SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Bill James, Red Sox executive and one of the pioneers in baseball statistical analysis, sent out the tweet back in November."I say Nomar Mazara is a top-5 MVP candidate for 2018," James tweeted. "Agree or disagree?"So ..."I don't disagree with that," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said.
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Bill James, Red Sox executive and one of the pioneers in baseball statistical analysis, sent out the tweet back in November.
"I say Nomar Mazara is a top-5 MVP candidate for 2018," James tweeted. "Agree or disagree?"
"I don't disagree with that," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "He has the talent to do that. What he needs to do is stay healthy, keep doing what he has been doing the last couple of years and just keep increasing it. He works at it and there is no doubt he is a little more experienced."
"He got 100 RBIs last year," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "That's impressive. He battled with his batting average, but it seemed like every time he had somebody on base, he found a way to get him in. That was impressive."
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Obviously, any random poll taken in the Rangers' clubhouse will result in a near-unanimous opinion that Mazara is a legitimate candidate. Outside ...
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"I can see it happening ... but I do think it's a bit of a stretch," MLB Network analyst Tom Verducci said. "I can see Top 10, but to finish in the Top 5, Texas would have to be in the thick of things. But I love the potential."
James based his observation on Mazara taking another step forward after hitting .253 with 20 home runs, 101 RBIs and a .422 slugging percentage last season. He is 22, and it was his second year in the big leagues. James theorized that anybody who takes a step forward from 100 RBIs has to be regarded as a serious MVP candidate.
"I just know I'm getting better every year and my confidence is getting better," Mazara said. "When your confidence is up there, you can do a lot of things."
The Rangers have had five players win the Most Valuable Player Award in franchise history. The youngest was Jeff Burroughs, who was 23 years old in 1974. That's how old Mazara will be this season, with a birthday coming on April 26.
At the age of 22, Burroughs hit .279 with 30 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .487 slugging percentage. As the 1974 American League MVP, Burroughs hit .301 with 25 home runs, a league-leading 118 RBIs and a .504 slugging percentage. He was also on a team that almost won a division title with a record of 84-76 after losing 105 games the year before.
As Verducci pointed out, a team's ability to contend has a tendency to impact award voting. To the victors go the spoils resonates with voters. There are other factors for the Mazara candidacy beyond Michael Trout, Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve not planning to retire anytime soon.
Mazara needs to hit left-handed pitching. He had 123 at-bats against southpaws last year and hit .228 with one home run. But he had 17 hits in his last 54 at-bats against them over the final two months of the season, so progress was made.
"I think Nomar is obviously a dynamic player," manager Jeff Banister said. "He'll continue to learn. You don't drive in 101 runs and not be able to hit left-handers. As the season wore on, there was definite progress in the left-on-left scenario. I feel confident he is going to get better."
The other lopsided split for Mazara is he hit .284 with a .484 slugging percentage when playing right field, and just .200 with a .333 slugging percentage while manning left field.
"That shouldn't matter," Mazara said. "I'm going to be ready to play everywhere."
The Rangers are hoping to stop the shuttle between left and right field. The plan is for Mazara to stay in right, just as Texas plans to do with Joey Gallo at first base.
Texas needs maximum offensive production out of both. MVP candidates come from winning teams, and that's what matters most to the Rangers.
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.