Now for the real MVP picks! I highly recommend reading about my fake MVP picks here, and my explanation for doing so here.
Also, feel free to to check out my picks for relievers and rookies, as well as my Cy Young picks.
My MVP picks are simply the top ten players in each league this season. I assess players solely by what can be objectively proven and evaluated, completely independent of team performance. That’s the only logical, fair way to do it. If you want to throw in narratives, soft factors, and basically anything that’s unprovable, then you can make an argument for literally any player.
Like in my previous awards columns, you can click on the ballot in order to take you to a Fangraphs page with a table of all my selections so you can compare them yourself. Since there are both pitchers and hitters on the ballot, you’ll have to click on the “Batting” and “Pitching” buttons to switch back and forth. WAR values for pitchers will still be from Fangraphs. Position players will be from Baseball Reference. The reason for that being that I prefer Defensive Runs Saved to Ultimate Zone Rating when evaluating defense. I also find it helpful that Baseball Reference offers the offensive and defensive splits for WAR. The defensive component can be a little shaky, so it’s useful to be able to see how it’s gauging the player’s fielding.
NL MVP: Clayton Kershaw
- Clayton Kershaw
- Andrew McCutchen
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Jonathan Lucroy
- Anthony Rendon
- Carlos Gómez
- Buster Posey
- Yasiel Puig
- Anthony Rizzo
- Jordan Zimmerman
No, you haven’t accidentally clicked on my Cy Young picks. Clayton Kershaw is not only the world’s greatest pitcher, he was the best overall player in the National League this season.
There are some misguided people out there who believe that pitchers should not be considered for the MVP award since they have their own award. Well, the rules say that they’re eligible, so you have to consider them. You can’t change the rules. On top of all that, value is value anyway.
A popular argument against pitchers is that they only affect 1 out of every 5 games, while a position player affects every game. That argument just doesn’t work. This past season, McCutchen had 648 PA, Stanton 638 PA, and Lucroy 655 PA. The most plate appearances any hitter had this season was Ian Kinsler at 726. Kershaw faced 749 batters. Pitchers may only affect 1 out of every 5 games, but they affect those games far more than a position player does.
Now you may be thinking that this argument omits position player defense and baserunning. You’re right, it does, and that’s part of why it’s difficult to for the best pitcher to be better than the best position player. The last time that a pitcher truly deserved to win the MVP was Pedro Martínez in 1999. Of course he didn’t win because some idiot voter left him off his ballot. Justin Verlander won in 2011, but he didn’t deserve to. Jacoby Ellsbury deserved that award. He probably would’ve won the award had it not been for the Red Sox epic collapse in September, as if that was all Ellsbury’s fault.
Kershaw’s performance this season was so dominant that it overcame the fact that he doesn’t provide any defensive or baserunning value, which is saying a lot considering that McCutchen, Stanton, and Lucroy are all good at fielding their respective positions. The highest WAR on that whole ballot is Lucroy at 6.71. If you include what Kershaw did at bat, he had a 7.7 WAR. Kershaw did enjoy some luck in deserving this award. McCutchen and Stanton missed some time this season, and Troy Tulowitzki was out half the season.
Clayton Kershaw had a 1.91 RA9, 1.81 FIP, 31.9 K%, and 4.1 BB%, all of which was good for 7.7 WAR when factoring in his hitting. Unreal. ESPN’s David Schoenfield ranked Kershaw’s season as the 15th best in the past 50 years. You have to wonder if he would’ve cracked the top ten had he pitched the entire season.
Putting McCutchen over Stanton was easy. McCutchen provided more offense with a 168 wRC+, while Stanton came in a little behind at 159 wRC+. McCutchen is also the better baserunner and plays a more valuable position. He’s clearly the better choice over Stanton. McCutchen may very well win the award since the voters are as progressive as a glacier. It should also be noted that Stanton led the NL with a 14.7 BB%
Lucroy was incredibly difficult to place on the ballot. It all depends how much credit you want to give his incredible pitch framing skills. Rob Neyer and Dave Cameron have written some insightful articles exploring this topic. It all comes down to how much credit you want to give the pitcher for knowing that his catcher can frame his pitches, and having the command to hit those spots. Simply put, catcher framing isn’t all on the catcher. I decided that a 133 wRC+, good defensive catcher is worth putting fourth on my ballot. He may deserve to go higher as a result of his framing skills, but until somebody develops a methodology to evaluate how much of that is attributed to the catcher, I can’t fairly evaluate it. There’s just too much subjectivity involved for now.
