We already know who the baseball writers thought were the best rookies, managers and pitchers during the 2016 season. All that's left is the biggest question of them all: Who were the most valuable players in the American League and the National Leagues?Both MVP Award winners will be announced live
We already know who the baseball writers thought were the best rookies, managers and pitchers during the 2016 season. All that's left is the biggest question of them all: Who were the most valuable players in the American League and the National Leagues?
Both MVP Award winners will be announced live on MLB Network tonight at 6 p.m. ET.
The MLB Awards -- following league-specific recognition by BBWAA voters, whose ballots are based on regular-season play -- include candidates from both leagues (with postseason performance taken into consideration). MLB Awards are based on votes by retired players, broadcasters/reporters, team executives, Society of American Baseball Research members and fans, with each group accounting for 20 percent of the process. Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET. MLB Awards categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.
All six finalists for the 2016 MVP Awards (José Altuve, Mookie Betts and Mike Trout in the AL; Kris Bryant, Daniel Murphy and Corey Seager in the NL) have had backers in their corners throughout the year. So while we don't hold the power to declare an official winner in this space, what we can do is go ahead and break down the candidates to see who holds the advantages in different criteria that the Baseball Writers' Association of America voters themselves may have used to make their ultimate verdicts.
These categories include traditional offensive statistics (home runs, RBIs, slash line percentages, walks and stolen bases), advanced offensive metrics (wins above replacement, win probability added, weighted runs created, overall baserunning), advanced defensive metrics (defensive WAR,defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating) and overall team performance. Take a look at who enjoyed the edge in each area:
Hopefully most BBWAA voters are inclined to look beyond home runs and RBIs when evaluating an MVP candidate. For those whose eyes still go to those categories first, however, Betts gets the edge, leading this trio with 31 homers and 113 RBIs.
Offensive value added
The sabermetrics community may argue that Trout should have at least three or four AL MVP Awards by now, so it's not a huge surprise that advanced offensive metrics heavily favor him once again in 2016. The Angels star led the Major Leagues with a 9.9 offensive WAR (according to Baseball-Reference), 6.45 win probability added (a cumulative total of how much a player impacts his team's chances of winning from start to start) and 171 weighted runs created, per FanGraphs. These numbers state quite definitively that by park-adjusted numbers, Trout was the best offensive player in the game.
Defensive value added
Betts has already earned the 2016 Wilson Overall Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the advanced stats back up the notion that he was baseball's best fielder. At age 23, Betts paced the Majors with a 2.8 defensive WAR, per Baseball-Reference, and also topped FanGraphs' defensive runs saved list with 32. Betts' 17.8 ultimate zone rating was also the only positive total recorded among the AL MVP Award finalists. His advantage here may be as large as Trout's offensive edge.
The voting rules specifically say that team performance is not part of the criteria, but history shows voters do take it into account. If recent history tells us anything, the fact that Boston made the postseason and Houston and Los Angeles did not may be Betts' biggest advantage in this race. The only player to win the AL MVP Award in the Wild Card Era (1995-Present) while playing for a team who didn't clinch a playoff spot was Alex Rodriguez of the Rangers in 2003 -- and his 62 percent winner's share that year was the second lowest for an AL MVP Award winner.
Video: 2016 NL Most Valuable Player finalists announced
Give the Nationals' second baseman a leg up here for leading this group of finalists with 104 RBIs, a .985 OPS, .390 OBP and a .347 average that finished runner-up to Colorado's DJ LeMahieu in the NL batting race by just a single point. Bryant claimed the flashiest statistic with 39 home runs -- second in the Senior Circuit behind only Nolan Arenado and Chris Carter (41).
Offensive value added
This is really a toss-up between Bryant (who enjoyed the edge in offensive WAR) and Murphy (who was better by win probability added and weighted runs created), but we'll give the slight nod to Bryant here because of what he did with both his bat and his legs. In addition to being a complete package at the plate, the Cubs' third baseman compiled a 7.3 baserunning rating -- a statistic used by FanGraphs that calculates how a player's steals, extra bases taken and avoidance of being thrown out contributed to his team's success -- that ranked second-best among NL players.
Defensive value added
Seager blossomed into a superb defensive shortstop for the Dodgers, as proven by a 10.6 ultimate zone rating that ranked among the top 10 players in the league. But Bryant again gets the nod here because of his impressive versatility. The 24-year-old played a total of six different positions (including four of them for at least 55 innings apiece) in 2016, posting a positive UZR figure at nearly every spot. Bryant's ability to play two-thirds of the positions on the field allowed manager Joe Maddon to mix and match, and plug additional players into the starting lineup -- just one of many reasons the Cubs were so successful.
All three players were fortunate enough to play on teams that clinched postseason berths, and voting for the MVP Awards was conducted before Bryant's Cubs went on to win their first World Series title in 108 years. Still, Bryant gets the edge here because of how dominant Chicago was, winning an MLB-most 103 games and posting a +252 run differential that ranked as the fourth best by any team in the Wild Card Era. Simply put, Bryant was the best player on baseball's best team.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.