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My 2020 IBWAA Ballot: AL MVP Edition

Ethan Semendinger reveals his 2020 IBWAA ballot for the American League Most Valuable Player. It was a very close race with the Top-3 spots, featuring players from three different teams.

Who came out on top?


Number 10: Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels

Stats of Note:

2.7 fWAR (#2 among batters)

2.1 oWAR (T-#5)

0.418 OBP (#2)

151 OPS+ (#8)

Coming up with the bottom ballot guys in any season is always a difficult task, and the shortened season only made it more difficult as even the best players across the league weren’t able to break away from the pact. I also want to preface here that I’m not a huge fan of Fangraphs’s metric for determining fWAR given the shortened season because I think they overvalued some players on defense and hindered others, which definitely helped Rendon claim the #2 spot in the AL. The Los Angeles Angels made a big investment into him to the tune of $245 million dollars, and so far it seems to be paying off. He had a great all-around year on offense and defense, but seemed to fall under-the-radar all things considered.


Number 9: Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays

Stats of Note:

2.1 bWAR (#5 batters, #10 overall)

2.3 fWAR (#6 among batters)

14 Home Runs (T-#7)

152 OPS+ (#7)

While it may seem like Anthony Rendon has the better metric numbers, I do think Brandon Lowe was the overall better player in 2020. This may be part of how his team ultimately won their division with the best record in the AL, but Lowe was no joke for the Rays. He and Rendon matched for 5th in oWAR (2.1), but where Rendon faltered, Lowe was able to maintain a better overall game as he ended up 5th among position players in bWAR (also 2.1). Essentially this is a tie, and I’m handing the win over to the player whose team made the 16-team playoffs.


Number 8: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

Stats of Note:

1.9 bWAR (#10 among batters)

1.2 dWAR (#2)

13 Home Runs

124 OPS+

Yes, I know Buxton only played in 39 games this past season, but even in his limited time on the field he was still the best defensive player in baseball. His 1.2 dWAR was just 0.1 behind Isiah Kiner-Falefa of the Texas Rangers for the AL lead and with that he had very good numbers on offense as well. All his accumulation metrics are understandably low, but he also hit on average 1 HR every 3 games, which would’ve made him the only player in the MLB with 20+ HR’s had he kept the pace. Buxton will always go down as a “what if not for injuries” type player, but I think his 2020 was undervalued regardless of time on the field.


Number 7: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

Stats of Note:

2.5 oWAR (#3)

2.6 fWAR (#4 among batters)

0.993 OPS (#3)

17 Home Runs (T-#3)

Unfortunately for Mike Trout, who by all means had another great year in his unbelievable career, I believe each of the 6 players ahead of him had better seasons in 2020. Honestly, after years of talking about how Trout should win the MVP every year because his numbers are always tops in the AL and we shouldn’t regard his team performance and past awards, it feels wrong placing him down at #7. What else is there to say though? If anything, he won a better prize this year with the birth of his first child at the end of July.


Number 6: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

Stats of Note:

2.1 bWAR (#4 batters, T-#8 overall)

3.4 fWAR (#1 among batters)

17 Home Runs (T-#3)

0.993 OPS (#2)

This may be my most polarizing pick because I have heard around that some people consider Ramirez’s 2020 season to be worthy of the AL MVP, but I don’t see that. His numbers were very comparable to Mike Trout (above) and I don’t see anybody clamoring for Trout to win the MVP in the same way. The only difference is that Fangraphs has very much overvalued his defense, leading to the only positional fWAR above 3.0 in the AL. Baseball-Reference on the other hand valued his defense as a negative given his 2.8 oWAR and 2.1 overall bWAR. Another great season, but it falls short because of inconsistencies in evaluations.


Number 5: Luke Voit, New York Yankees

Stats of Note:

1.8 oWAR (#9)

0.948 OPS (#6)

22 Home Runs (#1)

156 OPS+ (#6)

My justification for having Luke Voit as my #5 MVP candidate simply comes down to the 22 Home Runs he hit in 2020 which led not only the American League, but all of baseball. Over 162 games that would come out to 59.4 which would be a number people would consider to be MVP worthy. There is also some Yankees-bias with this pick because I follow this team the most and I know how Voit helped get them through when it seemed the entire team was hurt. However, I did try to keep this bias in check and thus I figured the #5 spot was a perfect compromise.


