Here it is. The Best Picture winner. The Granddaddy Of Them All. The M.V.P.
And no, this year it wasn’t a race of Mike Trout versus everybody else. Both the National and American Leagues had a strong group of contenders, making it nearly impossible to pick just one.
But this is baseball, not soccer. We don’t do ties. So, here are the Most Valuable Players for 2018.
The Award for Most Valuable Player in the National League goes to…
This race could well come down to whether the Cubs or the Brewers win the NL Central, but it shouldn’t. While Javier Baez has had a heck of a season in Wrigleyville, the clear winner of the NL MVP is Christian Yelich.
We knew Yelich was a superstar in the making in Miami. He had posted back-to-back seasons of 4.5 fWAR in 2016-17 as their everyday centerfielder. But in the offseason garage sale in Miami, Yelich got lost in the shuffle. While Yelich was quietly moved off to Milwaukee, his MVP-teammate Giancarlo “I hit dingers over the Chrysler Building” Stanton stole the headlines as he was traded to the Bronx.
Brewers fans can’t have thought much of Yelich in the beginning of the season. Through April he was barely batting above the Mendoza line, and struck out in nearly 30% of his at-bats. His best performance was on the “Sandlot,” not on the field.
By the All-Star Break, Yelich had dragged his batting average up to .292 and his OBP above .360, as his Milwaukee Brewers were just 3 games out of first in the NL Central. He was putting together a career season, but was on the outside looking in on the MVP conversation.
Then, the second half happened. Since the All-Star Break, Yeli has put together a ridiculous slash line of .360/.427/.732. He’s launched 21 taters, bringing his season total up to 32. He won NL Player of the Week honors 3 times since the break, and twice in September. He’s hit for the cycle…twice.
But how does he compare to the rest of the competition? How’s this: Yelich leads all eligible NL players in the second half in batting average, home runs, extra-base hits, RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, fWAR, wOBA and wRC+.
This shouldn’t be a debate. Yelich has dominated the league this year and should be a walk-in for MVP. Just don’t tell him.
“I’m not into that,” Yelich responded when asked about his chances at the MVP award. “The guys everybody is talking about are the right guys. You guys vote for it, so you guys can figure it out.”
We did, Yeli. And the trophy’s yours.
Commiserations to Javier Baez, Jacob DeGrom, and Matt Carpenter.
The Award for Most Valuable Player in the American League goes to…
I hate penalizing a player for being on a bad team. Mike Trout has been outstanding once again this season, putting up video game numbers while carrying the entire city of Anaheim on his back all summer.
I also, however, hate penalizing a player for playing on a good team. Just because a team has three or four outstanding players shouldn’t prevent one from hoisting the MVP at the end of the year. That is why Mookie Betts, by a nose, deserves the AL MVP over Mike Trout.
Unlike Yelich, Betts has been the model of consistency this year. He’s only posted one month (July) where his batting average was below .300–and his OBP was still .416 that month. In fact, Betts hasn’t posted an on-base percentage lower than .400 in any month this season (not counting March, because it’s stupid that we even play baseball in March, but that’s another story).
The statistic breakdown shows a tight race between Mookie and Trout for the MVP award. Mookie leads the American League in batting average (.343), runs (125), and slugging percentage (.639). In contrast, Trout’s OBP is nearly 20 points higher than Betts, and he leads Mookie in both wOBA and wRC+. Trout has more home runs (38 to Mookie’s 32), but Mookie strikes out less (14%, compared to Trout’s 20% mark). The final say in the stats probably goes to Mookie; he narrowly edges Trout in both bWAR and fWAR, though the difference isn’t astronomical.
Where Mookie outpaces Trout–at least in this year’s voting–is clubhouse leadership. You can’t penalize Mike Trout for the poor performance of his team, but you can credit Mookie for motivating the Red Sox locker room. The past few years there’s been a Big Papi-sized hole in the Fenway locker room. Last year, the team looked unhappy and bitter, more a collection of players than a solid team. Under Alex Cora’s guidance, Mookie has emerged as the beating heart of baseball’s most talented clubhouse.
“I’ve had a great season and I’m just trying to soak it in right now,” Betts said after the Red Sox clinched a postseason berth. “If it comes, it comes. But the most important thing is winning the World Series.”
With the AL MVP leading the charge, the Red Sox just might do it.
Commiserations to Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, and
Bartolo Colon Khris Davis.