The races for the American League and National League Most Valuable Player Awards are particularly intriguing this year, because in both leagues there are legitimate candidates who missed time toward the end of the season due to injuries.
Will Mike Trout's injury-shortened campaign be enough to capture a third AL MVP Award, or will Alex Bregman or Marcus Semien capture his first? In the NL, is reigning MVP Christian Yelich's performance through five-plus months of the season enough to ward off Cody Bellinger and Anthony Rendon?
Here's the case for each MVP finalist ahead of the winner being announced Thursday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
Mike Trout, Angels
Mike Trout called it his best season offensively, and it’s hard to argue with the two-time AL MVP Award winner. Trout, who has finished in the Top 2 in the balloting for the AL MVP Award in six of the last seven seasons, hit .291/.438/.645 with a career-high 45 homers to go along with 104 RBIs and 110 runs scored in 134 games. He led the AL in both on-base percentage and slugging.
The only knock on Trout is that he missed the final three weeks of the season after undergoing surgery to remove a Morton’s neuroma from his right foot. But Trout was consistently the best player in the league when healthy, as he had an OPS above 1.000 in every month of the season. Even though Houston's Alex Bregman played in 22 more games than Trout, Trout had a better WAR than Bregman on the year, according to Fangraphs.com. Trout's WAR was 8.6 compared to Bregman's 8.5.
Trout also stole 11 bases, giving him double-digit steals for the eighth straight season. He also graded out as an above-average defender in center field while improving his throwing, which was considered his weakest tool. He put it on display with a 98.6 mph throw home to get Max Muncy on July 23 at Dodger Stadium.
Add it all up, and Trout was the complete package yet again in 2019, and he is deserving of winning the AL MVP Award for a third time. -- Rhett Bollinger
Alex Bregman, Astros
After finishing fifth in the AL MVP voting last year, Bregman’s game rose to another level at the plate. He was a finalist for the AL Gold Glove Award at third base and won his first Silver Slugger Award. Among AL players, he ranked first in Baseball Reference WAR (8.4) and walks (119); ranked second in OBP (.423); third in slugging (.592) and OPS (1.015); tied for third in homers (41); fourth in runs (122) and fifth in RBIs (112).
While injuries sidelined key players like José Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa for an extended amount of time, Bregman played in 156 games, making a career-high 59 starts at shortstop when he wasn’t at third base. He’s one of three players in the Majors this season with at least 100 runs, 100 walks and 100 RBIs, joining Mike Trout and Juan Soto. The last two players to reach 40 homers and 110 walks with fewer than 90 strikeouts won the MVP Award: Albert Pujols (2009) and Barry Bonds (2002-04).
Bregman is the fifth player in AL history with 40 homers, 100 walks, 35 doubles and fewer than 90 strikeouts. After the All-Star break, he ranked second in the Majors in OPS (a club-record 1.134) and first in OBP (.463), hitting .338 in that span. He had a 1.133 OPS in wins and a .763 OPS in losses, which speaks to his value to the club. -- Brian McTaggart
Marcus Semien, Athletics
Dubbed “The Machine” by some of his teammates for the supreme show of durability, Semien’s 2019 campaign certainly was a bit of a throwback in this era of baseball, and not just because of the number of games played. Finishing the year with 33 home runs and 43 doubles, Semien was just the fourth player in A’s history to hit at least 30 home runs and 40 doubles in a season. His 123 runs scored also tied the franchise record with some guy named Reggie Jackson, made only more impressive by the fact that Semien batted leadoff in 145 games.
Some say the best ability is availability. Semien’s performance in that category topped Mike Trout, Alex Bregman and the rest of baseball as the A’s shortstop held the distinction as MLB’s only player to have started all 162 games this season.
It’s not just legends of years past that Semien’s numbers stack up well against. When it comes to his main competition for this season’s MVP race, Semien’s 8.1 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) ranked third in the AL, slightly below Mike Trout (8.3) and Alex Bregman (8.4).
All three players were Gold Glove Award finalists, but Semien’s recognition for his much-improved defense came at perhaps the most premium position in baseball, and he certainly played it well by leading AL shortstops in fielding percentage (.981), assists (436), double plays (85) and defensive rating (14.1).
