Friday, January 16, 2015

2015 MVP Predictions

AL MVP: Mike Trout

It’s a well-known fact that Mike Trout is the best all-around player in baseball. His combination of elite power, speed, and defense at a premium position is unmatched in the game today. 

Trout is the total package. Over the past three years he has been the sport's best hitter on a league and park-adjusted basis, leading all of baseball with a 170 wRC+ (meaning he created 70 percent more runs than a league average hitter would have in the same number of plate appearances) while also ranking first inbaserunning value. Not surprisingly, he has produced more offensive value in the last three years than anyone else, all while playing a solid, if sometimes spectacular, center field. 

As such, Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs ranked Trout as baseball’s most valuable player in each of thepast three seasons based on wins above replacement (WAR). This trio of standout seasons has resulted in three straight All-Star nods and impressive MVP results for Trout, who was runner-up to Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013 before winningunanimously last season, becoming the youngest player ever to do so. 

While Trout is clearly a superstar according to these advanced metrics, his excellence is also apparent in the traditional stats that voters love. Since the start of the 2012 season he ranks first in runs scored, second in slugging percentage, third in on-base percentage, fifth in RBI (a favorite stat of MVP voters), seventh in home runs, and eighth in steals and batting average.   

Playing time is an important factor in MVP voting as well, and Trout is no slouch in this regard. Athletic, durable, and built like a tank, he’s never spent a day on the Disabled List and played in 157 of a possible 162 games in each of the last two years. Trout has a clean bill of health and should have no problems staying on the field this year. 

It also helps that Trout plays for a great team in a big market: the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels had the best record in baseball last year, winning 98 games and cruising to the AL West title by a 10 game margin over the Oakland A’s. With their two most serious challengers, the A’s and Seattle Mariners, failing to considerably improve so far this offseason, LA has to be considered favorites to repeat as division champs. And with star teammates Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton indecline, Trout is obviously the best and most indispensable player on the Halos, and thus will continue to fare well in MVP voting.  

Lastly, since Trout is just 23 years old, he’s still at an age where he should be getting better, not worse. He’s still a few years away from what are traditionally considered to be a player’s prime years (ages 25-29). Health permitting, Trout is poised to be a force in MVP voting for another decade.
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen 

Andrew McCutchen is the National League’s answer to Mike Trout; a supremely gifted all-around center fielder at the top of his game. Per the FanGraphs version of WAR, McCutchen has been the second-most valuable position player since the start of the 2012 season, trailing only the aforementioned Angels superstar. Like Trout, ‘Cutch has won an MVP in a landslide and came close two other times. So long as he’s healthy, McCutchen figures to be a strong candidate again in 2015. 

Though McCutchen’s offensive statistics are not always overwhelming—he has just one 30-homer season on his resume and has never knocked in 100 runs—he’s produced far more offensive value than any other National Leaguer over the past three years. He owns the league’s highest batting average, on-base percentage, and wRC+ during that span, as well as its third-highest slugging percentage and weighted on-base average (wOBA).  In fact, McCutchen is the only major leaguer to exceed a .300 batting average, .400 OBP, and .500 SLG in all three of those seasons. Like Trout, he received three Silver Sluggers for those same seasons as well. 

McCutchen is also a very good baserunner, having stolen no less than 18 bases in all six of his big league seasons and averaging 24 per year at a 74 percent success rate. His defense, while not highly rated by advanced metrics, passes the “eye test” (meaning he looks like a good fielder to the casual observer) and was rewarded with a Gold Glove in 2012. 

Last season’s short DL-stint notwithstanding, McCutchen has also been exceptionally durable throughout his career. He played at least 154 games every year from 2010 to 2013. After spending the minimum 15 days on the Disabled List with a rib injury last August, he suffered no drop-off in his performance after returning and helped lead Pittsburgh back to the postseason by posting a1.042 OPS in September. And at 28 years old, McCutchen is squarely in his prime coming off four consecutive All-Star seasons, so one would not expect his performance to fall drastically this year. 

Although the Pirates do not play in a big market, they are a relevant team due to their recent success. They’ve finished second in the NL Central each of the last two seasons, making the playoffs both years after going 20 seasons (1993-2012) without a postseason berth. Their division will be more crowded this year with the emergence of the Cubs and a likely rebound from the Reds, but Pittsburgh boasts a young, quality team that should be in the mix for several more years at least. And because the Pirates are built around depth more so than star power, McCutchen is far and away the best player on his team, which guarantees MVP consideration if they do well. 

McCutchen might not be as much of a sure thing as Trout, especially if Giancarlo Stanton has another monster season or Bryce Harper puts it all together, but he’s pretty much guaranteed to be in the running for the next few years. If he doesn't win in 2015, he'll at least come close.

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