AL MVP Award: Breaking down my ballot from Betts to Simmons

Sometimes it’s sort of satisfying to disagree with someone else’s choices, so if that’s why you’re here, I get it. I’ve certainly second-guessed award votes myself.

Regardless, I’m here to explain my American League MVP ballot. I spent lots of time thinking about this vote before sending it in to the BBWAA, and I’ll try to share that thought process here…

The starting point
I began by taking a look at American League rosters and creating a list of the best players on each team. Lots of players earned this initial consideration. Whit Merrifield and Nick Castellanos, Mookie Betts and Alex Bregman, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander. Any American League player who performed really well in 2018, regardless of how well his team did or what position he played.

Before even making that list, though, I knew it would be tough to displace Mike Trout. He had just hit 39 home runs with a .460 on-base percentage and great centre-field defence. That’s an MVP-calibre season. The question became: did anyone have a better season than Trout?

Looking through my list of the league’s best players, it soon became apparent that if anyone could displace Trout atop the MVP ballot, it would be Betts.

Big picture, Trout and Betts had comparable seasons. Both hit for tons of power, reached base nearly half of the time they batted, walked almost as often as they struck out, and added value with speed and defence. Either would be a deserving MVP, but only one gets top spot.

I like to use wRC+ to evaluate offensive performance since it adjusts for park and league. In this case Trout comes out slightly ahead, no surprise considering he hits more homers and makes outs less frequently.

Betts had a better year on the bases, though, and he led right-fielders in defensive runs saved while also contributing in centre. He also had the edge in wins above replacement, both at FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Reinforcing that, some team executives I heard from said they ranked Betts ahead of Trout for 2018, too.

All things considered, Betts had a slightly better season. He edges Trout for top spot.

1. Mookie Betts
2. Mike Trout

Ranking the elite infielders
The next group of players on my list includes four infielders who offer value across the board: Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Bregman and Matt Chapman.

Ramirez places third for me because in addition to his 39-homer season, he handled third well and added lots of value on the bases (34/40 SB, first in the AL in baserunning runs). He ranks third in the league in WAR, according to FanGraphs, fourth according to Baseball-Reference. Granted, he finished slowly with a .637 OPS after Sept. 1, but we’re assessing full seasons here, and Ramirez produced tons of value during the first five months.

Next up, I have Ramirez’s teammate, Lindor. He hit 38 home runs as a shortstop, which gets your attention right away. Upon further review, Lindor ranks among the top six in the league in both offensive bWAR and defensive bWAR. Because of his defensive work at such a demanding position, he’s ahead of Bregman and Chapman, both skilled defenders in their own right.

Bregman was among the league’s best at the plate with a 157 wRC+ that trailed only Trout, Betts and J.D. Martinez. Advanced metrics don’t love his defence, but the Astros relied on him at third and short on their way to winning 103 games. All things considered, Bregman ranks fifth on my ballot.

Then there’s Chapman, who led all MLB fielders with 29 defensive runs saved. This is one case where the metrics definitely line up with the eye test. Chapman made one incredible defensive play after another this season. Not only that, he had an .864 OPS in one of the toughest hitting environments around, good for a 137 wRC+. For context, that offence beats any season by Nolan Arenado, a deserving MVP candidate every year.

1. Mookie Betts
2. Mike Trout
3. Jose Ramirez
4. Francisco Lindor
5. Alex Bregman
6. Matt Chapman

Does Ohtani belong here?
If the challenge were ranking the 10 most talented players in the American League, then Shohei Ohtani would surely appear on this list, but he batted just 367 times and pitched just 51.2 innings – not enough to warrant a spot on the list of the AL’s most valuable players.

What about J.D. Martinez?
Martinez hit 43 homers with 130 RBIs for a team that won 108 games. Twenty years ago he probably wins MVP, so I understand that it’s jarring for some to see him place here.

To be clear, I get that Martinez is an incredible hitter. Not only does hit balls over the wall, he hits lots of singles and doubles thanks to legitimately impressive bat-to-ball skills. It added up to a 170 wRC+ in 2018, which is just… amazing (for context, Barry Bonds had a lifetime wRC+ of 173).

So I know that Martinez had a great year. Of the 731 players who appeared in the AL this year, I believe he was more valuable than 724.

Why not higher? Simply put, I’d rather have the two-way seasons put together by Ramirez, Lindor, Bregman and Chapman. Martinez out-hit them all, but didn’t run or field nearly as well. Those facets of the game matter a lot.

And it’s not as though the likes of Ramirez and Bregman are glove-only players. All of them can really hit. Even Lindor, the least productive hitter of the bunch, had a 130 wRC+ this year.

That’s better than the career wRC+ of Roberto Clemente and Dave Winfield. Or, for any Red Sox fans reading, that’s right in line with the career offensive production of Carl Yastrzemski (130 wRC+), Fred Lynn (129) and Jim Rice (128), all from a shortstop who steals bases and ranks as an elite defender.

1. Mookie Betts
2. Mike Trout
3. Jose Ramirez
4. Francisco Lindor
5. Alex Bregman
6. Matt Chapman
7. J.D. Martinez

What about the other sluggers?
To this point, I haven’t even acknowledged the AL home run leader. Should Khris Davis be on this list? Considering his defence, probably not. The same goes for Joey Gallo, who hit 40 homers, and Nelson Cruz, who hit 37.

Giancarlo Stanton (38 homers) was closer to making this ballot, but still outside my top 10.

Considering the pitchers
To this point I’ve focused entirely on position players, but there were some impressive pitching seasons in the American League this year. First, off let’s figure out who’s the best among that group.

Blake Snell and Verlander strike me as the top two pitchers in the league. Verlander has the innings edge, but would you want 33.1 more innings from Snell if they came with the 22 more earned runs Verlander allowed? That’s a 5.94 ERA, so probably not. I rank Snell ahead of Verlander, especially considering the challenge of pitching in the AL East.

Verlander still belongs ahead of Sale, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Edwin Diaz, though. The innings he provides more than make up for the fact that Sale, Bauer and Diaz had lower ERAs.

So would I take either Snell or Verlander ahead of any position player listed above? Not quite, so I’ve got the two pitchers eighth and ninth.

1. Mookie Betts
2. Mike Trout
3. Jose Ramirez
4. Francisco Lindor
5. Alex Bregman
6. Matt Chapman
7. J.D. Martinez
8. Blake Snell
9. Justin Verlander

Rounding out the ballot…
For the final spot I considered Sale, who ranks in the top 10 in WAR according to both versions of the stat. Here’s where WAR doesn’t do it for me, though. Sale missed most of August and September to rest for the playoffs. The decision made sense for the Red Sox (and obviously worked out!) but it’s hard to consider Sale one of the league’s top 10 players considering how much time he missed.

Along those lines, Aaron Judge had a great offensive season but missed 50 games. This hurts his candidacy considering that the BBWAA asks voters to consider games played.

I also considered Xander Bogaerts after his tremendous year at the plate, Merrifield, who led the league in hits and steals, and Mitch Haniger, who had a productive season in Seattle. In the end, though, I’m rounding the ballot out with Andrelton Simmons, who combines elite defence at the most important infield position with an above-average bat.

My final ballot looks like this…

1. Mookie Betts
2. Mike Trout
3. Jose Ramirez
4. Francisco Lindor
5. Alex Bregman
6. Matt Chapman
7. J.D. Martinez
8. Blake Snell
9. Justin Verlander
10. Andrelton Simmons

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.