Hello again, baseball fans! Baseball is nearly upon us. The real opening day is a mere three days away. Expectedly, baseball fans across the land are glowing with excitement like shiny lightning bugs fluttering in the outfield at the midsummer classic.
And I guess you could say, just like those bugs, we're buzzing all around the game's biggest stars. Yesterday was likely the biggest draft day of the off-season given just how close we are to the beginning of the start of the season - hunched over computer screens, fawning about over which star player we'll nab next.
Coincidentally, and frighteningly, a 2018 MVP candidate had to be carted off the field just hours before many of last night's drafts - that being Cleveland Indians' superstar, Jose Ramirez. As thousands of dynasty leaguers and keeper owners sweated the afternoon away, we all stood in a state of confusion as to just what we should do regarding our drafts on Sunday because of the injury.
For those of you that stood your ground or even were able to draft him late or simply just outside of the first round, early reports indicate Ramirez suffered only a knee contusion and has avoided the worst - meaning a lot of you may have gotten a huge value on draft day.
As we hope for a speedy return to good health for MVP caliber player, Ramirez, let's open the discussion for the MVP award while I give my predictions for who will take home the honors in 2019.
American League MVP
Let's be blunt. In recent years, the MVP race has felt like a two-horsed race largely between World Series winner, Mookie Betts, and $430 million dollar man, Mike Trout. Of course, there have been a few other studs such as Jose Altuve and JD Martinez, but I think the consensus is we're going to see these two guys atop the voting for several years. So...let's start with who we can count out (plausibly).
This list probably begins with Ramirez' infield partner, Francisco Lindor. Already an impeccable fielder and a top 50 player going into 2018, Lindor broke out in a big way last year by threatening the 30-30 plateau.
Unfortunately, the Indians are having a bit of bad luck here and Lindor went down with an injury in early February and will miss roughly the first week of the season, if not a little more. He is, however, already performing in rehab games in the minors which is a good sign for the Indians.
The problem I have with Lindor are some of his metrics. In 2018, Trout, Betts, and JD Martinez all put up a WRC+ of 170 or higher. As well, Bregman, Jose Ramirez, Machado, and Judge (in an injury-shortened season) all put up a WRC+ of 140 or higher. Lindor's was 130.
This is not to say by any stretch that Lindor isn't great, and WRC+ is certainly not the-end-all-be-all, but it is a good indicator and does suggest there were two tiers of hitters above him in 2018. Based off that alone, you would surmise that Lindor wouldn't be an MVP winner. There are two obvious counter-arguments to this, however:
#1 - He's still probably one of the top 5 fielders in the game (something JD Martinez can't say)
#2 - He steals bases, and those aren't accounted for in WRC+
That said, the Indians lost some quality players and depth across the board and generally just feel less elite. Even if they've gained Carlos Santana, they did lose lineup staples, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley. 2nd half rental, Josh Donaldson, also left via free agency to the Braves. These roster losses, along with the early injuries to Lindor and Ramirez, are enough to convince me Lindor won't be taking the MVP honors home in 2019. I still think Lindor conceivably has even yet another level we've yet to see, but such that maybe we'll have to wait another year for that to translate and garner him serious contention for the award.
Meanwhile, as stated, Francisco Lindor's bleach-blonde buddy, Jose Ramirez, just sent shockwaves through the fantasy world yesterday by suffering a knee contusion. A start to the year with an injury is never a good sign and the losses on offense for Lindor also apply to Ramirez.
What's worse is Ramirez' curious disappearance in 2018. In August, his slash line was .245/.365/.457 (all substantial lows for him). He then followed up August by posting an even-worse slash line of .174/.322/.315 in September and October combined. The cumulation of all of these factors do not bode well for Ramirez at all.
Jose Altuve. How can you not love this guy? He embodies heart and likeability - all the while performing at an elite level. After winning the MVP award in 2017, Altuve had a down year in 2018 following the Astros' World Series run. Even worse, it was reported that Altuve was dealing with a knee injury throughout the 2018 season before finally having surgery this off-season. At least we have an apparent explanation for his decrease in production.
The thing is, with the emergence of "J-Ram", Lindor, and now Bregman - along with the mainstays of the consensus 1-2 fantasy studs, Trout and Betts...not to mention guys like Judge and JD Martinez hanging around, I'm hesitant to believe that Altuve's best as of now is still the league's best as it was in 2017 and prior. Simply put, I think there's been a marginal increase among the game's elite offensive players in the American League over the past year. If I'm putting my money on anyone from the Astros to win MVP, it's Alex Bregman, who tied for 4th in WAR in the majors in 2018 (per Fangraphs.com) - with Carlos Correa behind him as a severe dark horse.
And now, let's face the two top dogs, Mookie Betts and Mike Trout.
World Series hangover - is it real? Myth? Who knows. What I do know is 2018 was a superiorly eventful year for Mookie Betts. He won the MVP and World Series. Those honors are exactly what you play for as a ballplayer. As well, he is also a bowler, missed time due to injury, and declined a $200 million dollar offer from the Red Sox all in the same year. Call it a gut feeling, but that's a lot for a person to experience in a year and you could argue that Betts can only go down from there - even if only incrementally. After all, he even beat out Mike Trout for best WAR in the majors.
