MLB Awards: A look at the top candidates to beat out Angels star Mike Trout for AL MVP
Trout is the best player in baseball, but is he the most valuable player in baseball?
Less than three weeks remain in the 2019 regular season. The various postseason races will be decided over these next two weeks and change, as will the major awards races. That is the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year in each league. As things stand, most awards races are wide open.
With the regular season winding down, we here at CBS Sports are going to break down the various awards race this week. To be perfectly clear, we're not telling you how we'd vote for each award. We're analyzing the races based on the established standards of the voting body. That's a bit subjective, but, then again, so are the awards.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the best candidates for the AL MVP at this point in time. The players are listed alphabetically within each tier.
The Trout Tier
Mike Trout deserves to be in a tier all by himself. He is the best player in baseball and has been for the better part of a decade now. I am of the belief that the best player is also the most valuable player (crazy, huh?), but MVP voters don't necessarily think that way. That is why Trout only has two MVPs and not six or seven. Imagine the Angels franchise without him? Good gravy.
The best -- and only -- argument against Trout as MVP is built around his teammates. The rest of the Angels aren't very good, so they're far out of the postseason race, meaning Trout's immense production is going to waste on a non-contending team. That's not his fault though. Trout is more than holding up his end of the bargain. The game's best player will again be in the middle of the AL MVP discussion this year. Whether voters are willing to overlook the flaws of his teammates is another matter.
The Other Top Candidates
On a stacked Astros roster, Alex Bregman stands out as the team's best and most consistently excellent player. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer have all missed time to injury, and unlike the excellent Michael Brantley, Bregman provides big value on defense. He's a tremendous all-around player who hits for average and power, gets on base, saves runs in the field, and posts up every single day. Bregman is the stuff MVPs are made of.
The Red Sox are all but certain to miss the postseason despite having multiple MVP caliber performers on their roster. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts has been their best and most consistent player this season, ranking among the league leaders in pretty much every meaningful offensive category, and doing it as a good defensive shortstop. Bogaerts can be easy to overlooked given the other players on Boston's roster, but he's been as good (or better) as any of them this year.
The offensive numbers lag a little bit behind the other top MVP candidates, but Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman provides so much value on defense that he belongs in the MVP conversation. Besides, it's not like Chapman is a slouch with the stick. He's over 30 home runs and has put up huge numbers with runners in scoring position (.297/.417/.626). Are the voters willing to give the MVP to a player with a batting average in the .250s? History suggests no, no matter how good he is defensively.
The narrative is strong with DJ LeMahieu. The Yankees have been decimated by injuries this season and it was LeMahieu who stepped in to provide big offensive numbers, especially with runners in scoring position, and also play flawless defense at three infield spots. Manager Aaron Boone plugged LeMahieu in wherever needed, and he took care of the rest. LeMahieu has had huge two-way impact and has been the best player on arguably the league's best team. That always equals MVP support.
Also In The Mix
Safe to say you're pretty darn good when you can lose roughly 50 batting average points and 160 OPS points from your MVP year and still be an MVP candidate. Mookie Betts has been excellent again this year, albeit not as excellent as last season, when he beat out Trout for the MVP award. The fact the Red Sox are (probably) not going to the postseason hurts his chances of repeating as MVP, however.
Like Bregman, Michael Brantley has stayed healthy and productive all season in Houston. He's competing for a batting title and has been a steady middle of the order presence all summer. His defensive deficiencies will hurt his MVP case -- Brantley has played more outfield than I think even he expected this year thanks to the emergence of Yordan Alvarez -- but the offensive production is definitely worthy of MVP consideration.
For a while Rafael Devers and Bogaerts were a two-man army for a Red Sox team that has been unable to get back in the race. Devers has slowed a bit lately and is no longer on a 100 extra-base hit pace, but he's still having a monster season at the plate, and he's improved quite a bit in the field as well. A strong finish could push Devers into more serious MVP discussions.
The Twins are going to win the AL Central and Jorge Polanco has been their best player on both sides of the ball this season. Average, power, defense ... he's done it all. The X-factor: Would MVP voters vote for a player who served an 80-game performance-enhancing drug suspension just last season? That might hurt Polanco's MVP candidacy more than anything that happens on the field.
It has been a difficult season for the Indians, who have been without Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco for weeks at a time. Carlos Santana is having the best season of his career and he's been a middle-of-the-order staple for a possible postseason team. There is little chance Cleveland would be in the wild-card race without him.
You could flip Chapman and Marcus Semien in these rankings and I don't think anyone would argue too much. Semien is having an incredible all-around season with the surging A's. Career year at the plate and career year in the field. Semien deserves a ton of credit for turning himself into a true Gold Glove caliber shortstop. It took a lot of time and a lot of hard work.
LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres are pretty much the only Yankees regulars who have avoided the injured list this season. Torres has a chance to join Brian Dozier and Alex Rodriguez as the only middle infielders to hit 40 home runs in a season this century, and he's bounced back and forth between second base and shortstop depending on the health of his teammates. He's been a steadying force for New York.
Others Of Note
It takes a lot -- a lot -- for a pitcher to win MVP these days and no one in the American League is having that type of season. Astros co-ace Gerrit Cole has been spectacular though, posting a sub-3.00 ERA with a shot at 300 strikeouts.
Injuries eliminate Nelson Cruz as a serious MVP candidate, but the ageless wonder might hit 40 home runs again, and he's an impact presence for a division leading club. With good health, Cruz would've been a prime MVP candidate.
I'm not sure there's been a better hitter in baseball since June 1 than Yuli Gurriel. He's been a monster. The problem? It's a full season award, not a "since June 1" award, and he might not even be among the five most valuable Astros.
MVP voters who believe strongly in analytics might give Rangers starter Lance Lynn support. He leads the American League in the FanGraphs version of WAR and is top five in the Baseball-Reference.com version. Maybe he'll get a 10th place vote or something.
The Rangers have the league leader in FanGraphs WAR (Lynn) and Baseball-Reference.com WAR (Mike Minor) in their rotation. Minor has been marvelous this season and deserves Cy Young consideration. It's a stretch to call this an MVP caliber year though.
The Rays are in the postseason mix despite not having an obvious MVP candidate on the position player side. Austin Meadows? Tommy Pham? Eh. Charlie Morton has been brilliant and a rock in a rotation that lost Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow to injuries.
Similar to Cruz, injury has taken a bite out of Matt Olson's MVP case. He's put up huge numbers despite the hand injury but is still only the third most valuable player on his own infield behind Chapman and Semien.
Another player having an MVP caliber season cut short by injuries. George Springer is having the best offensive season of his career on a rate basis and he has an impact defensively as well. What a ballplayer.
Justin Verlander has a chance to win the American League pitching Triple Crown this year (lead the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts) and he remains a workhorse in a bullpen-heavy era. He'll get MVP votes, for sure, but it's hard to consider him a favorite.
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