A Case for How Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu Could Win The 2020 AL MVP:
One holds the current MLB lead in Home Runs, the other the MLB lead in batting average. Today, Ethan Semendinger breaks down each players 2020 AL MVP chances and the only real way either can win.
The Case for Luke Voit:
In the past 10 years of MVP voting, across both the American League and National League, just 3 players who have lead the league in Home Runs have won. This includes 2017 Giancarlo Stanton (59 HR’s), 2015 Bryce Harper (42 HR’s), and 2012 Miguel Cabrera (44 HR’s)*. Unfortunately, while modifying batting towards hitting a HR has been favored by analytics in recent history, it doesn’t appear that this is beloved by the BBWAA.
*Note: This list should also include 2017 Aaron Judge (52 HR’s) who was 100% snubbed by a cheating Jose Altuve.
The marquee example for Luke Voit would seem to come by looking into Giancarlo Stanton’s 2017 MVP season. While Stanton hit 20 more HR’s than any other player who received MVP votes (Cody Bellinger had 39 HR’s), he didn’t have an MVP-like BA (.281), OBP (.376), nor did he lead the NL in OPS (his 1.007 was marginally behind Joey Votto’s 1.032). This plays favorable for Voit who has a .286 BA and a .348 OBP. However, Stanton’s towering HR number helped propel him into the top spot for the MVP. It was the clear storyline through the end of the season as he chased 60 HR’s for the first time since Mark McGwire hit 65 HR’s in 1999.
Luke Voit, unfortunately doesn’t have that massive gap. His 21 HR’s (and counting) are just 3 ahead of the next player in the AL (Jose Abreu, 18) and if that stayed true would only come out to be about a 8 HR difference over a 162 game season. In order to match the magnitude of Stanton’s difference, Voit would need a 7 HR advantage. That would mean he would need to get to 25 HR’s before any AL player got to 19 HR’s. That’s likely not going to happen.
Outside of the HR’s however, Luke Voit does pose an interesting debate. He holds the AL lead in a much more telling stat towards predicting MVP success: Slugging Percentage. In the past 10 years of MVP voting, 10 MVP’s have lead their league in SLG. In addition to this, Voit also has the 2nd most RBI’s (49), T-6th most oWAR (2.0), and ranks Top 10 in 15 other positive metrics (i.e. not strikeouts) on Baseball-Reference.
It’s unlikely at best that Voit will win the 2020 AL MVP. However, he does have a small shot. In short, this is the most likely way in which Voit could win the MVP:
If Luke Voit hits 25 HR’s in 60 games that would be on pace for a 67.5 HR season over 162 games. Nobody but Voit has a true shot at that 25 number and that alone could net him the win. With 7 games to go in the season, he’d need to get a HR every other game, starting tonight. It’s possible, but very unlikely.
Just for fun: If Voit magically got to 26 HR’s in 2020 that would be 70.2 HR pace…last done by Mark McGwire in 1998.
The Case for DJ LeMahieu:
Luckily, the case for DJ LeMahieu requires a lot less playing around with numbers and storylines than Luke Voit. He truly has had himself an insane season to follow up a 4th place AL MVP year in 2019.
He leads the MLB in Batting Average (.361) and the American League in OBP (.418), OPS (1.033), OPS+ (182), and wRC+ (181). This places him tops in the AL by oWAR (2.6) and 2nd across position players when including defense, behind Jose Abreu (3.0)*. He also ranks Top-10 in 19 different positive metrics in the AL on Baseball-Reference.
*Note: While Jose Abreu passes DJ LeMahieu when including dWAR, the defensive metrics are incredibly unfavorable for LeMahieu because he has spent considerable time at both 2B and 3B (and some time at 1B, too). While he does have 4 errors across the 3 positions, this moving around makes it hard for the metric to evaluate him to the same degree as a player who is situated at a position.
Unfortunately, the one thing going against DJ LeMahieu- and likely the thing BBWAA voters will point to when dropping him on the ballot- will be that he missed 9 games (15% of the season) with a thumb injury. This has made it nearly impossible for DJ to hold the lead in any accumulating metric (Hits, HR’s, etc.) and instead one has to look into rate metrics for his case to be made.
The other big thing against DJ LeMahieu comes in the form of the aforementioned Jose Abreu, who is by all means also have an MVP-type year. Everything extremely positive for LeMahieu, Abreu also closely follows with a .335 BA, .381 OBP, 1.032 OPS (Yes, he’s literally 0.001 points behind), OPS+ (178), and wRC (179). So, combined with his closeness to Luke Voit with HR’s (18) as we mentioned earlier, it appears to be his to lose.
But, is there a way in which DJ LeMahieu can win the 2020 AL MVP?
Sadly, he appears to be in a very similar camp to Luke Voit with needing a super-human end to the season to boost his numbers considerably across the board. Maybe something in the realm of 12 Hits (including 4 HR’s) alongside perfect defense. These 12 hits would get him to a .370 batting average if he kept his current AB/G rate of 3.86, the HR’s would help him close in on the SLG leaders and would boost his OPS and OPS+ considerably to create a larger gap. Plus, ending the year by dominating his opposition could prove to be a good storyline.
Just for Fun: A .370(+) Batting Average was last done by Ichiro in 2004 when he hit to a .372 BA.
A New York Yankee winning the 2020 AL MVP would be akin to playing a relatively cheap scratch off lottery ticket in hopes of doubling a small sum of money quickly. Can it happen? Obviously, but the luck and chance needed are very slim.
Jose Abreu has an amazing season for the White Sox, and while his playing first base will take away some value, he ultimately seems to be in the best position for a position player to win. He’d need to have a brutal offensive and defensive last week of the season to degrade his numbers.
I also didn’t mention Shane Bieber of the Indians, who is leading AL pitching in almost every important metric, and is making a pretty strong case for the award going to a pitcher. (Clayton Kershaw was the last pitcher to win an MVP in 2014.) He’d need to have a terrible start (or two) to push him away from a top spot.
Then there is also Mike Trout of the Angels who will always be in consideration for an MVP Award. Although his short time off for paternity leave and his not leading the AL in anything will likely make him a Top-5 finisher. And Tim Anderson of the White Sox who is making a push for the AL Batting Title and has other accumulating and rate stats that play favorably alongside his defense at shortstop.
By no means is the ballot for AL MVP short, and I could keep listing players who have a good to decent shot at winning and are in the same boat at Voit and LeMahieu.
It’s going to take an insane week out of either to win the award.
Article By: Ethan Semendinger
Date Published: September 21st, 2020