adequate, especially when you consider his offensive gifts.

If the Astros make the playoffs, Altuve is just the sort of player that voters traditionally favor — a gifted offensive performer who helps lead his team to the postseason. Altuve isn’t the odds on favorite, but should the Astros snatch a wild-card berth, he should be considered a strong contender. 

3. Josh Donaldson (Toronto Blue Jays)

Image titleMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


The reigning AL MVP has turned in yet another great year in Toronto. Last year, he just edged out Trout to take the crown. This year, the fact that he won in 2015 may work against him — in the modern era, players have won the AL MVP in back-to-back years only a handful of times. 

However, Donaldson genuinely deserves to be in the middle of the conversation for the 2016 AL MVP award, and the fact that he won last year shouldn’t affect that. Why penalize a player for consistent excellence? 

Consistent excellence is precisely what Donaldson has displayed. He’s posted a slash of .285/.403/.554 this year, and he’s within reach of 40 home runs and 100 RBI. (He’s currently at 36 and 96 respectively with six games left. It’s a tall order, particularly in terms of home runs, but doable.)

Donaldson is also more than passable as a third baseman. His .962 fielding percentage isn’t exactly sparkling, but his incredible range more than makes up for the above-average error rate. 

With the Blue Jays currently sitting in a wild-card spot, Donaldson stands a solid chance at his second straight MVP award. 

Honorable Mentions: Mookie Betts (Boston Red Sox), Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles), David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox)

The Red Sox are on a roll, and while both Betts and Ortiz have been terrific all year, recency bias will only work in their favor if Boston finishes strong. Meanwhile, Machado’s Orioles are limping into the last week of the season, but he’s easily one of the best infielders in the game today. 

Edited by Justin Peroff.

SQuiz
Who was the last player to win AL MVP in consecutive years?
Created 9/27/16
  1. Justin Morneau
  2. Miguel Cabrera
  3. Josh Hamilton
  4. Dustin Pedroia

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