Odds to Win the 2018 AL MVP Award (And Who I'm Putting My Money On)
The first half of baseball came and went to little fan fare or recognition, while the narrative that baseball is a dying sport is louder and more pervasive than ever. Professional baseball teams have been regulated to regional attractions versus the national brands of many NBA and NFL franchises. Even the sport's best players have very little "super-stardom" in general pop culture or even in casual sports-fan circles. In fact one could make the strong argument that baseball has no casual fans. Rather, baseball has become a sport strictly for the die-hard's, traditionalists, homers, and analytics nerds.
I for one fall firmly in the latter two camps (homers and nerds). I follow my hometown Seattle Mariners religiously and diving into each game's box score inevitably leads me down a rabbit hole of stat-lines, slash-lines, and WAR ratings. I have come to understand that I do this for two reasons: 1. Too see how well my team and players stacks against the best of the rest of the league; and 2. To try and decipher who is the best in the league and why.
Now, although the title may lead you to believe otherwise, this is not an article about the promotion of sports-gambling. It is simply the vehicle of which I get to talk about this nerdy thing that I like. This geeky part of a "dying sport" that most of my friends (and most people in general) could care less about.
The gambling aspect is an extension of my fixation on numbers and analytics. Trying to gauge the "value" of a bet is just as enticing as trying to guess an outright winner. Weighing the risk of the likelihood of an event occurring against the reward of a numerical payout is flat out fun (and yes, so is the actual payout). Even more so is just getting to be right about something, because deep down everyone likes being able to say, I told you so.
With all that being said, here is a brief bio of each of the contending candidates vying for the American league's MVP award, followed by my MVP pick for best value based on viability and payout.
Mike Trout (-145)
Mike Trout is the odds on favorite to win the award by a considerable margin. At this point there can be very little doubt that Trout and Trout alone reigns and claims the title of best player in baseball. This has been the case since his first full season in the majors in 2012. In that span, he has won the MVP award twice and finished runner up for the award three times. His worst finish occurred last year when he took a mere fourth place after missing nearly a third of the freaking season!
This year Mike Trout is putting together, well, another Troutian season. He leads all of baseball with in overall WAR rating (7.1), On-Base% (.452), Walks (87), Times On-Base (199), and Runs Created (104). All the while producing an incredible slash line of .307/.452/.637, which is impressive even by Trout's herculean standards.
Holding him back however, is that his excellent individual performances are mitigated by the fact that he play's on an underwhelmingly average team. Playing in a very competitive (and top heavy) AL West, the Angel's aren't even sniffing near a playoff berth, whereas each of his fellow candidates are leading division pennant races. Add all that up with a less than favorable payout and you're better off passing on Trout.
Mookie Betts (+300)
Mookie Betts is the only member of the juggernaut Boston Red Sox who has a legitimate shot at winning this award. I say this with all due respect to JD Martinez, who is actually slightly favored over Betts to win the award himself (at +275). While Martinez is putting up very impressive counting stats with a .322 average/29 homers/81 RBI (good for 3rd, 2nd and 1st in each category respectively) and some pretty great slashes in his own right (.322/.388/.633), the fact of the matter is that no primary DH has ever won the league MVP award and Martinez doesn't look to break the mold this year. Not when he has a teammate like Betts who has been ravaging pitchers all season with a slash line of .352/.441/.670 while playing elite level defense at a premier fielding position (CF).
Mookie's offensive stats seem to grow more marvelous as you behold them. Betts leads the league in almost every advanced batting metric; topping the charts in not only Batting Average and Slugging%, but also in OPS (1.110) and OPS+(193). To try to frame this feat in totality I will list all of these metrics on one line while emboldening the stats in which he leads the league: .352/.441/.670/1.110/193.
The one stat he doesn't lead in is On-Base %, where he places second and just a hair below the league leading Mike Trout. The last time someone led in all of those categories in either league: Miguel Cabrera in 2014. Before that, Barry Bonds in 2003. Both won their league's MVP award in those years.
Factor in his gold glove defense in center field, his ability to steal bases, score and create runs (top 4 in each category) and the fact that he is doing this on the best team in baseball, I would argue that Betts should be the front-runner for MVP right now and that at +300 he offers very compelling value. However, he doesn't offer the best value which goes to my next candidate and bet-slip pick to win the MVP.
Winner: Jose Ramirez +800
I'll be the first to say that this three horse race for AL MVP is as tight as it can get at this point of the season. However, at 8/1, Jose Ramirez represents some phenomenal value to win the award and is just too irresistible to pass up.
First the slashes: Ramirez's line of .304/.404/.637 stacks up nicely to likes of Trout and Betts. In fact they are the only 3/4/6 slashers in baseball, an even more remarkable feat when you factor in the major league batting average is at it's lowest in 50 years (.247) and strikeout rates are at an all-time high (8.49). Although he may not lead in any of the advanced batting metrics, he ranks in the top 3 in On-base%, Slugging%, OPS (1.041), and OPS+(173). All this adds up to a whopping 7.0 WAR rating, just a smidgen under Trout's leading 7.1 WAR rating and above Betts' 6.6 WAR rating respectively.
But where Ramirez really shines is in the counting stats (and we know how traditional baseball writers love their counting stats). Try these numbers on for size: 1st in Home-Runs (30), 1st in Extra Base Hits (60), 1st in Total Bases (235), 2nd in RBI (72), 2nd in Runs Created (103), 2nd in Times on Base (175), 3rd in stolen bases (20) and 5th in Runs Scored (70).
Then there is his potentially historic on pace stat-line: .304 batting average, 50 home-runs, 119 RBI, 115 R, and 33 stolen bases.
If those numbers don't jump off the page then consider this: Jose Ramirez is on pace to perform baseball's first ever 50/30 season. That's 50 home-runs and 30 stolen bases. Allow me to reiterate... NOBODY IN THE (LONG A**) HISTORY OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HAS EVER DONE THIS!
Heck we haven't even seen a 30/30 season since 2012 (Mike Trout had the last one in the AL that year when he went 30/49 his rookie year). There's been four 40/40 seasons in baseball history, the last one occurring in 2006, and we celebrate those like we do a Triple Crown winner. Yet to witness something never been done in all of baseball's lauded history would be a something even greater to behold; and certainly enough to firmly move the MVP needle in Ramirez's direction.
Now I'm not guaranteeing Ramirez will go 50/30 by the end of the season by any stretch. In all honestly it is probably more likely that he does not get to the 50 home run threshold. At 5'9 165 lbs it just doesn't seem realistic that Ramirez can keep up this current pace (he's already surpassed his home-run total from last year of 29). However, I never said he needed to in order win, only that doing so would all but guarantee it.
The fact remains is that Ramirez has been the most complete player in baseball this season. His Power-Speed rating (24.0) is head and shoulders above Betts (20.2) and Trout (19.8) who rank 2nd and 3rd respectively. He has a defensive WAR of 1.2, good for 2nd among all major league third baseman, 7th in all of baseball regardless of positon and again, better than Betts (.8) and Trout (.7) at their respective positions. All while playing for the AL-Central leading Cleveland Indians and potentially adding a division pennant to his resume for good measure.
If he even flirts with a 50/30 season while playing pennant baseball I believe Ramirez will garner enough of a spotlight to win the MVP award at the conclusion of the MLB season. All three candidates are more than worthy of the award but at 8/1 Jose Ramirez gives you the most bang for your buck and a very real shot to cash in for your efforts. At the very least it might help make this long, nerdy, dying sport a little more bearable for you.