Anthony Rendon is such a good baseball player. In his first full season in the majors, Rendon hit .287/.351/.473 with a 130 wRC+ and 6.5 WAR. Seeing as he’s just 24 years old, is his best yet to come? He’s already a very good hitter, baserunner, and an excellent defensive 3rd baseman. I put him below Lucroy since he plays the more valuable position.
The next three selections were incredibly difficult to differentiate. I’m sure that there are perfectly good arguments that can be made to rearrange the 5-7 slots on my ballot.
I put Rendon over Gómez by a hair, and I don’t feel great about it. They had roughly the same wRC+. One could easily make the argument that Gómez should be above Rendon as a result of him being an 80 defender in center field2. I wouldn’t argue against anybody who said that. Center field and 3rd base are of comparable value, and I believe that Rendon provided more defensive value than Gómez did, most likely because he was fortunate enough to have more opportunities to do so. It’s a really tough call. I am more comfortable citing that Rendon was significantly better as a baserunner.
Before I get to Buster Posey, I just want to point out that he didn’t make the All-Star game. I really hope next year when Rob Manfred takes over as commissioner, that he revises the process that selects players to the All-Star game. I’m sure he won’t, but I hope he does. I do have some suggestions of my own.
Posey had a 144 wRC+, which is higher than that of Rendon or Gómez, and at a more valuable position as well. So why did I put Posey below those two? Posey only started at catcher for 109 games and played 1st base for the rest where the offensive standard is much higher. It’s not uncommon for catchers to start behind the plate for only 2/3 of their games. Posey is only okay defensively, while Rendon and Gómez are outstanding. He has been shown to be a good pitch framer, but as I mentioned before, we don’t have an effective method to evaluate it yet.
Ah, Yasiel Puig, the player who provides lots of false narratives for the media. His power numbers were down from last season and he got on base a little less. That resulted in his 160 wRC+ from last year dipping down to a 145 wRC+. That’s still a great offensive season, and the good news is that the Steamer projection system has him being the same player next year. Although he’s prone to making mistakes, he’s still a very good right fielder with a cannon for an arm. I ranked him where I did because Rendon, Gómez, and Posey had more than enough defensive value to overcome Puig’s offensive edge.
Anthony Rizzo enjoyed a breakout season in 2014. He turned himself from a league average hitter in 2013 to a 153 wRC+ hitter in 2014. Before this season, Rizzo was constantly messing with his swing and his approach at the plate. I’m sure it drove scouts and his coaches crazy. Obviously, he finally settled in on something that works. Some people are anointing him as the new Joey Votto, but I think that’s a little premature. This season his walk rate was 11.9% and he had a .386 OBP. Those are excellent numbers to be sure, but I want to see him something along the line of 17 BB% and >.420 OBP before I’m comfortable making that claim. He is a great player the way he is, however.
Putting Rizzo below the other four players above him came down to him being a first baseman. He was better offensively than those four players, but it wasn’t enough of an offensive edge to overcome the fact that the others played more valuable positions and played them well.
Jordan Zimmermann took the final spot on my ballot because I believe he had a better season then some of the position players left such as Jhonny Peralta and Jason Werth. It’s difficult to compare pitchers to hitters, but this is one of the strengths of WAR. According to Fangraphs, Zimmermann was worth 5.2 WAR. Baseball Reference has Peralta at 5.8 WAR and Werth at 4.0 WAR. Peralta and Zimmermann’s WAR values are roughly the same given the construct’s lack of precision. However, Peralta’s WAR was clearly overrating his defense. Peralta’s defense has always been controversial. You look at a man of his size and think that there’s no way he can be a competent shortstop, but he moves surprisingly well out there. He’s not going to be winning any Gold Gloves, though, and 2.6 dWAR for this season seems way too high. That was more than half of his total career dWAR going into this season! That’s why Zimmermann gets the last slot on my ballot.