Number 4: Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox

Stats of Note:

2.2 bWAR (#3 batters, #6 overall)

2.2 fWAR (#7 among batters)

0.322 Batting Average (#2)

141 OPS+ (#10)

Tim Anderson falls into a similar discussion along the likes of Jose Ramirez (above) whom I placed at #6 in the 2020 AL MVP voting, except in the opposite way of how each database evaluated them. This time, Fangraphs had Anderson as the lower player in 2020 while Baseball-Reference considered him comfortably in the Top-10. I like to consider myself a good mix of analytical and old-school with my logistics for thinking about awards and while his underlying metrics may show he wasn’t the best offensive player, I do love the 0.322 batting average. He also had good defensive numbers to support a decent MVP ranking, but I would place him tops among the second-tier of MVP voter getters in 2020.


Number 3: Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians

Stats of Note:

3.2 bWAR (#1 pitchers, #1 overall)

3.2 fWAR (#1 among pitchers)

8-1 Record

1.63 ERA (#1)

122 Strikeouts (#1)Embed from Getty Images

And thus begins what will likely be the tightest MVP race in recent history. For me, Bieber was either going to be #3 or #1, and it came down to personal preference of not having pitchers win the MVP. This is mainly due to the importance of the Cy Young (and relative unimportance of the Hank Aaron Award and Gold Gloves) which is reserved exclusively for pitchers. All that being said, you can’t discredit what Bieber did in 2020 by not only winning the AL pitching Triple Crown, but the MLB pitching Triple Crown. What is interesting however is that Gerrit Cole’s final 12 starts of 2019 (10-0, 1.52 ERA, 132 K’s) were actually better than Bieber’s 12 starts in 2020, so this dominance isn’t unheard of.


Number 2: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

Stats of Note:

2.8 bWAR (#2 batters, #4 overall)

2.6 fWAR (#3 among batters)

.317 BA (#4), 370 OBP (#10)

.617 SLG (#1), .987 OPS (#5)

19 Home Runs (#2)

My dad, who voted for Jose Abreu as his 2020 AL MVP, and I, who obviously didn’t, discussed this and ultimately decided that it came to whether or not you value accumulation or rate metrics. The case for Jose Abreu isn’t hard to make. He did play all 60 games in 2020 (and the best ability is availability), had the 3rd best batting average in the AL, the best slugging, a Top-5 OPS, and the 2nd most Home Runs. It’s a very clear case, but I personally think that one player in the American League did better, especially considering that over his final 10 games (which is the difference in games played between him and my MVP pick) Abreu hit just .229/.349/.457 as his team went from leading the AL Central to #7 in the AL playoff bracket. He also made this decision easy for me in saying that he was his Mom’s MVP, so if he’s happy with that, I am too.


Number 1: DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees

Stats of Note:

2.9 bWAR (#1 batters, #3 overall)

2.5 fWAR (#5 among batters)

.364 BA (#1), .421 OBP (#1)

.590 SLG (#6), 1.011 OPS (#1)

177 OPS+ (#1)

Yes, DJ LeMahieu should be and does deserve the 2020 AL MVP award. I know I made a post saying that it was looking to be a stretch before the last week of the season, but his continuing to hit to the end (and Abreu’s fall) helped to make this choice solid for me. DJ led all of baseball with a .364 batting average and was the only AL batter to have an OPS above 1.000. Yes, he only played in 50 games (which is the only knock against him) but he was the best hitter in the American league, by far. His 177 OPS+ was 8 points above the next highest (who is Nelson Cruz at 169- and didn’t get an MVP vote because he’s a steroid user who plays DH) and 11 points higher than Abreu. His 177 wRC+ is 10 points above the next highest (who is Jose Abreu at 167). Fangraphs said he was a negative defensive player, which is anything but the truth given his versatility to play above-average at first, second, or third.


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