Labor Day has come and gone, and so has the minor league season. The playoffs have begun and the annual promotions have happened. There are a few top prospects remaining on minor league rosters readying themselves for a playoff series or a trip to the Arizona Fall League. As the major league playoff races tighten, the award races will as well. The top contenders have less than a month to impress the voters – and overcome the playoff bias in voting.
The winner of the 2016 AL MVP race is likely to be among this group of top candidates – New York’s precocious catcher Gary Sanchez might bull his way into the conversation for Rookie of the Year with a post All-Star break bonanza, but he won’t affect the MVP race, even if he keeps up his torrid pace.
Jose Altuve, Second Baseman, Houston Astros
It is arguably the Year of the Second Baseman, and it makes sense to lead off with not only the best second baseman in the league – but also the best contact hitter in the big leagues. The diminutive Altuve has had an incredibly productive season, batting .340 and having 66 extra-base hits in 632 plate appearances. His road performance has been particularly noteworthy, with the Astros second sacker posting a .387/.452/.582 line in 323 plate appearances. Altuve is likely to win the batting title, and leads the league in hits with 192. The Astros drive to the playoffs will also keep Altuve in the race. SoSH Baseball’s doctor of PITCH F/x Ian York looked at Altuve earlier this year. Learn what makes him so good here:
Mike Trout, Center Fielder, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Via Inglewood
Would there be any question about Trout’s supremacy atop the American League’s most valuable list if his team were not languishing in last place as the season draws to a close? Trout’s numbers – .422 wOBA – are not so dominating as to make a discussion laughable – but he’s clearly (still) the best individual player in baseball. His defense remains superb and while his skills at the plate are not historically good, that’s just because very few are Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, or Ted Williams. Trout is one notch below those immortals – but he’s as good as it gets in today’s game and he is amidst a potentially Hall of Fame worthy run. He may not win the MVP this season because the question “how can you be most valuable for a last place team?” exists.
Manny Machado, Third Base, Baltimore Orioles
The flashy third baseman is superlative defensively, consistently making highlight reel plays look easy. Offensively, his 34 home runs and .307/.358/.561 line have also kept Baltimore in the fight for the postseason. Trout is an exceptional defender but no one brings more value to both halves of an inning than Baltimore’s 24-year-old third baseman. Machado has played almost every game, even shifting over to shortstop for 45 games, and has consistently provided the Orioles with quality at-bats and defensive plays. Amid a high quality crop of young third sackers across both leagues, Machado is the most highly regarded, for his age, potential, and ability.
Josh Donaldson, Third Base, Toronto Blue Jays
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays slugging third baseman is leading Toronto’s playoff charge with 34 homers and 92 runs driven in, pacing their powerful (fourth in runs per game in the AL) offensive attack. The reigning AL MVP is still delivering by getting on base and sports an identical OPS+ (151) thus far, signalling that counting stats are not the end of the discussion. A strong September may see Donaldson top his marks from last season, but it is more likely to matter to voters whether he and his team hold on to win the division. The team success component to MVP voting is a bit silly, but it is also undeniable. It matters to voters, and Donaldson’s candidacy this season is particularly dependent upon it.
Mookie Betts, Right Field, Boston Red Sox
Markus Betts is enjoying a breakout season, blasting 30 homers, 327 total bases, 12 outfield assists, and 23 steals, in addition to a .314/.356/.547 line. Two three-home run games have boosted the third-year pro’s stat line, and his MVP candidacy. Betts barging into the MVP discussion is unexpected; through the All-Star break, the Red Sox were driven by the soon-to-retire David Ortiz’s offensive contributions, with Betts riding his coattails. But since the break, Betts has racked up a .335/.378/.589 line with 12 homers, propelling him into the conversation. The second-baseman-turned-outfielder has blossomed into a superstar in his second year as a regular, and while his MVP chances this year are small, fans are optimistic about the seasons yet to come.
Brian Dozier, Second Base, Minnesota Twins
It is possible that if Dozier were on track to break the all-time record for home runs in a season by a second baseman, while playing for a contending team, he’d be a legit MVP candidate, but since the Twins are going to finish last by a country mile, Dozier will get a few token votes but no real consideration.
Robinson Cano, Second Base, Seattle Mariners
Cano is having his usual season – with a few more home runs than usual and a few less doubles – and his usual season has been enough for him to receive MVP votes in most seasons for the last decade.
Kyle Seager, Third Base, Seattle Mariners
Brother Corey is likely to bring home the NL Rookie of the Year award, but Kyle will not be ashamed to show his face at the Seager Family Thanksgiving table. The Mariners third baseman is having an excellent season – not on par with position rivals Machado or Donaldson – but his timely contributions have kept Seattle in contention and could garner Kyle quite a bit of MVP attention if the Mariners have a successful final month.
Francisco Lindor, Shortstop, Cleveland Indians
The runner-up for 2015’s AL Rookie of the Year hasn’t missed a beat in his second major league season, putting up .319/.364/.454 line for the AL Central leading Tribe. Given his solid defense, offensive contributions, and team success, Lindor figures to get some MVP votes next month.
Evan Longoria, Third Base, Tampa Bay Rays
Playing out the string with his awful team, Longoria continues to register the type of above-average performances that garners MVP votes – most valuable on a terrible team consideration.