The Best MVPs of the 21st Century: AL Edition

By Robert Banas

Welcome to playoff baseball 2019! The college kids of M-SABR are back, balls are flying out of stadiums faster than any other time in history—Justin Verlander may well have had the best season of all time if the balls weren’t juiced— and the dust, barely settled from the excitement of the September playoff chase, is being kicked up even more furiously as the remaining teams compete for a title. Before the winners of two very close—and exciting—MVP races are ultimately announced, why don’t we rank former MVPs since the start of this century first? I will rank MVPs from the NL, then the AL, and then combine them and compare both leagues since 2000. Note, I will only be comparing position player MVPs. Therefore, we won’t be seeing Justin Verlander’s 2011 AL MVP season on the AL list, nor will we see Clayton Kershaw’s 2014 campaign in the National League. This article will simply be the AL.

Note~ all statistics used come from FanGraphs

The methodology behind this article and the MVP score

Since M-SABR is a sabermetric club, I will be using WAR, wRC+, wOBA, BsR, and DEF sabermetrics to be ranking these players. Here is a quick description of each statistic, taken from the FanGraphs glossary, if you aren’t familiar with them.

WAR-Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.”

WAR=(Batting Runs + Baserunning Runs + Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment + League Adjustment + Replacement Runs) / (Runs Per Win)

wRC+

wOBA- “Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.”

In short, not all hits are created equal.

DEF- Fielding Runs Above Average + positional adjustment (about 9-10 runs= 1 win for WAR- league average is 0)

BsR- This stat isessentially baserunning runs a player contributes above average, described as “the combination of Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), Weighted Grounded Into Double Play Runs (wGDP), and Ultimate Base Running (UBR)”

Methodology

Each player will be ranked using these stats, and their rank from each category will be added up to accumulate a raw score (the MVP score). For example, if a player had the best WAR, wRC+, wOBA, BsR, and DEF statistics (1st in every category), then their MVP score would be 5 (1+1+1+1+1). Hence, the player with the lowest score wins and has thus had the best MVP season since 2000 and is the GOAT of the 21st century. This ranking system, due to the addition of DEF and BsR, should hurt one-dimensional players like Justin Morneau and help 5-tool players like Mike Trout. This may be a fairly elementary way to rank these players, but it is a fun way to evaluate a player based on hitting, fielding, and baserunning. I’m basically trying to find the best 5-tool MVP player while still valuing hitting as the most important attribute of a player. Hitting is still the most weighted category, as I’ve included two hitting statistics (wRC+ for the hit tool and wOBA for the power tool) compared to just one apiece for defense (fielding and arm-strength) and baserunning (speed). WAR is also included, which accounts for a little bit of everything. For better results (possibly a new article in the future) the statistics should be weighted a little further. For example, in the NL, Buster Posey is ranked first in the DEF category at 38.7 with Jimmy Rollins coming in second at 10. That’s a difference of 28.7. If you take out Posey and add up every other MVP’s DEF score, you get -50.2! This shows how insane Posey was defensively, yet with my MVP score he only gets a slight advantage over Rollins. This shows that the MVP score is slightly flawed, but when compared to WAR rankings, it is still fairly accurate. Shall we get started?

#18 Miguel Tejada 2002~ MVP Score: 81

  • WAR Rank: 17th
  • wRC+: 16th
  • wOBA: 17th
  • DEF: 15th
  • BsR: 16th

Finishing last in the AL MVP rankings is the Oakland Athletics’ SS Miguel Tejada. Miguel had an excellent year in which he batted .308, hit 34 bombs, and even drove in 131 baserunners. Although these are great numbers, looking at the advanced stats, Tejada finished second from the bottom in wOBA and WAR rankings, was the 3rd worst base runner, and 4th worst fielder. Put all these rankings together, and his last place finish comes at less of a surprise.

#17 Justin Morneau 2006~ MVP Score: 80

  • WAR Rank: 16th
  • wRC+: 12th
  • wOBA: 11th
  • DEF: 16th
  • BsR: 13th

Coming into this article, I thought it would be a no-brainer that Morneau would finish last. However, I was wrong by 1 point on the MVP score. His WAR for an MVP is frankly laughable. At an astonishing 3.8 WAR, Morneau’s 2006 came in last place by a decent margin (Tejada had a 4.5 WAR). He didn’t finish above 15th place in any category.

#16 Vladimir Guerrero 2004~ MVP Score: 68

  • WAR Rank: 16th
  • wRC+: 12th
  • wOBA: 11th
  • DEF: 16th
  • BsR: 13th

Our 16th place finish goes to one and only Vladdy Daddy! Though he may not be the only Vladimir Guerrero we’ve ever seen play, but he is the only Vladdy with an MVP (so far). 2004 Vlad hit .337 with 39 bombs and 126 RBIs—very similar to Miguel Tejada’s numbers. They also were both bad defenders as Vladdy finished 16th out of 18th in the DEF stat. The -10 he recorded likely lowered his WAR this year from about 6.9 if he were a league average defender to 5.9 at his actual skillset. Vladdy’s best category was his wOBA where he finished 11th, at .411—40 points higher than Tejada’s.

