There are 24 days left in the 2016 regular season, 24 days for players to convince voters to include them on their MVP ballots. With more than 85% of the season already in the books, we have a pretty good sense of which players have an honest shot at winning, or finishing near the top. Among those players likely to be listed on just about every ballot in the American League is Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, who probably deserved to win Rookie of the Year last season, and has shown his 2015 performance wasn’t just beginner’s luck. If you’re honest with yourself though, you know Lindor doesn’t belong at the top of the list. The winner should be an easy choice this year, but the same guy should’ve been in each of the last four seasons, and only won once, so I won’t hold my breath expecting the BBWAA to get it right.
If you squint really hard, you can blue reality enough to convince yourself you’re seeing a viable argument for a few other guys, so let’s scrunch our faces up really tight and see what we can almost make ourselves believe...
Mike Trout (CF, Angels)
.323/.442/.574, 175 wRC+, 582 PA, 30 2B, 27 HR, 24 SB, 6.04 WPA, 9.3 bWAR, 8.3 fWAR, 8.4 WARP
He's your guy if... you believe the MVP should be the player who had the best season, and you've been paying attention to the American League, and/or are capable of looking up players' statistics. Not that WAR is perfect, but if you buy into it at all, Trout's lead on anyone else is too big to overlook. Trout's average WAR among the three versions this season is 8.67, more than 1.5 wins ahead of anyone else. He's also more than a full win ahead of any other hitter in WPA.
Josh Donaldson (3B, Blue Jays)
.290/.405/.564, 157 wRC+, 609 PA, 27 2B, 34 HR, 6 SB, 4.95 WPA, 7.0 bWAR, 6.8 fWAR, 5.9 WARP
He's your guy if... you believe the MVP must come from a contender and you prefer multiple years of defensive data over the results for only the current season. Donaldson's offense has actually been a touch better than it was when he won the MVP last season. His defensive numbers are down quite a bit from the last three years though, which could mean he's declining, or could be small-sample noise.
Mookie Betts (RF, Red Sox)
.316/.357/.550, 135 wRC+, 633 PA, 37 2B, 30 HR, 21 SB, 2.42 WPA, 7.8 bWAR, 6.9 fWAR, 6.7 WARP
He's your guy if... you believe the MVP must come from a contender and you think WAR does a good job of capturing a player's performance. Betts is second to Trout in terms of the average of his three WAR figures. He has strong defensive ratings and is (for now) the only player in the American League with 100+ runs scored and 100+ RBI.
Jose Altuve (2B, Astros)
.342/.404/.548, 155 wRC+, 625 PA, 38 2B, 22 HR, 27 SB, 3.14 WPA, 7.1 bWAR, 6.5 fWAR, 6.2 WARP
He's your guy if... you believe the MVP must come from a contender and you're a little more traditional in which numbers most move you. Altuve has been great, and to some degree I think you're splitting hairs when you try to separate him from Donaldson and Betts, because those three are really close. His batting average leads the league though, as do his 189 hits, and he strikes out less than the other guys mentioned here.
Francisco Lindor (Indians)
.322/.368/.460, 120 wRC+, 600 PA, 27 2B, 14 HR, 17 SB, 2.29 WPA, 5.4 bWAR, 5.9 fWAR, 6.9 WARP
He's your guy if... you believe the MVP must come from a contender and you don't think WAR gives players enough credit for their defensive contributions. (The truth is, Lindor is your guy if you're an Indians fan and a huge homer.)
As you can probably tell, I'm not among those who believes we have to torment ourselves about what "valuable" really means. Whoever had the best season should be the MVP. Some years figuring out who had the best season is tricky. This season it is not. Getting a little farther down the ballot, a number of guys I didn't mention have a case for belonging in the top five, including Manny Machado, Kyle Seager, Corey Kluber, and Zach Britton.
In terms of what I expect to happen, I think it'll be Betts, because I think Boston will win the East, and he'll be the best position player on any of the division winners. The fact that the second through fourth (or seventh) guys are close together does work in Trout's favor though, because he'll have his supporters, and the voters who insist on a contending team will have their votes somewhat divided among those other guys, as opposed to all supporting the same player on a contender.
My ballot for now...
- 1) Mike Trout
- 2) Mookie Betts
- 3) Josh Donaldson
- 4) Jose Altuve
- 5) Kyle Seager
- 6) Manny Machado
- 7) Francisco Lindor
- 8) Corey Kluber
- 9) Brian Dozier
- 10) Robinson Cano