The AL MVP race is way tighter than the NL MVP race — Paul Goldschmidt is cruising. Among NL players, Goldschmidt ranks first in AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS. With Bryce Harper being out for some time, the NL MVP looks like it belongs to Goldy, for now. So let’s check in on the AL MVP race, and talk about six players that may bring home some hardware at the end of the season, and how they stack up against the rest of the candidates.
All rise! Aaron Judge has been on a complete tear to start the season. Judge is on pace for 62 homers, 24 doubles, and a .282/.362/.619 slash line according to FanGraphs. Judge has been at the focal point of a New York Yankees offense that ranks first in HRs, first in wRC+, first in wOBA, and second in SLG. The last time Judge put up these kind of numbers early in the season, the Yankees were one game away from a World Series appearance. One thing is certain which cannot be denied: when Judge plays out-of-this-world, the Yankees are one of the best teams in MLB.
Fitting for Judge that he’d have a monster start to the season, projected to finish with monster numbers, the year before he reaches free agency. No doubt he’ll get paid, but the question is how much and by who? Judge leads baseball with 29 homers and 65 runs. Judge also ranks fourth in wRC+, SLG, OPS and sixth in wOBA.
Not only does Judge have the numbers that could potentially define an MVP, but he also has the clutch gene. Judge is responsible for three out of the ten walk-offs that the Yankees have had this year. Which of course, leads all of baseball.
Mike Trout has returned to doing Mike Trout things. Through the first three months of the season, Trout is slashing .269/.371/.610 with a 174 OPS+. Trout is third in wRC+, wOBA, and SLG trailing only Yordan Alvarez and Paul Goldschmidt.
You certainly could make a case for Aaron Judge being the favorite to win MVP, but you could easily say the same thing about Trout. Often times fans look at one stat: the amount of homers a player has. However, that’s not the only category that can define an MVP. If you look at the level of production, Trout bests Judge, although Judge has six more homers than him.
While each of us try to define “MVP” every single season, the voters have in mind the metrics they’ll use to vote. Nevertheless it’s fun to hear every fan’s definition. Some fans think that an MVP is defined by how much the player means to their team, and where their team would be without them. So let’s use that argument to compare Judge and Trout.
The “where would they be?” Argument.
The Los Angeles Angels are 38–45. 16 games out of first place. Without Trout, we’d know where the Angels would be. In the trenches. Trout, being Superman, has kept his team in contention for the time being. You could say that Trout has more pressure on him to produce than Judge because of the kind of lineup the Angels are putting out there day-by-day. The 5-through-9 spots for the Halos lineup don’t feature a single player with an OPS above .675. Talk about lack of production.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are 59–23, which is by far the best record in MLB. Theoretically if you took Judge off the Yankees’ roster, they wouldn’t be so bad. The Yankees have nine guys with an OPS above .700. Compared to the Angels, who have four.
Trout has to do so much more to will his team to win. No one is penalizing Judge for having a great team, but a different perspective is being drawn using an argument that is very popular when it comes time to discuss who is the MVP.
Rafael Devers is among the best hitters in the game of baseball. The doubles machine leads the AL in doubles (27) and MLB in hits (102). Devers is slashing .327/.383/.579 with a 162 OPS+. The Red Sox‘ third baseman ranks fifth in wOBA and sixth in wRC+.
Not only can Devers hit for power, but he can hit for average too. In his last two and a half seasons (excluding 2020), Devers sports a .305 BA. While the idea of batting for average has escaped the game of baseball, guys like Devers (who can hit for average and power) should be valued greatly.
So where does Devers rank against AL competition? Devers is third in wOBA trailing Trout and Alvarez, and fifth in wRC+ trailing Trout, Alvarez, Judge and Ramirez. Devers is in the thick of the AL MVP race. What could put Devers ahead of these hitters? A Red Sox hot streak with Devers at the helm of the offense.
While the Red Sox have definitely bounced back from their terrible start, there is still some work to do. The Sox are in third place in the AL East. However, they are 14.0 games back from the Yankees. The Toronto Blue Jays, and the Tampa Bay Rays are both within one game of second place. A hot streak for the Red Sox would take a team effort, however, Rafael Devers would certainly be leading the way. If the Red Sox can miraculously close in on the Yankees, Devers will get more recognition for his production at the plate.
Yordan Alvarez is solidifying himself as one of the game’s premier bats. Baseball had an idea about Alvarez after his ROY season and 2021 campaign, but Alvarez has molded into much more in 2022.
Alvarez, get this, leads all leagues in wRC+ (198!!) and OPS (1.071). Alvarez is also second in wOBA. The big, tall, lefty is slashing .313/.411/.660 with nine doubles and 25 homers. His SLG leads all major leagues, and his OPS+ of 197 leads the AL.
All of those numbers scream MVP. His production at the plate this year is too valuable, and makes him basically irreplaceable. In the month of June, Alvarez hit .418/.510./835 with 28 RBI, a 1.346 OPS and a .553 wOBA. Those offensive numbers best Barry Bonds’ June numbers the year he hit 73 homers (with exception to OBP).