#15 Ichiro 2001~ MVP Score: 61

  • WAR Rank: 15th
  • wRC+: 18th
  • wOBA: 18th
  • DEF: 5th
  • BsR: 5th

Coming in 15th on the list is probably the best Asian baseball player the MLB will ever see (yes Shohei, this is a challenge). Ichiro basically had it all. If he had 30 home run power in his bat, he would actually have been a very similar player to Mike Trout. However, we will have to settle with a respectable 15th place MVP finish in which he batted .350 and finished 5th in DEF and BsR. His last place finishes in wOBA (.360) and wRC+ (124), as well as his 15th place finish in WAR (6.0) killed him in the rankings, though. The low wOBA ranking makes sense, since he was a god at bunting and beating out infield singles. Still, having a resume of winning the MVP in your “rookie” year is extremely impressive. Possibly just as impressive is the fact that he has kept in shape and even got some at bats in 2019 at age 45.

#14 Miguel Cabrera 2012~ MVP Score: 60

  • WAR Rank: 13th
  • wRC+: 10th
  • wOBA: 9th
  • DEF: 10th
  • BsR: 18th

HUH! You’re telling me that Cabrera’s Triple Crown season is only 14th on this list? Being a Tigers fan, the MVP score disappointed me here as well. To be fair, this isn’t even Cabrera’s best season, so he is rightfully featured higher on this list later. Cabrera hit .330 with 49 dongs and 139 RBIs in 2012! Still, Cabrera’s highest categorical MVP score rank was his wOBA of .417, which was only the 9th highest. If Cabrera didn’t finish dead last in the BsR statistic, though, he would be a few spots higher on this list.

#13 Dustin Pedroia 2008~ MVP Score: 59

  • WAR Rank: 14th
  • wRC+: 17th
  • wOBA: 16th
  • DEF: 2nd
  • BsR: 10th

Even though I’m not a huge Red Sox fan, I think we can all agree that Cabrera should be higher on this list than Pedroia. Regardless, in just his third season, Dustin put up exceptional numbers of a .326 average, 20 stolen bases, as well as elite-level defensive play. In fact, the only reason Pedroia is higher on this list than Miggy is due to his DEF rank of 2. The 2008 Gold Glove winner, Pedroia saved 12.1 more runs than the average 2B in 2008. In addition to both of those accolades, the second baseman rounded off his trophy case with a Silver Slugger Award. In my opinion, outside of his elite defensive numbers, Pedroia did not have that elite of a MVP campaign.

#12 Jose Altuve 2017~ MVP Score: 53

  • WAR Rank: 12th
  • wRC+: 11th
  • wOBA: 12th
  • DEF: 9th
  • BsR: 9th

Altuve is one of the main cogs of the AstroBall movement, and is a huge reason why they won it all in 2017. His MVP campaign was essential for them, and was an inspiring accomplishment for such a little dude (5’6”, 165lbs). Altuve hit .346 while swiping 32 bags in his MVP campaign. Shockingly, even with 32 steals, Altuve only ranked in the middle of the pack in the BsR category with a 9th place finish. Altuve is helping the Astros have another insane season this year, which is why I predict them to win it all at the end of 2019.

#11 Mike Trout 2014~ MVP Score: 49

  • WAR Rank: 9th
  • wRC+: 9th
  • wOBA: 13th
  • DEF: 14th
  • BsR: 4th

Is it too early to say that Mike Trout will be the GOAT when he retires? He already has accumulated 72.5 WAR over his career and he is only 28 years old. That places him 87th of all time: one spot above Derek Jeter according to Baseball-Reference. It is still possible to see him end up #1 all-time if he keeps performing at the pace he is currently on. This pace can be exemplified by his 2014 season. This was a down year for Trout, where he hit .287 with 36 dingers and 111 RBIs. His WAR was ONLY 8.3 this year, which places him in the middle of the pack for the 2000 MVPs. However, this was his lowest WAR total for a full season that he played. His 2019 WAR is higher, even though he missed the last three weeks of the season. We can discuss Trout more later when we talk about his 2016 MVP campaign.