Still not sold? Let’s end it on this stat: In Major League history, only Babe Ruth (1921, '23) and Lou Gehrig (1927) surpassed Semien’s 2019 totals for runs (123), hits (187), doubles (43), triples (7), home runs (33), RBIs (92), walks (87) and stolen bases (10) in a single season. -- Martín Gallegos
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Manager Dave Roberts, whose Dodgers led the league with 106 regular-season wins, campaigned for Cody Bellinger as MVP by calling Bellinger “the best player on the best team.”
The 24-year-old Bellinger recorded career highs in runs (121), hits (170), doubles (34), home runs (47), RBIs (115), walks (95) and stolen bases (15) with a .305/.406/.629 slash line. He finished fourth in the Majors with 47 homers and broke the franchise home run record previously held by Gil Hodges and Duke Snider.
Bellinger was the first Dodger with more than 100 RBIs since Adrián González in 2014. On Aug. 2, Bellinger reached 100 career home runs, passing Mike Piazza as the fastest player in franchise history to reach the mark. He also set the franchise record for most home runs before the All-Star break, with 30.
Bellinger was named National League Player of the Month for the month of April, when he posted a slash line of .416/.505/.843 with six doubles, one triple, 10 home runs and 29 RBIs over 27 games.
Roberts also cited Bellinger’s defensive versatility, providing the Dodgers skipper the flexibility to give playing time to more of Bellinger’s teammates. He won the Gold Glove in right field, but he also played center field and first base, and Roberts said he was Gold Glove caliber at those positions, too.
Not to be overlooked is that Bellinger stayed healthy. Fellow finalists Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon had stints on the injured list. -- Ken Gurnick
Christian Yelich, Brewers
There are two perceived dents in Yelich’s case to be the first back-to-back league MVP since the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and ’13:
1. He missed the Brewers’ last 18 regular-season games with a fractured kneecap from a foul ball, and,
2. The Brewers went 13-5 in those games.
But that’s more a reflection of Craig Counsell’s handling of a pitching staff that led the Majors in September ERA than a reflection of Yelich’s value to his team. Remarkably, he was even better in nearly every offensive category in 2019 as the reigning league MVP, despite the fact that down years for a number of the hitters around Yelich in the lineup (Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw and Jesús Aguilar before he was traded away) meant opponents clearly and regularly pitched around him. Still, Yelich led the NL in batting average (.329), on-base percentage (.429), slugging percentage (.671), weighted runs created plus, weighted on-base average and baserunning score; tied Bellinger for the lead in Fangraphs’ version of wins above replacement; hit 44 home runs to trail only Pete Alonso (53), Eugenio Suárez (49) and Bellinger (47); and stole 30 bases to boot. By almost every measure, Yelich was the league’s best offensive player for the second year in a row.
But yes, Bellinger and Rendon provided more value on defense, which is part of the equation. And Yelich was sidelined by injury for the final three weeks of the season, when BBWAA members with a vote are beginning to think about lining up their ballots. That could work against Yelich. -- Adam McCalvy
Anthony Rendon, Nationals
After a summer of “Beli vs Yeli” and the race for the National League Most Valuable Player Award looking like a two-man contest, along came Anthony Rendon, flying under the radar as usual, even as a dark-horse candidate for MVP. Rendon inserted himself into the conversation for the award with a breakout 2019 season, the best of his career and one almost directly responsible for leading to the Nationals' dramatic turnaround into World Series champions.
Part of the reason the Nats stumbled out of the gate was because of a left elbow injury to Rendon that cost him about two weeks and hindered him for a bit after returning. But once Rendon's performance took off, he never looked back.
Rendon posted a slash line of .319/.412/.598 with a 1.010 OPS and 34 home runs, all of which were career highs. He collected an NL-leading 126 RBIs, captured the Sliver Slugger Award at third base and was a finalist for the Gold Glove Award. He finished third in the NL in wRC+ (154), behind only Yelich and Bellinger, and Rendon’s 7.0 Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs, ranked fourth among NL position players.
Rendon would end up playing more games (146) than Yelich (130) and finished the second half (160 wRC+) much stronger than Bellinger (133 wRC+). If there is a case for Rendon to sneak in and capture the award from Yelich or Bellinger, it rests there. Down the stretch, when every victory was so crucial for the Nationals to secure a spot in the postseason and set the stage for their World Series run, Rendon was at his best and helped carry his team. -- Jamal Collier