The race for the Most Valuable Player award in the American League is becoming a bigger mess by the night.
Mike Trout is recognized as the best player in baseball. Yet his candidacy is expected to face the same team-related concerns that have cost him in the past. As such, the race would seem wide open for a group of candidates. We tapped Jose Altuve as the favorite the last time we took the race's temperature, but two players in particularly have helped their causes lately: Mookie Betts of the Red Sox and Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays. (Manny Machado has also played well lately, though he seems to fall outside the top-three.)
Betts entered Monday night having authored an August nastier than that James Salter novel. He'd homered eight times and posted a 1.084 OPS, all the while transitioning from batting leadoff to hitting cleanup. He then went out against the Rays and added two extra-base hits, including his 30th home run:
On the season, Betts is now hitting .322/.361/.566, with 21 stolen bases to go with his aforementioned 30 dingers. He's also certain to pass the 100 RBI mark in the coming days, just as he recently topped the 100 runs scored threshold. Add in his high-quality defense, and he's got a compelling case.
Donaldson, meanwhile, has outhit last season's MVP-winning effort. He hasn't had quite the August that Betts has -- he entered the week with a .972 monthly OPS -- but he homered three times on Sunday and added another on Monday, giving him six home runs in his last five games.
Donaldson's seasonal marks are more impressive than Betts', all things considered. He's now hitting .294/.407/.582 with 34 home runs and 92 run batted in. He's consistently been an above-average third baseman as well, so it's not as though he's giving value back on the defensive side. In other words, it's not too tough to envision a scenario where Donaldson repeats as AL MVP.
Both Betts and Donaldson have an important factor going for them that Trout and perhaps even Altuve and Machado do not, as each is playing on a likely playoff team. They're also peaking at the so-called right time, which figures to appeal to a certain class of voters. Stuff like that might sound nonsensical, but this is a close race from an analytical perspective, too, and people are going to use different measures to break ties -- including seeming outdated or unfair qualities:
|Player||B-Ref WAR||BP WARP||FG WAR|
Of course this isn't to say Betts or Donaldson will win the AL MVP. We have five weeks of baseball remaining, and a lot can happen in that time. Just that, with the way they're playing lately, they deserve more than a mention -- they deserve serious consideration for the hardware.