Before I get to my AL MVP ballot, in the interest of full disclosure, the ballot below is not the one I submitted for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance awards. I had realized after the fact that I accidentally omitted José Bautista. I have no idea how it happened, but it happened. Since then, I have also changed my mind on Alex Gordon. My original ballot, along with all my awards selections with the exception of relievers, can be found here.
AL MVP: Mike Trout
- Mike Trout
- Michael Brantley
- Corey Kluber
- Adrián Beltré
- José Bautista
- Josh Donaldson
- Robinson Canó
- Félix Hernández
- José Abreu
- José Altuve
For the third straight season, Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and he might finally get the recognition he deserves. However, I don’t doubt that some voters will vote for him for the wrong reasons. For example, Trout led the league in both RBIs and Runs scored, and he’s getting extra credit for accomplishing this having batted second all season. I don’t think any of that matters because luck is too big of a factor.
There has been some backlash to Trout’s MVP candidacy due to the fact that he led the league in strikeouts and his .287 batting average was seen as low for an MVP candidate. First of all, stop with the batting average, people. It’s a stat that shows the rate at how a player didn’t make an out in plate appearances when he didn’t walk, sacrifice, or get hit by a pitch. That’s just weird. It’s not a completely useless stat, but it’s not informative without being compared to OBP and slugging.
As for the strikeouts, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they don’t matter. The Kansas City Royals have demonstrated the value of putting the ball in play. But at the end of the day, outs are outs, and striking out is definitely better than grounding into a double play. Trout clearly changed his approach in order to hit for more power, and it worked as evidenced by his 40 point boost in ISO, but the price was too high. That aggressiveness led to a 3.6% decrease in walk rate and big 45 point decrease in OBP from the previous season. That extra power is just not worth all the extra outs he made. Hopefully we’ll see a return to form next year.
Ironically, the season when Trout will finally win an MVP was his worst full season in his young career. It’s also ironic that the distance between him and runner-up is the smallest it has ever been. This season, Trout led the league in wRC+ by a hair over Víctor Martínez and José Abreu. V-Mart being a DH and Abreu being a poor defensive 1st baseman don’t even come close to touching the value of Trout’s excellent defense at a premium position. With regard to the players who compete more closely in defensive value on my ballot, they fall well short on the offensive side. None of this even takes into account his speed on the base paths. Like we’ve been saying for three seasons now, Trout is the total package3. Although not as easy as the previous seasons, he’s still the easy MVP choice for this season.
Michael Brantley had a career year in 2014. He hit .324/.385/.506 with a 155 wRC+ and a whopping 7.0 WAR. His defense in left field is nothing special, but he did start 40 games in center. Brantley also excelled on the base paths. He stole 23 bases and only got caught once, which contributed to his excellent 7.8 BsR. I believe that his offensive and baserunning edges was more than the defensive value of Beltré and Donaldson could make up.
Speaking of Cleveland Indians who had a career year, we come to Corey Kluber. It’s difficult to compare pitchers to hitters without relying heavily on WAR, and in this instance it failed to separate Kluber from Brantley or Beltré. One could easily put him above Brantley or below Beltré. I relied on oWAR to help, since it’s more accurate and reliable than when defense is factored in. Brantley’s 7.2 oWAR puts him at roughly equal to Kluber, with his defensive and baserunning value breaking the tie. Beltré came in at 5.9 WAR. He has no baserunning value, so his defense enough to bridge the WAR gap between him and Kluber. Beltré is an all-time great defensive 3rd baseman, but he’s not what he used to be, although he’s still very good. For me to be comfortable putting him above Kluber, his defense would have to worth at least 2 dWAR. Baseball Reference says 1.4 dWAR, and even that comes with a large error bar. I just don’t think that the future Hall of Famer4 had enough value to put him above Kluber.
Beltré is fourth on my ballot, though I doubt we see him make the top ten when the results are announced. It’s doubtful that the voters will vote for somebody who was on the worst team in baseball, as if any of that was his fault. He quietly had an excellent season. He hit .324/.388/.492 which was good for a 141 wRC+ and 7.0 WAR. Not too shabby for a 35-year old, huh? While he’s no longer the all-world defender that he used to be a 3rd base, he’s still excellent. His defense is what convinced me to put him above the stronger offensive season of Bautista.
