IBWAA Awards: My Vote for the AL MVP
On September 22nd, I woke up to an e-mail explaining how I had a single week to put together a complete end-of-the-year ballot for each of the major awards in Major League Baseball.
Honestly, given that this was at about 7:00 AM on a Sunday morning and I didn’t have to head to work for another 2 hours, I didn’t truly process the e-mail and decided to head back to sleep.
But, as I woke up with a fresh brain, I decided to look again at that message and realized that I’d received entry into the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IWBAA), as an early birthday gift.
That set me about in a task, similar to that of my father, to help legitimize my votes and the voting from the IWBAA for these awards.
Here is my AL MVP Ballot and my logic behind it:
(Note: For all statistics, if a player led his league in that stat for the 2019 season, it will be in bolded text, if they lead in comparison to other players listed in that section, they will be italicized.)
A Different Tier:
Mike Trout (Rank #1) and Alex Bregman (#2)
I honestly don’t see how anybody but Mike Trout (or Alex Bregman) can be seriously considered for the top spot for the 2019 AL MVP award. But, why do I think that Mike Trout more deserving than Bregman?
The first thought would be to go towards the easiest sabermetric stat to understand simply: WAR (Wins Above Replacement). The thing is, both Trout and Bregman are incredibly close with bWAR (BaseballReference) and fWAR (Fangraphs) compared to each other:
Mike Trout: bWAR of 8.3 (#2 AL); fWAR of 8.6 (#1 AL)
Alex Bregman: bWAR of 8.4 (#1 AL); fWAR of 8.5 (#2 AL)
So, that gives us a good basis that these two were the two best players in the American League in 2019. (The next closest player in bWAR was 8.1 and for fWAR was 7.6. Combined this shows some legitimate separation.) However, now we need to find some stats to truly mark who was the better player. For that, we go to the triple-slash (AVG/OBP/SLG), OPS+ (On-Base + Slugging, standardized to a mean of 100), and wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created, standardized to a mean of 100).
Mike Trout: .291/.438/.645 (1.083 OPS), 185 OPS+, 180 wRC+
Alex Bregman: .296/.423/.592 (1.015 OPS), 162 OPS+, 168 wRC+
Mike Trout separates himself a lot from Bregman here, and the similarity between their bWAR and fWAR is largely due to Trout playing about 20 fewer games than Bregman over the season, which allowed the gap to close. When it comes to these statistics, it also proves Bregman’s worth, as he was either 2nd or 3rd overall in the American League with each of them (along with others), showing he was an easy choice for #2.
Pitchers (and Middle Infielders) Do Have Souls:
Justin Verlander (Rank 3), DJ LeMahieu (Rank 4), Marcus Semien (Rank 5), Gerrit Cole (Rank 6)
Unlike other baseball writers, I do think that the MVP award and MVP votes can go to the pitchers in the league. I do think that they needed to separate themselves considerably from the rest to be deserving of a vote, but I think that MVP should be an all-encompassing award.
I also think that some intangibles, that cannot be quantified by statistics alone, should also play a role in determining a proper order for the MVP award. If I didn’t believe this, my vote for DJ LeMahieu at 4th above Marcus Semien would be absurd.
So, why is Verlander 3rd, DJ 4th, Semien 5th, and Cole 6th? Again, let’s go to WAR:
Verlander: bWAR of 7.8; fWAR of 6.4 -> avgWAR = 7.1
LeMahieu: bWAR of 6.0; fWAR of 5.4 -> avgWAR = 5.7 (!)
Semien: bWAR of 8.1; fWAR of 7.6 -> avgWAR = 7.85
Cole: bWAR of 6.8; fWAR of 7.4 -> avgWAR = 7.1
Again, if you want to look at this, my rankings supremely value DJ LeMahieu above where he should be. But- and I understand that I’m preaching the choir with writing this on a Yankee-centric blog- DJ LeMahieu was supremely more valuable to the Yankees than any stats could reasonably say. Marcus Semien also gets a huge boost to his overall numbers because he had 747 plate appearances in 2019, increasing his accumulating stats (WAR, hits, etc.) considerably, yet his rate-stats would show a different story (AVG, wRC+, etc.).
Looking between LeMahieu and Semien (as we did with Trout and Bregman, above), shows a more clear picture as to why LeMahieu is deserving of 4th place in my rankings:
LeMahieu: .327/.375/.518 (.893 OPS), 136 OPS+, 136 wRC+
Semien: .285/.369/.522 (.892 OPS), 138 OPS+, 137 wRC+
This shows an incredibly closer battle than above with each stat, except batting average, where LeMahieu has a very apparent an obvious lead. They both played great defense, yet I think LeMahieu’s versatility and consistency on the field helped the Yankees much more than Semien was able to help the Athletics.
I also don’t think it’s absurd to see Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole as the two run-away AL pitchers from 2019 as well, but I think that Verlander had enough of an advantage over Cole to justify his 3rd place on my ballot. The go-to pitching stats (ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts) were all relatively close, but in the end, I still think Verlander had the better season. Honestly, this truly came down to a gut-feeling decision about who was truly the better pitcher, and I think universally it goes to Verlander because of the huge difference in WHIP.
Verlander: 21-6 Record (.778% WP), 2.58 ERA, 0.803 WHIP, 300 Strikeouts
Cole: 20-5 Record (.800% WP), 2.50 ERA, 0.895 WHIP, 326 Strikeouts
The Best of the Rest:
Matt Chapman (Rank 7), Tim Anderson (Rank 8), Xander Bogaerts (Rank 9), Gleyber Torres (Rank 10)
The bottom of my ballot becomes a lot more sporadic and a lot harder to quantify as to why I put each player at each rank. I didn’t do a lot of analysis with these final four but instead decided that- like above with DJ LeMahieu and his importance beyond the stats- there were good reasons for them to collect some down-MVP ballot votes. So, instead of concrete analysis, I’ll go player-by-player to explain my logic.
Matt Chapman had the 5th best AL batter in bWAR (5.7) and the 7th best in fWAR (6.1), giving serious considerations for his rank on my ballot. He was the best player on a postseason team (Oakland Athletics), was an All-Star, had absolutely fantastic defense all season, and managed to hit 36 HR’s. Easy choice for a ballot, easy placement at #7.
Tim Anderson only managed to get 4.0 bWAR and 3.5 fWAR, but was the AL batting champion with an average of .335. To me, that still means something. It definitely doesn’t mean everything, which is why he is 8th on my ballot, but I still think hitting over .333 (he was the only AL player to do so) should be rewarded.
Xander Bogaerts is 100% my most interesting choice on this ballot. Most people would agree that Mookie Betts or Rafael Devers had better seasons, yet I still feel like a down-ballot spot could be found for him. I also think that it came to a toss-up between the three Red Sox listed, especially considering they didn’t qualify for the postseason. Is that a little unfair? Probably, but I’m also a Yankees fan, goshdarnit, and I didn’t want to flood my ballot with Red Sox.
Which leads me to…
Gleyber Torres. Again, this can be explained pretty easily. I’m a homer. I can’t help but have the Yankees influence my decision making. I tried very hard to be completely legitimate, but I couldn’t see a way to not include another Yankee on the ballot when the Astros had three players (and a case could also be made for Springer). Again, is this unfair? Again, I’ll say probably, but Gleyber Torres was a staple on the 2nd best team in the AL, and meant more to this team and where they are than most other players meant to their teams.
Where would you disagree with my ballot?
Should I have included Betts, Springer, Judge (?), Polanco, etc.
Should I not have added Verlander and Cole to make room for two more batters (which would’ve been Betts and Springer)?