The 2018 MVP race in both leagues was defined by one thing: power. Even so, both leagues had different ways of exhibiting this quality. The American League showed it through its bats. Names like Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor pepper the league’s top 10 WAR list. On the other side, the Senior Circuit’s top four WAR numbers went to pitchers. Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola, and Max Scherzer will be covered here, with the surprising Kyle Freeland as the odd man out. In any case, the dynamic dichotomy between hitting and pitching was definitely explored to the fullest in 2018.
This idea of bats versus arms has been one that the league at large has been debating for well over a century. More to the point, it may have been argued as far back as the mid-1800s. Whenever it started, the 2018 MVP race seems to have sought to put an end to it. Things certainly were trending in that direction. In the midst of all of this soup of neo-controversy, there arose two winners. Whether or not they were the best choice is what we’re here to determine. So, let’s get into it.
The 2018 MVP Race: American League
The booming bats of the American League proved their worth throughout 2018. Teams averaged 193 homers and 699 doubles. In total, 2,900 baseballs found their way to bleachers during the course of the season. The top three players in the WAR category combined to hit 102 dingers and drive in 262 runs. Betts, Bregman, and Trout are the three names under discussion here. Betts was the real-life MVP. Now, we’ll see if he actually deserved it.
The Houston Astros third baseman had proved his talent in his first two big league seasons. But in 2018, he took things to a new level. He slashed .286/.394/.532 with a .926 OPS and a 152 OPS+. His 51 doubles led the American League, and he backed that up with 31 homers and 103 RBI. He also showed great patience at the plate, only striking out 85 times in 594 at-bats. In terms of more advanced stats, he put up a 157 wRC+ and a .396 wOBA. Both were good for fifth in the AL. He definitely earned his spot in the 2018 MVP race. Whether or not he can dethrone Betts is yet to be seen.
Another year, another instance of this Los Angeles Angels star winding up here. It was not without reason, either. Trout led all AL players in offensive WAR (9.2), OBP (.460), OPS (1.088), and adjusted OPS+ (198). He finished in the top five in the league in average (.312), homers (39), and runs created (152). His patience at the plate had come along as well, as he led the league with 122 walks. He put up a 188 wRC+, which was tops in the AL, to go along with a .447 wOBA. Though his defense was back around league average, he did more than enough with the bat to warrant a spot in the 2018 MVP race.
Finally, we take a look at the real-life MVP. Betts led the AL in WAR (10.7) and was certainly a force to be reckoned with all season. His 156 runs created were the most in the league, to go along with a 185 wRC+, ranking just behind Trout. A .449 wOBA paced the AL and he took home the batting (.346) and slugging (.640) titles. He ranked in the top five in hits (180) and total bases (333), and he tied for the league lead in runs scored (129). His defense was also noteworthy, playing to a 1.7 dWAR and an 11.7 Fangraphs defensive rating. All of this added up to an AL MVP for Betts and a World Series championship for the Boston Red Sox.
you know the percentile ranking images on Baseball Savant atop the player pages?
here’s 2018 Mookie Betts! pic.twitter.com/Z2ur52Z6kE
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 1, 2023
The MVP should be…
Betts is the rightful MVP, and it’s not really a close contest. Though Bregman and Trout both had competitive campaigns, Betts was on another level. He played a major role in helping the Red Sox capture a title. Now, it is true that whether or not a player actually participates in a championship-winning team should not be relevant to the decision of MVP. That being said, his regular season stat lines were so far beyond what anyone else did in the AL that season. It was this pure domination that led him to the award, and it’s why he keeps it here.
The 2018 MVP Race: National League
We have seen many cases in this series where one league has, basically, nothing but offense and the other has nothing but pitching. 2018 is no exception, as the National League put forward three of the best hurlers in the game. In fact, real-life MVP Christian Yelich will not be discussed here. Rather, we turn to a trio of uniquely distinct pitchers. The WAR leader was experiencing the ostensible peak of his career, as recent injuries have derailed it. In second place, we find a Baton Rouge-bred precision machine. Finally, in third, we have a future Hall of Famer.
Surprisingly enough, we begin with the aforementioned soon-to-be Cooperstown legend. Once again, in 2018, Scherzer was Scherzer, and it helped catapult the Washington Nationals back to the postseason. Even in his age-33 season, he showed no signs of slowing down. He led the league in wins (18), WHIP (0.911), and K/9 (12.2), while achieving an ever-elusive 300 strikeout season. In so doing, he continued to be a workhorse, hurling a league-best 220 2/3 innings and recording two complete games. Though homers and hit-by-pitches continued to be a problem, he limited opposing teams to 62 earned runs. Once more, Scherzer proved his dominance and was a major player in the NL’s 2018 MVP race.
Entering 2018, Aaron Nola was in a bit of an odd spot. The Philadelphia Phillies ace had shown flashes of what he could be during his first four big league seasons. In 2018, he finally experienced a breakout. He made his first and, to date only, All-Star appearance. His ERA improved from 3.54 in 2017 to 2.37 in ’18 and he won 17 games. He finished third in Cy Young voting, struck out 224 batters, and pitched over 212 innings. Finally, he posted a sub-one WHIP. Though he may not have been quite as dominant as Scherzer, Nola definitely proved that he belonged in the 2018 MVP race.
Today, we very often hear of deGrom in association with new injury reports. In 2018, though, the New York Mets got the very best of a healthy Jacob deGrom. The Cy Young winner not only led the league in WAR among pitchers, but including position players as well. Though he only won 10 games, he still topped his fellow hurlers with a sparkling 1.70 ERA. He had a 218 ERA+ and 269 strikeouts in 217 innings. The most amazing part of his stat line was his lack of problems with the long ball, as he only gave up 10 all season. A power pitcher with consistent results, deGrom was certainly the cream of the NL’s hurler crop in 2018.
The MVP should be…
As much as Scherzer should be considered a close second, deGrom gets this writer’s 2018 NL MVP Award. Even though Scherzer was dominant, deGrom’s season was on another level. The main difference between the two was Scherzer’s problems giving up homers while deGrom didn’t really have any. Another difference is that Scherzer could be wild at times and deGrom seemed in pinpoint control all season. That’s why Jacob deGrom wins the NL’s 2018 MVP race.
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