Seven weeks was long enough to decide the Austro-Prussian War, but it's not nearly enough time to decide the American League and National League MVP Awards. This isn't war, it's WAR. As in, wins above replacement ... or whatever metric you prefer to utilize to decide who is the best
Seven weeks was long enough to decide the Austro-Prussian War, but it's not nearly enough time to decide the American League and National League MVP Awards. This isn't war, it's WAR. As in, wins above replacement ... or whatever metric you prefer to utilize to decide who is the best of the best. We need the full 162-game slate to give us a satisfying statistical picture.
That said, it can be fun to check in on the race even before it's won. And so each week this season, we're polling our MLB.com reporters on one of the three major Baseball Writers' Association of America awards -- MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year -- to get a gauge on where things stand. We begin this week with the MVPs.
Our poll asked the 32 participants to make their pick for the best player in each league if the season ended today. Here were the results:
Michael Trout (20 votes)
Gee, who would have thought Trout would be in the AL MVP Award conversation? How rare.
For the first time, well, ever, Trout looks to have serious MVP competition on his own team, as the two-way Shohei Ohtani experience would certainly make for an interesting ballot equation if he's able to build off the extremely enticing start to his Major League career. For now, though, our voting panel is still, understandably, Trout devout.
At the start of the week, Trout was leading all MLB position players in Baseball-Reference.com's Wins Above Replacement by at least half a win with a 3.5 mark. Trout was tied for the lead in the AL in walks (34, against just 32 strikeouts) and first in on-base percentage (.450) amid continued improvement in the power department (his 12 homers were one shy of the MLB lead). Going by his weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 193 and OPS+ (198), this is the best offensive version of Trout we've ever seen. Now there's a scary thought. And it could lead to his third AL MVP Award.
Mookie Betts (10 votes)
While the Supreme Court was clearing the way for bets, 10 of our "judges" cast a vote for Betts. In FanGraphs' version of WAR, Betts and Trout are even at 3.0 wins apiece. And after finishing as the runner-up to Trout in the 2016 AL MVP Award voting, Betts' early performance -- a .360/.440/.772 slash with 13 homers, 15 doubles, seven steals and elite outfield play -- is a pretty good indication that he's shaken off his statistical decline from 2017 and is ready to vie for the MVP honor yet again. His 213 wRC+ mark is the best in the game.
Didi Gregorius (two votes)
The fumes from Gregorius' magnificent March/April (10 homers, 30 RBIs and a 1.116 OPS), which earned him AL Player of the Month honors, were strong enough to sway a couple of voters. A much-less-magnificent May (Gregorius enters Tuesday with one hit in his past 35 at-bats) cools his case considerably. Because these votes are a moving target, it wouldn't be a surprise to see back-to-back AL Player of the Week Francisco Lindor gain traction the next time we poll our voting body.
A.J. Pollock (22 votes)
Pollock appeared to be blossoming into one of the league's best players until he broke his right elbow on a slide at home plate at the end of Spring Training 2016. Injuries limited his availability and impact the past two seasons. And prior to spraining his left thumb Monday, we'd seen this dynamic player at his baseball-bashing, run-saving, basestealing best, with a .293/.349/.620 slash, dynamite D and nine stolen bases. Pollock has powered an otherwise slow-starting D-backs offense and therefore been a big reason why Arizona has owned the top spot in the NL West every day this season. He leads NL position players in fWAR (2.3) and is second in bWAR (2.1).
Oh, and Pollock is a free agent at year's end. Good timing, Mr. Pollock.
Max Scherzer (four votes)
It takes a pretty extreme circumstance for a pitcher to assert himself in the MVP Award conversation, and, ladies and gentlemen, here is your extreme circumstance.
The mighty Max has made nine starts and allowed no more than two earned runs in any of them, striking out 91 batters in 58 2/3 innings against 13 walks with 35 hits. That's a 0.82 WHIP and incredible 14 strikeouts per nine (from a starting pitcher!), to go with the 7-1 record. Pure dominance and length at a time when the impact of starting pitchers seems to be diminished by the day.
Freddie Freeman (three votes) and Nick Markakis (two votes)
It's easy to get swept up in the stories of the game's two youngest position players -- Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. -- and their impact on this awesome-ahead-of-schedule Atlanta squad. But our voters gave some love to a pair of more aged Atlantans.
Freeman has received only down-ballot NL MVP Award love thus far in his career (his highest finish was fifth in 2013), but he's routinely churned out excellent offensive seasons, and 2018 is no different. He enters Tuesday with an NL-best .433 OBP and a 1.008 OPS.
Markakis' big impact, on the other hand, is a bit more surprising. He hasn't had what advanced metrics would classify as an above-average offensive campaign since 2015, but with an MLB-best 56 hits and a homer total (seven) just one shy of his 2017 tally, he's had quite the resurgence. Of course, as Albies, in particular, keeps collecting extra-base hits, the Braves' MVP conversation is getting complicated. And that's a good thing for them.
Tommy Pham (one vote)
After submitting a .306/.411/.520 slash in an age-29 season that qualified as his first legitimate big league opportunity, what would Pham do for a phollow-up? Well, he's been even better -- .319/.432/.552. Pham has had some minor injury issues in the early going, but that hasn't prevented him from being the Cards' best bat, by far.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.