The 2020 season now has only one weekend to go. The 60-game sprint is nearly concluded and while some of the awards (take the AL Cy Young, for one) already have an obvious winner, let's take a look at the MVP races. Something to keep in mind with most teams having three games left is that three games is five percent of the season. That would be about eight games in a 162-game marathon. That is to say, yes, things are mostly settled, but if a race is close it could absolutely swing in just this weekend.
Earlier this week, Cleveland clinched a playoff berth with a Jose Ramirez's walk-off home run. He was already starting to turn some heads here, but let's just say that was the moment he announced his presence with authority in the AL MVP race.
As things stand, Ramirez leads the AL in FanGraphs' fWAR among position players at 3.2. He's slashing .292/.384/.608 with 13 doubles, 17 homers, 46 RBI, 43 runs and 10 steals. He sits in the top five in the AL in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, runs (2nd), total bases (2nd), home runs, RBI, stolen bases, times on base and extra-base hits (2nd). He's also in the top 10 in hits and walks.
Using baseball-reference's version of WAR (bWAR), Ramirez is sixth among AL position players. Alex Verdugo deserves to be mentioned for an excellent season, but I don't think he can win it. Let's look at the other players in the mix.
Jose Abreu leads in bWAR and trails only Ramirez in fWAR. He paces the majors in hits, total bases and RBI, too, while slashing .325/.375/.636 (the slugging percentage leads the AL). He's two off the lead in home runs. He's third in average, second in OPS, third in OPS+, tied for second in runs, first in extra-base hits, tied for third in times on base and 10th in OBP. Does the veteran leadership in a young clubhouse count? Possibly.
Not to be completely outpaced by his White Sox's teammate, Tim Anderson is also on the short list. He sits fourth in bWAR and seventh in fWAR. Slashing .338/.372/.559, he's second in average, ninth in slugging and ninth in OPS. The AL leader in runs, Anderson trails only Abreu in hits. Anderson's path might be to win his second straight batting title. He's faltered of late and is a decent tick behind ...
Yankees infielder D.J. LeMahieu missed nine games with injury in August, but otherwise he's been nails. He leads the majors with a .355 average. He also sits second in the AL in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging, third in OPS, tied for second in OPS+, tied for sixth in runs and fourth in hits. How about LeMahieu being the Yankees' linchpin as they turned things around after a brutal stretch in which they lost 15 of 20? That might count for something.
Brandon Lowe is a sneaky-good candidate from the Rays, as they look to lock down the best record in the AL. He's in the top six in both versions of WAR. At one point, he homered in four straight games while driving home nine. In all, Lowe is hitting .274/.363/.570 (156 OPS+). He's in the top 10 in slugging, OPS, home runs, OPS+ and extra-base hits. He also leads in win probability added (more on that here from a past MVP race) if anyone wants to include a "clutch" element.
We gotta include the 40-year-old Nelson Cruz. He's hitting .314/.403/.632, leading the AL in OPS and OPS+ while sitting within striking distance of the home run crown.
Shane Bieber has the Cy Young locked up in blowout fashion and could also see some MVP love, but I feel like it's Ramirez for Cleveland. A pitcher with just 11 starts feels wrong. We won't be mentioning a single pitcher in the NL section.
With the due respect to Verdugo, if we went to a non-playoff team, we'd be stopping in Anaheim. Yes, Mike Trout, but also Anthony Rendon. In fWAR, Rendon is second and Trout is fourth. Trout is fourth in OBP, sixth in slugging and fifth in OPS while sitting tied with Cruz at 16 homers. Rendon leads in OBP and is 10th in OPS. Neither will win, though, unless the Angels make a miracle playoff run in these last three days (they are three back of the Astros).
Is this Freddie Freeman's year? It's certainly the best chance he's ever had. He's finished fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth before. This time around, he leads the majors in runs and doubles while posting a ridiculous .338/.456/.628 (181 OPS+) slash with 12 homers and 51 RBI. Despite playing first base, Freeman leads the NL in fWAR and is tied for third in bWAR.
Freeman ranks second in average, second in on-base percentage, second in slugging, (obviously) second in OPS, first in runs, third in hits, second in total bases, first in doubles, second in RBI, second in walks, second in OPS+, first in extra-base hits and first in times on base. He's walked more than he's struck out.
Notice all those rate stats where Freeman is second? It's Juan Soto sitting in first. Soto missed the Nationals' first eight games and his team isn't even close to a playoff spot, while the Braves won the NL East.
If we're just talking about the best offensive player, it's between these two and it seems pretty easy to guess the MVP voters would side with Freeman, though we can recognize what an insane offensive season Soto is having.
Mookie Betts is looking to join Frank Robinson with an MVP in each league, and he's got a case. He leads in bWAR while he's tied for second in fWAR and playing for the best team in baseball. He's slashing .293/.363/.567 (150 OPS+) with nine doubles, 16 homers, 39 RBI, 44 runs and nine steals. He is 10th in slugging, fourth in runs, 10th in hits, fifth in total bases, tied for second in homers, ninth in RBI and tied for seventh in steals. He rates highly across the board in defensive and baserunning metrics as one of the most complete players in the majors. For example, at 10 defensive runs saved, he leads all NL outfielders. He's the top right fielder in baseball, per Baseball Savant's outs above average.
Manny Machado trails only Betts in bWAR and sits fourth in fWAR behind Freeman, Betts and his teammate listed below. He's hitting .313/.376/.603 (166 OPS+) with 12 doubles, 16 homers, 47 RBI, 43 runs and six steals. He is seventh in slugging, seventh in OPS, tied for fifth in runs, fourth in hits, third in total bases, tied for second in homers, third in RBI, sixth in OPS+ and tied for fourth in extra-base hits. The bonus with Machado is his excellent glove work at third base. At eight defensive runs saved, he trails only Nolan Arenado there.
Machado's Padres teammate, Fernando Tatis, was the frontrunner for a bit but has faltered down the stretch. He's currently hitting .278/.369/.551 (153 OPS+) with 11 doubles, 15 home runs, 41 RBI, 47 runs and 11 steals. His case is a well-rounded one. Already among the best baserunners in baseball, some defensive metrics love him, too. He actually is tied for the MLB lead in outs above average among all positions in both leagues. Due to the value aside from with the bat, he sits tied for second in fWAR and sixth in bWAR. Still, he's likely behind Freeman, Betts and Machado.
In looking at Betts and Machado, the voter will need to decide if the gap between the offense is mitigated enough by the defense (and in Betts' case, baserunning). It is a pretty big gap to close.
Of the players who actually have a chance to finish high, the NL list is much shorter than the AL. The above players should be it. It's possible there's a little shuffling, but I'm confident the top three will come from the five players listed above. There will be down-ballot love for the likes of Trea Turner, Mike Yastrzemski (seriously, if you haven't noticed, please go check his numbers), Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Marcell Ozuna, Ronald Acuna and a few others.
We'll go with Freeman in the NL. The AL is too close to call between, I think, LeMahieu, Ramirez and Abreu. I'll flip an imaginary, three-"sided" coin and end up with LeMahieu. Keep in mind, since it's a neck-and-neck race that these final three games matter.