#10 Josh Donaldson 2015~ MVP Score: 47

  • WAR Rank: 8th
  • wRC+: 13th
  • wOBA: 14th
  • DEF: 4th
  • BsR: 8th

Remember when the Oakland Athletics traded future MVP Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, Franklin Barreto and Brett Lawrie? Yea, it still gives me chuckles to this day. Even though Billy Beane is a huge part of the sabermetrics movement, he really biffed it on this trade. Donaldson, who has a beautiful swing that focuses on shoulder plane movement, batted .297 while hitting 41 bombs and driving in 123 runs in his MVP season with the Blue Jays. The stud at the hot corner saved 10.1 more runs than the average Joe third baseman in 2015, leading to a 4th place DEF finish. His 154 wRC+ also shows us that he was 54% better than the average hitter in 2015. Finishing with a WAR of 8.7, the Blue Jays really managed to trade nothing but Brett Lawrie for an MVP.

#9 Joe Mauer 2009~ MVP Score: 47

  • WAR Rank: 11th
  • wRC+: 7th
  • wOBA: 6th
  • DEF: 7th
  • BsR: 14th

Joe Mauer and Josh Donaldson both finished with an MVP score of 47. However, winning MVP while playing catcher is much harder, so I gave the edge to MAuerin this scenario. Plus, Mauer was off a bean in 2009 when he hit 28 bombs, drove in 96 runs, and had a .444 OBP! Mauer was 70% better than an average hitter. For a catcher, that’s out of this world. The former #1 overall pick’s DEF and wOBA weren’t too shabby either, as he placed 7th and 6th in those respective categories. The next catcher who puts up numbers similar to this season definitely deserves to win an MVP—just like Mauer did.

#8 Jason Giambi 2000~ MVP Score: 44

  • WAR Rank: 10th
  • wRC+: 3rd
  • wOBA: 1st
  • DEF: 18th
  • BsR: 12th

The first AL MVP of the 21st century comes in at #8 for the best MVP season of the 2000’s. Looking at the numbers, if Giambi could have been even average at playing defense, he would have ranked 5th on this list. Instead, a DEF score of -15.7 placed Giambi in last place. His 12th place finish in BsR certainly didn’t do him any favors either. Giambi more than compensates for his horrific defense and baserunning skills with the #1 overall wOBA score of .471. Giambi can thank an elite eye at the plate which led to a 20.6 BB%, which gave his OBP a huge boost. Hitting 43 bombs and 29 doubles helped his cause a little as well. His wRC+ of 183, which ranks 3rd on this list, summarizes how elite his 2000 campaign truly was.

#7 Alex Rodriguez 2005~ MVP Score: 40

  • WAR Rank: 5th
  • wRC+: 6th
  • wOBA: 7th
  • DEF: 11th
  • BsR: 11th

Honestly, A-Roid, I mean A-Rod, was such a good player. There is no real reason why he should have taken steroids. People would have thought his quest for 800 home runs heroic if he never juiced. Instead, his numerous lengthy PED suspensions ruined his reputation and made sure that the scrub never even made it to 700. Regardless, he will still be ranked via the MVP score. In terms of WAR, he came in 5th place with a WAR of 9.1. His wRC+ of 174 ranked 6th and wOBA of .436 ranked 7th, but were only a little bit off from being ranked even higher. His DEF and BsR were a little bit below the median of the MVPs as he ranked 11th for both of these categories. Sadly, there are 2 more A-Roid seasons even higher on this list.

#6 Miguel Cabrera 2013~ MVP Score: 39

  • WAR Rank: 6th
  • wRC+: 1st
  • wOBA: 2nd
  • DEF: 13th
  • BsR: 17th

Miggy’s 2013 season may have proved why he is arguably the greatest hitter in our generation. It’s one thing to win the Triple Crown, but it’s another ball game when you top that season one year later. Miggy could’ve won back to back Triple Crowns had it not been for Chris Davis. Miggy batted an unreal .348 with 44 bombs and 137 RBIs. His 193 wRC+ was the best mark the 21st century has ever seen in the AL. If Barry Bonds’ inflated stats (and head) never existed, 2013 Miggy may have been the best pure hitting season we may have ever seen. His wOBA of .455 came second to only Giambi’s. A 17th place rank in BsR killed his MVP score. This was undoubtedly the best season I’ve ever seen as a Detroit fan.

#5 Alex Rodriguez 2003~ MVP Score: 36

  • WAR Rank: 4th
  • wRC+: 14th
  • wOBA: 10th
  • DEF: 1st
  • BsR: 7th

A-Rod’s second time on this list has him coming in ranked at #5. This season was very comparable to his 2005 MVP campaign. The difference? His defense. 2003 Rodriguez apparently had the best defensive season of an MVP from the 2000s. His DEF score of 18.2 was elite and, coupled by the fact that he hadn’t yet moved to third base, helped boost his WAR up to 9.2, good for 4th place on this list. We can tell just how much his defense helped this number by looking at his advanced hitting. This year was not as impressive as before, as he finished 14th in WRC+ and 10th in wOBA.

