A look at why we believe Alex Bregman could be this year’s AL MVP
In the American League, it is increasingly likely that the only race that is going to come down to the wire is the battle between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics for home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card Game, with the teams only separated by one game heading into today’s games on September 13th. The Red Sox, who last night won their 100th game, have run away with the AL East, while the Indians are 14.5 games in front of the second place Twins in the AL Central despite am 82-64 record that is only the 5th best in the AL. In the West, it is conceivable that the Athletics could catch the Astros as they are only three games out of first, but it seems that the Astros have finally hit the stride that allowed them to win the World Series last season. Either way, it is a near lock that these five teams will represent the American League in the playoffs, with the Tampa Bay Rays a distant 8.5 games behind the Athletics for the second Wild Card spot.
While the AL playoff picture may have been decided, the American League MVP race hasn’t been this wide open in years thanks to a number of stellar candidates, including J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Mike Trout. Before we dig into each candidate’s chances, below is each candidate’s stats to date, with WAR totals courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox: 9.8 WAR, 126 G, 117 R, 165 H, 42 2B, 29 HR, 71 RBI, 75 BB, 80 K, 28 SB, .340/.433/.627
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: 9.0 WAR, 126 G, 93 R, 135 H, 21 2B, 33 HR, 68 RBI, 112 BB, 113 K, .315/.464/.614
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians: 7.5 WAR, 143 G, 98 R, 148 H, 35 2B, 38 HR, 99 RBI, 95 BB, 71 K, 32 SB, .280/.393/.574
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians: 7.1 WAR, 144 G, 119 R, 170 H, 41 2B, 34 HR, 85 RBI, 62 BB, 101 K, 23 SB, .283/.356/.525
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox: 5.7 WAR, 137 G, 105 R, 173 H, 36 2B, 40 HR, 121 RBI, 62 BB, 136 K, 5 SB, .329/.400/.629
Let me start by saying this; if J.D. Martinez ends up winning the Triple Crown, which has only been done 17 times in the history of baseball, then he 100 percent should be the AL MVP, especially after helping to lead the Red Sox to what it could turn out to be an upwards of a 110 ten win season. Right now, Martinez trails only his teammate Betts in batting average and Khris Davis by one home run, and with an 11 RBI lead over Davis, the Triple Crown could realistically be in play for Martinez this season.
However, should Martinez not win the Crown, then this race starts to get a little more interesting. After finishing second in the AL MVP vote in 2016 to Trout, Betts currently leads all of baseball with 9.8 WAR and a .340 AVG while playing his usual brand of elite defense in right field; he is also second in the AL in OBP, SLG, OPS, and runs scored. Which brings us to Trout, who is leading baseball in BB, OBP, OPS, and OPS+, and is perhaps so good that we have begun to take his numbers for granted. Consider this; Trout leads the AL with 23 intentional walks this season, eight more than Jose Ramirez despite Ramirez playing in 17 more games than Trout.
In Cleveland, Ramirez just became the first player (and 49th overall) since Mike Trout and Ryan Braun to join the 30-30 club and is two HR away from having the 12th 40-30 season in baseball history. This was the year Ramirez emerged into a true five-tool superstar and is likely going to finish the year with over 40 HR, 100 RBI, 100 R, and 35 SB, which could help compensate for his somewhat low for an MVP .280 AVG. Next to Ramirez in the Cleveland infield is Lindor, the MLB leader in runs scored, who combined with a surefire glove at short (2.2 dWAR) has taken his offensive game to new level and is on pace to set career highs in runs scored, hits, doubles, HR, RBI, SB, BB, OBP, SLG, and OPS+.
In all likelihood, one of the five candidates above will take home the AL MVP hardware. But let’s say that Lindor and Ramirez, as well as Martinez and Betts, split votes as teammates, with voters unsure of who drove each team into the postseason. Inversely, let’s say that voters decide to penalize Trout for playing on the Angels, who could very well finish below .500 this season, preventing Trout from reaching the playoffs for the sixth time in his seven seasons. With all that in mind, it is time we start discussing an additional candidate, one who has not gotten nearly enough publicity given his numbers this season: Alex Bregman.
Now before you go crazy with the idea that Bregman is one of many superstars on the Astros and will split votes with his teammates, consider this: Jose Altuve has only compiled 4.6 WAR this season after missing close to twenty games due to injury, and George Springer and Carlos Correa both of WAR totals below 3.0. In other words, with 7.0 WAR, not only is Bregman in the thick of the AL Leaders, but he far and away been the Astros (who are on pace for over 100 wins this season) most valuable position player.
Next, let’s look at the numbers themselves; below are Bregman’s totals so far this season.
7.0 WAR, 143 G, 100 R, 162 H, 50 2B, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 10 SB, 85 BB, 75 K, .296/.398/.556
For some historical context, this season, Bregman became just the 8th player in baseball history, and the first third baseman to have a season with at least 50 doubles, 30 home runs, and ten stolen bases, joining the likes of Lou Gehrig, Frank Robinson, and Alex Rodriguez. Before the age of 25, the only players with 30 HR, 100 RBI, and 50 2B in a season are Albert Pujols, A-Rod, Gehrig, and now Bregman, and there have only been 18 players total to reach those milestones. Incredibly, if you add walks into the fray, he is the only player in American League history other than Babe Ruth and Gehrig to have over 30 HR, 100 R, 100 RBI, 45 2B, 85 BB, and 10 SB in a season.
But if you prefer to live in the now rather than in history, Bregman took home All-Star Game MVP this season, and currently ranks in the top ten in the American League in WAR (6th) OBP (4th) SLG and OPS (6th) games (4th) runs (4th) hits (7th) total bases (3rd) triples and HR (9th) RBI (3rd) BB and OPS+ (4th), while leading the league in doubles and extra base hits with 81. In other words, outside of AVG, Bregman is ranked inside the top-ten in the American League in every significant category that relates to hitting. Top it off, when asked about who he thinks should win this year’s AL MVP, the 2017 winner of the award, Jose Altuve, had this to say about Bregman: “For me he’s the MVP. I don’t have to say anything else about it. I have seen the guy play every single day this year and there’s no doubt he’s the MVP for me.”
Compared to the players listed above, Bregman is a novice in the MLB, playing in only his second full season. But after winning the World Series last season, Bregman has led the team back to the verge of the postseason with a historically good season, one that has seen him take the leap forward from budding star to full on superstar, and a legit AL MVP candidate.