Will Alvarez hit 73? No, but Barry Bonds is elite company. Let’s not make the mistake we did last year. In 2021, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr overtook Shohei Ohtani in the home run race, MVP chants rained down on Vladdy. What’s astonishing is that many tried to argue “Vlad for MVP”. More emphasis was put on “X” amount of home runs a player had than rather looking at the whole picture. Leading to a ridiculous amount of time wasted debating, and something the world hadn’t seen in 100 years being taken for granted. It’s a testament to the need to change our approach when evaluating players.
Let’s not make the same mistake here. Just because Aaron Judge might have more homers, doesn’t automatically mean he’s the MVP. Look at the whole picture, the picture suggests Alvarez might rank higher than all the other sluggers in the AL MVP race.
Now here’s a player that doesn’t get much rave and excitement for the things that he does: Jose Ramirez. Ramirez has been the best offensive third baseman in baseball this year by far, he sports a .289/.365/.570 slash line and a .940 OPS. He is 2nd in the American League in RBI (63) and ranks fifth in wRC+, sixth in OPS, and seventh in wOBA. Ramirez also ranks sixth in BB/K, the next closest MVP candidate is Yordan Alvarez who ranks 15th.
Ramirez’ ability to walk more than he strikes out is certainly valuable. Considering this era of baseball features a ton of strikeouts. But let’s not act like Ramirez hasn’t been elite his whole career, because he has.
In the last six seasons, Ramirez has posted an OPS above .806. In four of those seasons, Ramirez has posted an OPS above .939. Ramirez is no “three true outcome guy”. Ramirez hits for average, walks more than he strikes out, and also has the power. In his last eight seasons, Ramirez sports a .286/.366/.536 slash line and a .901 OPS. That slash line over the last eight seasons is neck and neck with Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon, and is better than Manny Machado’s. The difference being the walk/strikeout ratio in which Ramirez blows them all out of the park.
One thing that would help Ramirez’s MVP campaign: a Cleveland Guardians playoff berth. The Guardians are four games out of first place. Similar to Devers’ situation, if the Guardians could go on a run and clinch a playoff spot, more eyes would fall on Jose Ramirez.
We’ve all been wondering what the two-way phenom would do as an encore to his beyond-brilliant 2021 season. Boy, have we not seen anything yet. Let’s start by establishing the fact that Ohtani is a two-way player. He hits, and he pitches. Many fans in the baseball world seem to not see this as valuable, and take it for granted. But what’s the definition of valuable if it isn’t a guy who’s the ace of your pitching staff, your top-of-the-lineup guy, your team RBI leader, and will hit 40+ bombs for you in a year? How do you argue against a guy like this?
Shohei Ohtani sports a .260/.344/.495 slash line to go with a .839 OPS. His wRC+ of 137 ranks 31st, which is above premier players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto, Austin Riley, Rhys Hoskins, and George Springer. He’s also got 15 doubles and 18 homers (14th in MLB), and has stolen ten bases.
His first half numbers are nothing like his first half numbers in 2021, but they’re still good. Ohtani leads his team in RBI with 53, and in doubles as well. His June offensive numbers (which is by-far his best month) looked like this: .298/.398/.574, 973 OPS, 169 wRC+, and six HR.
Let’s talk about his pitching. Ohtani has started 14 games for the Los Angeles Angels this year. He is 8–4 with a 2.44 ERA, 63 ERA-, 2.43 FIP, and 111 SO in 81 innings pitched. Shohei Ohtani (if qualified) would rank second in k/9, 16th in ERA- (69), 16th in AVG (.209) and 17th in ERA (2.68).
Ohtani is in the mix with guys like Framber Valdez, Michael Wacha, Max Fried, Zach Wheeler, and Kevin Gausman. In the month of June, Ohtani ranked sixth in ERA (1.52), and sixth in ERA- (39). He struck out 38 in 29 2/3 innings pitched, and hasn’t allowed a run in his last 28 and 2/3 IP. That’s really good, especially when you consider this guy also bats 3rd for the Angels.
Two 3-run homers & 8 RBI’s one night, and 13ks and a win on the mound the next night. Ohtani is the defintion of value, and his MVP case is alive and well. Ohtani set the bar very high for himself last year, so if you compare this year to last year, you might be tempted to downplay his two-way play, even though he’s been elite on both sides of the plate.
When you get a guy who’s posting an 800+ OPS, shoving on the mound with a 2.44 ERA, there really is no question concerning who is “most valuable”. While all the other MVP candidates have the edge on him in the offensive rankings, they’ve got nothing on him on the bump. And we only expect Ohtani to get better.
If you stack up all of the numbers, Ohtani is the frontrunner to win AL MVP. He continues to dominate on both sides of the plate.
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Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Yordan Alvarez, Rafael Devers, Barry Bonds, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Jose Ramirez, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Manny Machado, Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto, Austin Riley, Rhys Hoskins, George Springer, Framber Valdez, Michael Wacha, Max Fried, Zach Wheeler, Kevin Gausman