Unpopular as it is, that's the route I'm going. Some of which, but not nearly as much, I'll say applies to his immensely powerful lineup mate and masher, JD Martinez. The easy thing to say is he isn't a good defender. That immediately shaves off a large chunk of WAR for Martinez and ultimately I believe that will factor into the voting even if I do expect another year of 40+ home runs and 120+ RBIs.
Mike Trout. What's left to say? The guy's 27 years old and already a legend. There's no doubt in my, or anyone's mind, he's the best player in the game on a per-game/appearance basis. It just seems like little things have prevented him from taking the MVP honors such as injury, poor team record, or an unspectacular supporting cast - and I expect all those things to work against him again.
He's missed a combined 70 games between 2017-2018, much of which due to a fluky broken thumb, but it's still missed time. With the talent in the American League, a loss of just 15 games could be enough to hinder Trout. We also don't know how many at-bats Shohei Ohtani will amass as he recovers from injury. After 326 at-bats in 2018, I just don't think Ohtani is going to get much more than maybe 400-425 at-bats in 2019 and, in an already less-than-great offense (outside of Trout), I'm not sure that's enough to protect or boost Trout's numbers. If we knew Ohtani was expected to receive 550+ at-bats, I'd say Trout wins MVP - but I don't see it happening.
Finally, this leaves us with Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros. Only a few days shy of his 25th birthday, Alex Bregman has about 2 and 1/3 seasons under his belt - this being after a rapid ascension through the minors and a successful college career that resulted in the Astros drafting him #2 overall in the 2015 amateur draft.
This is a guy who has succeeded at every single level, and he's done it quickly each time. He's already won a World Series and, in just his second full season, he finished 4th in the majors in WAR. Almost every aspect of his game, aside from steals, improved from 2017 and 2018.
With a presumably healthy Jose Altuve and also presumably healthy Carlos Correa - not to mention the addition of Michael Brantley, this could be the best year of Alex Bregman's career. You could even point to the possible breakout of Tyler White as well as George Springer's weight loss as boosts to his production in 2019. This should be a productive offense and I'm thinking Bregman anchors it and sneaks in and takes home his first MVP.
National League MVP
Fortunately for my fingers, I expect the NL MVP race to be less difficult to decide than the AL MVP race. In 2018, Christian Yelich blew away the competition by dismantling opposing pitching in the 2nd half in a monster way. Trailing behind Yelich was Cubs' breakout star, Javier Baez, annual candidate, Nolan Arenado, and a handful of other stars we really didn't anticipate winning.
The reason this is easier, in a way, is that regression is coming. The problem with that also lies in the expectancy that regression will be hitting all the same guys at once. I expect Yelich, Baez, and deGrom all to experience regression. If you read my Cy Young predictions, you would know my thoughts on deGrom. Yelich's second half just seems immensely unsustainable even though I do believe he has greatly advanced as an offensive player.
Baez, on the other hand, is simple. His plate discipline is just too poor for him to finish atop the voting for MVP. He certainly has the ability to win the award in the future, but until he improves that aspect of his game, it's going to take quite a bit of a mix of circumstances for that to occur.
Of course, Arenado is in the conversation. He always is. He loves Coors and Coors loves him - plus he's a really, really, really good fielder (6 consecutive gold gloves). I'm not saying Coors is the only way he can succeed, it's just a bullet point. However, even as he piles up 40 homer seasons, he's yet to have won the MVP award - and, I gotta say, I just don't think it's happening this year...again.
What I think. I think Bryce Harper or Paul Goldschmidt take home the MVP honors in 2019. Sometimes, narratives are foolish while other times they work to perfection and each of these guys has a perfect narrative opportunity. Harper gets his contract and fresh start in a new city while Goldschmidt, who also was paid handsomely, gets to play in what is referred to by some as the city with the best fans in baseball.
For Harper, I could easily see him putting it all together as he did in 2015. The lineup around him is great. Personality-wise, I think Rhys Hoskins takes some of the spotlight off of him as Hoskins is also young and a bit carefree. In a lot of ways, the stage is set for a huge season from Harper.
Paul Goldschmidt. As I said above, Goldschmidt is presented with the opportunity to play in front of baseball's best fans as he was traded to and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals this past off-season. Again, it's a bit of a gut feeling, but I think Goldschmidt flirts with 40 home runs and 120 RBIs as a Cardinal. It's a great place to play and we've seen many guys excel there over the years. He's been an excellent hitter throughout his entire major league career and, with all the expected regression around the league, it seems like an appropriate time to take home his first NL MVP award.
Honorable mentions: Kris Bryant, Freddie Freeman, and Manny Machado
© This writing was created by and remains property of the username, lionsmane. It is to be claimed as an original piece only on whaleshares and steemit under this username (and possibly scorum under my other username). Creation date: March, 2019
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