Bautista had a great bounce back season after spending the past few years being plagued by injuries. He was one of only two players in the AL who had an OBP above .400, with the other being Víctor Martínez. That OBP came from being a walk machine. His 15.5 BB% was second in the AL. His 159 wRC+ was fourth in the AL. Defensively, he still has a great arm, but I thought his range had decreased compared to previous seasons. His age and injury history could be the cause of that. His great offense was enough for me to put him above the defensive monster, Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson overall had a great year, but it was a step backwards from last year. He went from a 147 wRC+ last season to a 129 wRC+ this season. The explanation for that is simple: Regression to the mean. Last season, he lucked out with a .333 BABIP, while this season that number dropped all the way down to .278. Steamer projections has 2014 Donaldson as representative of his true talent. It projects him as turning in the roughly the same offensive numbers in 2015. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, though. With his outstanding defense, that’ll still make him a top 10 player next season. However, that defense was not enough for me to put him above Bautista. There was just too much offense for Donaldson to overcome.
The defense of Donaldson was enough for me to put him above Robinson Canó. The 136 wRC+ of Canó was low enough for me to say that Donaldson’s monster defense made the difference. Canó may be a plus defender at a more valuable position, but Donaldson’s defense is just that good. Contrary to popular belief, Canó’s offensive production wasn’t much worse than last season. He had the same OBP but with much less power. That’s mostly explained when you take the ballparks into consideration. There’s a big, big difference between hitting in Yankee Stadium and Safeco Park, especially for a lefty. Remember, wRC+ corrects for ball park effects, and Canó had a 142 wRC+ last season. Obviously that’s not much higher than this season, even though his ISO was 63 points lower. Canó is the same player he always was and is projected to continue to be so in 2015.
Canó’s teammate, King Félix, comes in next. I performed the same exercise for putting Hernández where I did as I did with Kluber. Hernández was worth 6.2 WAR this season, while Canó came in at 6.2 oWAR. They’re already tied, so accounting for Canó’s good defense at a valuable position easily puts him over the top.
I doubt that even the most optimistic scouts thought that José Abreu was going to be this good. His 165 wRC+ was third in the AL. So why was such a dominant offensive player 9th on my ballot? He’s a below average defender at the lowest value position on the field, 1st base. He came in below Hernández because he was worth 6.5 oWAR with negative defensive value.
Finally, we come to little José Altuve. I don’t feel great about putting him 10th, to be honest. He turned in a 135 wRC+ while playing 2nd base. With the caveat that I’ve never taken a good look at him defensively, he appears to be a poor fielding 2nd baseman. Three year samples of the defensively metrics, which is a significant and reliable sample size, has him at -28 DRS and -27.8 UZR. That was enough for me to knock him below Abreu. However, I don’t doubt that there’s a good argument out there to prove me wrong.
Alex Gordon had a great season, but I felt that his defense was too overrated to crack my top ten. If he’s not an 80 defender in left field, he’s pretty close, but it’s still the lower value position of left field. That, coupled with his good but unremarkable 122 wRC+, wasn’t enough for him to make my ballot.
Believe me when I say that leaving Víctor Martínez off my ballot pained me greatly. He was the best hitter in baseball this season. He hit .335/.409/.565 with a 166 wRC+, which was second only to Trout in the AL. However, since he was a DH, that was worth only 5.3 WAR. I’m not penalizing him for being a DH. The fact of the matter is that he’s playing a position that literally any other player can play, and obviously it doesn’t provide any defensive value. There’s value in just taking the field, even if you’re a poor defensive player. As a result, the offensive bar is incredibly high. On top of all of that, Martínez was one of the worst baserunners in baseball. He was tied for 2nd worst in all of baseball by BsR with David Ortiz. I really expected to put him somewhere on my ballot, but I kept finding a reason to put players above him due to the big differences in defensive and baserunning value.
On a side note, it’s interesting to note that V-Mart’s season was offensively equivalent to Cabrera’s 2012, yet he doesn’t seem to be getting any of the same MVP love from the media or fans that Cabrera did in 2012. Funny how that works, huh? I guess the BBWAA got tired of making stuff up to support their pre-chosen pick.
Thoughts? Feel free to share your friendly, respectful comments!