Hello, HHS readers! Thanks for participating in this year’s award posts; it’s been fun reading your comments, and discussing the questions that have come up. We have just one more election to go, to choose the AL MVP. More after the jump.
Let’s start with Alex Bregman. Of all the AL’s top-6 in OPS+, only Bregman topped 140 games, playing 156 and slashing .296/.423/.639, with the latter pair of numbers ranking second and third in the league. Bregman was one of only two players in the league to post a 100-100-100 season (that’s Runs, RBI, and Walks), AND he did so without striking out 100 times! Bregman also finished third in the AL with 41 HR, doing it all for a team that won a Major League-best 107 games. While Bregman is about two decades too late to be one of the Astros’ famed Killer B’s, the legacy lives on through him!
Here’s an outside-the-box candidate, just to show you how deep the field goes. The AL’s HR leader was Jorge Soler of the Royals. Soler became the first Royal in history to blast 40, destroying the team record by 10 in hitting 48 HR. Playing in all 162 games, Soler batted .265/.354/.569, knocking in 117. Soler scored or drove in (or both) 164 runs this season, participating in nearly a QUARTER of the Royals’ runs as a team.
But Soler wasn’t the only power hitter in the AL Central. Ageless Wonder Nelson Cruz was batting a respectable .270/.354/.508 when he left a May 12th game with an injury. From his June 4th return to the end of the season, Cruz topped .400 OBP and slugged nearly .700, finishing the year with a .311/.392/.639 line. Cruz hit 28 of his 41 HR in his final 248 AB, which is essentially a HR every nine ABs over his final 65 games! Cruz was one of three qualifying batters in the AL with a 1.000 OPS.
Last season’s MVP, Mookie Betts, followed up with another strong season, even as his team faltered. Betts batted .295/.391/.524 while leading the league in runs scored for the second straight year, this time with a career-high 135. Playing a strong CF, Betts also showed more plate discipline this season, cutting his strikeout rate and increasing his walk rate (both marginally, but still – it’s an accomplishment).
Betts had company on the under-achieving Red Sox as Rafael Devers had one of the better age 22 seasons you’re likely to see. In his first full season, Devers slashed .311/.361/.555, leading the AL in doubles and total bases, while cutting down his strikeout rate A LOT! He scored 129 (2nd) and drove in 115 (4th), producing 212 runs (1st), 23.5% of his team’s output. Oh, did I mention 200 hits (2nd), including 90 for extra bases (1st) – just the 40th such season, and one which only A-Rod and Joe D also achieved by age 22!
Marcus Semien of the A’s came to the plate the most of any player in the AL, and boy did that give Oakland something to cheer! Semien slashed .285/.369/.522, good for a 138 OPS+ (his first time above league-average), all coming from a shortstop! Not since Miguel Tejada has Oakland had such a strong player up the middle. And Semien was also leaned on more heavily than ever, particularly with the massive step backward taken by DH Khris Davis.
The Yankees found an unlikely top hitter in second baseman DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu placed 2nd in the AL in BA, as he posted the second-best batting average of his career this season… after seven seasons in Colorado! Scoring 109 and driving in 102 (previous career high was only 66), LeMahieu was central to the Yanks’ high-powered offense, even adding 26 HR, another career best. His .327/.375/.518 line was good for a 136 OPS+, best on the AL’s highest-scoring team. Quiz: which other players have won a batting crown in one league, and placed 2nd in batting in the other?
Finally, it wouldn’t be the AL MVP race in the 2010s without a discussion of Mike Trout. Prior to injury, Trout was the runaway favorite, playing in only 134 games (about the same as last season’s winner, when Mookie Betts played only 136 games) and still reaching triple digits in runs, walks and RBI (a trifecta only Bregman matched). Trout’s .291/.438/.645 slash included league-leading marks for OBP and SLG, and yielded a 185 OPS+ that led all of baseball – for the fourth consecutive year! (Trout has good company with his MLB OPS+ four-peat, joining Barry Bonds, Ted Williams*, Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb). The biggest question mark on Trout’s now-inevitable march to Cooperstown is simply if he’s become injury-prone. In his eight full MLB seasons, he’s been limited to 140 games or fewer in four of them, including the last three consecutively. It remains to be see what that may mean for his legacy, but for now it’s something to watch out for.
There are others to look at – particularly the teammates of some of the guys above. J.D. Martinez, Aaron Judge, Matt Chapman, Jorge Polanco and George Springer all posted good years, among others. But, of course, we had some really good performances from some pitchers, too! Who was the Astros’ best pitcher: Justin Verlander, or Gerrit Cole? And was one of the Rangers’ dynamic duo of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn worthy of a vote? That’s up to you!
Vote by making a comment below and numbering your choices with 1 being the MOST preferred candidate, and 10 being your LEAST preferred candidate of your ten choices. Your ballots will be EXACTLY ten place, just as the BBWAA does. You must vote for 10 players. Scoring will be 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, just as the BBWAA does. You are not required to vote in all elections; only vote in the ones you would like to vote in. You may make vote changes, if the discussion so moves you. If you change your vote, please do so in a new comment, not as a reply to your original comment (it’s a lot easier to find new comments than replies to old ones). Please don’t vote strategically; we’re trying to get the best result, not to manipulate the vote totals based on what others have done. Voting will remain open about one week. When players are tied, tiebreakers go as follows: first tiebreaker is number of ballots on which players were named; second tiebreaker is highest placement on a ballot; third tiebreaker is the first player to be named (as this usually only happens when a bunch of players are tied for last). Results will be posted when balloting closes.
*Ted Williams didn’t actually lead MLB in OPS+ for four straight years, but he did for four consecutive years in which he was active – in other words, he led in ’41, ’42, ’46, and ’47, but was at war for ’43-’45. Count him, or don’t; either way, it’s pretty great company for Trout to be in!