Evaluating the MVP Races

Miami Marlins v New York Mets

By Patrick Brewer

In recent weeks, both the National League and American League Most Valuable Player races have been picking up steam. At this point the focal points of the National League conversation seem to be Bryce Harper and Yoenis Cespedes with Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen and even Cy Young candidates such as Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw hang in the background while the focus in the American League is on Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson with no other players deserving major consideration outside of perhaps Lorenzo Cain. With the season quickly coming to a close, the discussions on who should be the MVP in both leagues have picked up a lot of steam.

With the players vying for the MVP awards in both leagues in mind, I would like to start by saying that team performance should really have little to no bearing on a player winning or losing the MVP award. A great player playing on a losing team is less a reflection on the player than it is a reflection on the team as a whole. Even the best player in Major League history cannot make a flawed team good enough to win consistently. Another caveat is taking into consideration defensive value when deciding on who deserves to win an MVP award. While offensive statistics are the easiest stats to decipher and consider, defense is an important factor that should be given strong consideration when deciding who is the best player in each league.

Following these few caveats about the MVP discussion it is time to consider who is considered to be the front-runners in each league and who should win the awards based on current performance. Looking strictly at both simple and advanced statistics it seems fairly obvious in both leagues who the most valuable player is in each league regardless of team success or team failure.

Let’s start with the American League. Realistically it is really a two person race between Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson despite a career year for Lorenzo Cain in Kansas City. It seems that with each passing year Mike Trout is only further solidifying his position as a future MLB Hall of Famer and he is a threat to win an MVP award every single season.

Mike Trout has played so far in 140 games this season with a slash line of .294/.395/.572, an ISO of .278, a wRC+ of 167 and a WAR value of 7.4 up until this point. For comparison Josh Donaldson has played in 141 games with a slash line of .305/.371/.586, an ISO of .281, a wRC+ of 159, and a WAR value of 8.0 so far. Based on these numbers alone Donaldson has had a better season in terms of batting average, slugging percentage, isolated power, and WAR while Trout has had a better season in terms of on base percentage and weighted runs created plus. Based on offense alone, both Trout and Donaldson are neck in neck. If defense is taken into consideration, Donaldson should have the significant edge and should take home his first MVP award hands down, while Mike Trout is stuck with another second place finish (which would be his third in his five year career).

While the American League MVP race is actually a closer race, the National League race has garnered more attention and more discrepancy as to who should win. While Joey Votto (7.1 WAR), Paul Goldschmidt (6.4 WAR), Andrew McCutchen (5.6 WAR) and pitchers Zack Greinke (5.6 WAR) and Clayton Kershaw (7.4 WAR), are all having fantastic seasons, it seems that at this point it is down to a two person race between Bryce Harper and Yoenis Cespedes.

Let’s start with Bryce Harper. In 136 games up until this point in the season, Harper has a slash line of .333/.464/.652, an ISO of .318, a wRC+ of 198, and a WAR value of 8.7 which is good for the highest in all of baseball. In contrast, in 143 games between the American League and National League, Yoenis Cespedes has a slash line of .298/.333/.562, an ISO of .265, a wRC+ of 142, and a WAR value of 7.0. Based on these numbers, Bryce Harper leads Cespedes in nearly every single offensive category and is the hands down Most Valuable Player in the National League. The only two things that Cespedes has going for him to this point is his defensive value, which is far superior to Harper, and his position on a likely playoff team while Harper’s team is likely not going to make the playoffs. As I stated before, team success should have no bearing on the MVP award and on defensive value alone Cespedes has nearly no case for winning the MVP award. Bryce Harper is clearly the most valuable player in the National League and it should be considered a travesty of the highest level if he does not win.

While there has been a lot of discussion and back and forth about who should win the MVP award in each league, the decisions in both leagues should be pretty obvious at this point. While the American League race is quite a bit closer than the National League race, it still seems pretty clear that Donaldson has had a better season both defensively and offensively than Trout and deserves the award. In the National League, there is zero doubt in my mind that Harper is the most deserving player and should win the award without a second thought.

Patrick Brewer is the Lead National League writer for Call to the Bullpen. You can find him on Twitter @PatrickBrewer93, or join in the conversation@CTBPod, in the comment section below or on our Facebook Page.

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