I wrote quite a few of these awards ballot posts, as you may have noticed. Some of them were more fun than others to write. But MVP discussions are what really matter. Everything was a precursor to this.
Cy Young Awards and Rookie of the Year awards are fun discussions, but each is necessarily a lesser award that one which determines the single best player in each league. Perhaps the award should be handed out to MLB’s top player rather than the top player from each league–it would seem absurd if the NFL had an AFC and NFC MVP, or if the NBA and NHL had Eastern and Western Conference MVPs–but that’s really the only grievance to be had.
Here is my ballot. Some people don’t like to include pitchers, or at the very least dock them because “they have their own award”. I am not one of those people.
1. Mookie Betts–Boston Red Sox: He nearly won the award in 2016, but that was on “he was on a playoff team!” grounds rather than “he was actually the best player in the league” grounds, and Mike Trout rightfully won the award. Mookie Betts, of course, was on a playoff team this season, but this isn’t why he deserves the AL MVP–it’s because, well, he was the best player in baseball (he would be my choice for MLB MVP, if such an award existed). He was the only player that I listed in my Gold Glove and Silver Slugger choices. He was the AL’s second-best hitter, tied for sixth in the league at Defensive Runs Above Average, and finished sixth in Base Running Runs. He was the complete package.
2. Mike Trout–Los Angeles Angels: 2018 was Mike Trout’s third-best season by FanGraphs WAR. The total number of players who have had a season this century with a fWAR total as high as 2018 Trout is six: Trout, Mookie Betts (whose 10.4 fWAR surpassed Trout’s 9.8), Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Sammy Sosa. Trout was not only the best hitter in baseball this season; he had a defensive resurgence and was nominated for the AL Center Field Gold Glove. It is a reflection on the ludicrous season of Betts that Trout probably won’t come particularly close to winning MVP, but Trout is a more-than-worthy runner-up.
3. Jose Ramirez–Cleveland Indians: Tired–saying the guy who finished in second would be an MVP in most years. Wired–saying the guy who finished in third would be an MVP in most years. Jose Ramirez was terrific in every measurable way–he was a great hitter (146 wRC+, .270/.387/.552 AVG/OBP/SLG in 698 plate appearances, a higher walk rate than strikeout rate), he stole 34 bases while being caught just six times, and in addition to being a strong defensive third baseman, his ability to play second base allowed his team to play Josh Donaldson at third base when he was acquired in August.
4. Francisco Lindor–Cleveland Indians: When I was younger, I underestimated just how valuable Alex Rodriguez was for the Texas Rangers. I knew, of course, that he was a great hitter, but that he could do it while playing shortstop meant a truly jarring improvement over the typical shortstop at the plate. The Indians have perhaps the best of this current Golden Age of Shortstops in Francisco Lindor, who was the best offensive shortstop in baseball in 2018. Lindor would be extremely valuable as merely a serviceable defensive shortstop, but he trails only Andrelton Simmons in the hierarchy of best defensive shortstops in baseball.
5. Alex Bregman–Houston Astros: Long overshadowed by his infield teammates Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, the Astros third baseman (and occasional shortstop) came into his own in 2018. Offensively, he hit 31 home runs while displaying excellent plate discipline, good for the fourth-highest qualified wRC+ in the American League. Defensively, Bregman’s non-elite defense keeps him from what could have easily been a run at 3rd on the ballot, but that he can at least fake it at shortstop does make him a more valuable player to his team.
6. Matt Chapman–Oakland Athletics: A quietly very good player who turned into an elite player in 2018, Matt Chapman combined very good offense (.278/.356/.508 for a 137 wRC+) and elite third base defense (despite the pervasive Cult of Nolan Arenado which has poisoned most MLB analysis, Chapman won the Fielding Bible award for best defensive third baseman in all of baseball this season) and became easily the most important player for an Oakland Athletics team which surprised many by making the playoffs, if only for a day.
7. J.D. Martinez–Boston Red Sox: Many were surprised that J.D. Martinez is not an MVP finalist, but to be clear–he shouldn’t be. When you are primarily a designated hitter, it is almost impossible to have that level of overall value to a team. Even a poor defender contributes in the sense that he allows an even poorer defender to DH. But J.D. Martinez was so good at the plate, trailing only Trout and Betts by wRC+ to the tune of a .330/.402/.629 triple-slash with 43 home runs and 130 RBI, that he atoned for the one-sidedness of his game by being so undeniable at his side.
8. Chris Sale–Boston Red Sox: I’ll spare you a new explanation and link to the explanation of why I put Chris Sale on my AL Cy Young Award list.
9. Andrelton Simmons–Los Angeles Angels: Although far removed from the other hitters on the AL MVP list (Simmons was barely above-average, with a 109 wRC+ and .292/.337/.417 triple-slash), the value of being the best defensive player in baseball carries a lot of weight and warrants a spot on this list. Rather than breaking down Simmons’s glove with wonky stats, I’ll keep it very simple–he was worth nearly double the Defensive Runs Above Average of Matt Chapman, the aforementioned Fielding Bible winner who ranked fifth in the American League in DRAA.
10. Justin Verlander–Houston Astros: See #8.