OAKLAND -- When Marcus Semien took over as shortstop of the A’s in 2015, his Major League-leading 35 errors that season put his starting role in jeopardy. Since then, a tireless work ethic helped Semien improve to the point where he’s now recognized amongst the game’s elite.
Semien is one of three finalists for the 2019 Baseball Writers’ Association of America American League MVP Award, joining the Angels’ Mike Trout and Astros’ Alex Bregman. The winner will be announced Nov. 14.
As one of only five players to play all 162 games this season, Semien’s production from the leadoff spot was downright historic. He broke Rickey Henderson’s franchise record for home runs batting leadoff with 31, and he tied the franchise record for runs scored in a year that saw the A’s win 97 games and reach the AL Wild Card Game.
“The 162 games played was a big one for me,” Semien said. “Looking back, I think just the extra-base hits and total bases, those led to a lot of runs scored. These are things that help us win. The walks were higher. All those numbers and seeing how well our team did the second half made me happy. Tough way to end the season, but in terms of the regular season, it really made me happy.”
The team records were just part of an overall breakout year at the plate for Semien with career highs in batting average (.285), doubles (43), triples (7), home runs (33), RBIs (92) and OPS (.892). He finished second in the AL with 343 total bases and third in runs, doubles and extra-base hits (83).
Semien is the first A’s player to finish among the top three in AL MVP voting since Miguel Tejada won the award in 2002.
“I don’t remember a leadoff hitter being that impactful in as many different areas over the course of a season,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said in October. “I had Ichiro quite a while ago when he set the hit record. That’s the only thing I can compare it to. Defensively, offensively, leading off, the homers, the OPS, you just don’t see that from the leadoff spot. He didn’t want to think about it too much. But I think he’ll have some time to reflect now and grasp what a miraculous season it was.”
Of course, hitting is only one half of Semien’s outstanding year. His vastly improved defense earned him a nomination as one of the final three finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award at shortstop, leading AL shortstops in fielding percentage (.981), assists (436), double plays (85) and defensive rating (14.1).
When talking about his chances of actually winning the award, Semien acknowledged the tough competition he faces. His 8.1 WAR is slightly below that of Trout’s (8.3) and Bregman’s (8.4), and his initial prediction was that Bregman might beat him out due to having a higher OPS.
Regardless of the outcome, Semien is proud of his journey to MVP consideration, something the 29-year-old shortstop wasn’t sure was a possibility upon his arrival to the Majors with the White Sox in 2013.
“I think for me it was always being an everyday player in the Major Leagues and trying to see how you can improve from there,” Semien said. “That was kind of the culture with the White Sox. Be available to play every day. In 2013, I really learned how to get myself ready to play every day. That year I won [Southern League] MVP and got called up in September. The Major Leagues are a different game. Initially it's survival, but the more you play and more experience you get, the sky is the limit if you’re out there every day.
“I was really happy with myself and the team’s performance this year. I’m glad the voters saw that.”