The American League has been very top-heavy regarding teams this 2018 MLB season, and a lot of that has to do with the elite talent available for the contenders. We are witnessing some terrific seasons this year, and some of the best collective offensive seasons but a group of guys who all have a shot at the MVP award.
The AL MVP race is a loaded one with numerous worthy candidates, but some stand out on top of the others. Here are the four most deserving candidates, who can all win the award and you couldn’t cry foul. They are in no particular order, and the statistics are of the morning of July 27, 2018
Martinez is making that five-year $110 million deal he signed in the offseason look like an absolute bargain or in fact, a highway robbery for the Boston Red Sox. He’s picked up where he left off with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and then some. Martinez has elevated the Boston Red Sox offense to best in the sport, which is crucial because the bats have carried a shaky rotation to an MLB-best 71-33 record.
He’s hitting .323/.383/.640 with 31 home runs and has an excellent chance to break last year’s career-high of 46 dingers. Although I’m not a fan of the RBI stat, MVP voters love it. J.D. has 85 RBI, which leads not just the AL, but all of baseball.
His value to the Sox offense has been absurd, and along with Mookie Betts, the Boston has the best hitting duo in the MLB. What might hurt him, however, are his 339 innings on defense. Martinez does not play much defense, with the designated hitter being his primary role. And when he does play in the field, his glove is not all that great.
No designated hitter has ever won an MLB MVP award, but what puts him on this list is his potent bat. The difference in the Red Sox offense from this year to last year is because of him and…
We all knew Mookie Betts had superstar potential, but this year has been something else. He had an excellent 2016 season but lost the MVP award to Mike Trout, and then proceeded to struggle during an injury-riddled 2017 season. So forgive my awe of what he is doing.
Betts is hitting .347/.432/.660 with 24 homers, 25 doubles, and 18 stolen bases. He leads baseball in batting average, slugging, and OPS and is probably having the best season of any player, at least at the plate.
The right fielder is striking out in just 13% of his plate appearances which is boosted by an extremely low 19.1% chase rate. The 25-year-old has an 88 wRC and 190 wRC+, both near the top of the MLB. wRC, according to FanGraphs attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. And wRC+ “measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average after controlling for park effects.”
On top of all this, he is Playing Excellent Defense in right field (nine defensive runs saved) and has a 6.3 WAR. Betts is the best player on the team with the MLB’s best record; it’s as simple as that.
Hopefully one day, the media and casual fans will eventually realize just how good Jose Ramirez is. The Indians third baseman is having a real breakout season. He’s hitting .298/.403/.625 with 30 home runs, 27 doubles, and 22 stolen bases and has already topped last year’s 29 home runs.
He had an excellent 2017 season, but I don’t think anyone saw this kind of power surge coming. Ramirez had been the best player on a 55-46 first-place Indians team. Perhaps his most impressive stat is his 63 unintentional walks (eight intentional) to just 49 strikeouts. You just don’t see a 1.29 BB: K ratio from hitters that often nowadays.
His WAR of 6.8 is boosted by being a highly-rated defender at the hot corner. Winning the award will finally give him the spotlight he deserves.
Had to save possibly the best for last. Trout is the only guy on the list not to have a realistic chance at making the playoffs. But he’s Mike Trout, and will always be in the race for simply being the best player for years. He won the award over Betts in 2016 even though he did not make the postseason.
And the outfielder might be having his best season to date, hitting .311/.462/.621 with 27 HR, 20 doubles, and 20 stolen bases. His on-base percentage leads the league comfortably and is just ridiculous. Combine that with the fact that he walks more than he strikes out; it’s hard to describe how great his batting eye and discipline are when we’re now in an era of all-time high strikeout amounts.
Trout is having his best defensive season to date, and his position of centerfield is what elevates him. Trout is .009 points behind Mookie Betts for the best OPS in baseball, but Trout is playing excellent defense in center field, along with elite offensive production.
Center field is a premium position that puts more value on defense which means you usually do not even get much good offense, let alone MVP-caliber offense. And the defense is much more demanding and harder to grade out as above-average.
Trout has a 102 wRC and 191 wRC+, which both lead baseball, as does his 7.3 WAR. Perhaps the most impressive thing about his season is that he is doing all this with no support. It would be fun to watch a prime-Mike Trout playing for something other than constant mediocrity.
Featured Image via Flickr/Keith Allison