#4 Josh Hamilton 2010~ MVP Score: 28

  • WAR Rank: 7th
  • wRC+: 4th
  • wOBA: 5th
  • DEF: 6th
  • BsR: 6th

This was probably the biggest surprise the MVP score rankings provided. I would never have guessed that the embattled outfielder had the 4th best AL MVP season of the century. Looking at the numbers, hitting .359 with 32 bombs and 100 RBI is more impressive than I remember. Hamilton ranked above average in every category, as he came in 7th place in WAR, 6th in DEF and BsR, 5th in wOBA, and 4th in wRC+. Hamilton was an impressive 75% better than the average hitter in 2010, and also put on one of the most legendary home run derby performances of all time in 2008. Hamilton always had a pretty swing, and we can only pray that he has put his personal troubles behind him once and for all.

#3 Mike Trout 2016~ MVP Score: 28

  • WAR Rank: 3rd
  • wRC+: 8th
  • wOBA: 8th
  • DEF: 8th
  • BsR: 1st

The second and final coming of Mike Trout (probably another MVP in 2019) comes in at #3 in the MVP rankings. 2016 was the epitome of 5-tool player perfection. He hit .315, smacked 29 home runs, drove in 100 RB’s, stole 30 bases, and saved 4.6 more runs than the average center fielder. His WAR accounts for all of this as it ended up at 9.6, fittingly coming in 3rd overall. The reason Trout is so much higher this season than his 2014 season is due to the fact he ranked #1 in BsR. He was 9.6 runs better than the average baserunner which again, is elite. Trout can thank a BABIP of .371 for some of his success this year. His BABIP is only .298 throughout this 2019 season. If Trout replicated that .371 BABIP this year, he would most likely be having his best season yet. Regardless, I pray he never suffers a major injury so we can appreciate and watch his great play well into the next decade.

#2 Alex Rodriguez 2007~ MVP Score: 25

  • WAR Rank: 2nd
  • wRC+: 5th
  • wOBA: 4th
  • DEF: 12th
  • BsR: 2nd

The 3rd and final appearance of A-Rod comes in 2nd place in the best AL MVPs of the 21st century. In all fairness, 2007 A-Rod would have been insane with or without steroids. You cannot just hit 54 dingers and drive in 156 runs without some skills. Stealing 24 bases that season was also impressive, which helped him rise up the rankings to #2 in BsR. Unfortunately, his defense took a slide as he was slightly below average coming in with a -.5 DEF score which ranked 12th in these rankings. Even though A-Rod cheated his way to success in baseball, you have to respect his REAL game: the guy pulled J-Lo with ease.

#1 Mookie Betts 2018~ MVP Score: 12

  • WAR Rank: 1st
  • wRC+: 2nd
  • wOBA: 3rd
  • DEF: 3rd
  • BsR: 3rd

The best AL MVP of the 21st century according to my MVP score is the most recent MVP: Mookie Betts. Mookie was flat out amazing in all aspects of the game. Hitting .346 with 32 home runs and 80 RBIs is clearly impressive, but not necessarily jaw dropping. However, when you realize he did that while stealing 30 bases, and playing elite defense that led to a 3rd place finish in DEF, you can see why his MVP score was so great. Mook placed top 3 in every category. His WAR of 10.4 was the best out of any other MVP. His wRC+ of 185 was second only to mighty Miggy. All in all, Mook was the driving force behind Boston’s 2018 World Series title. He and JD Martinez carried an elite team that was constructed oh so well by the recently fired Dave Dombroswki. Too bad Boston could not sneak into the playoffs this year.

MVP Score                                                               WAR

mook 2018 mook 2018
arod 2007 arod 2007
trout2016 trout2016
hamilton 2010 arod 2003
arod 2003 arod 2005
miggy2013 miggy2013
arod 2005 hamilton 2010
giambi 2000 donaldson2015
donaldson2015 trout2014
mauer 2009 giambi 2000
trout2014 mauer 2009
altuve2017 altuve2017
Pedroia 2008 miggy2012
ichiro 2001 Pedroia 2008
miggy2012 ichiro 2001
vlad2004 vlad2004
Justin morneau 2006 tejada 2002
tejada 2002 justin morneau 2006

AL and NL final rankings combined

Player WAR WAR rank wRC+ wRC+ rank wOBA wOBA rank DEF DEF rank BsR BsR rank MVP Score MVP Rank
mook 2018 10.4 4 185 7 0.449 9 11.6 4 6.9 5 29 1
bonds2003 10.2 6 212 4 0.503 4 5.6 10 0.7 21 45 2
Bonds 2002 12.7 1 244 1 0.544 1 -2 22 -1.2 26 51 3
arod 2007 9.6 8 175 11 0.445 11 -0.5 20 7.7 3 53 4
bonds2001 12.5 2 235 2 0.537 2 -12 33 1.3 19 58 5
bonds2004 11.9 3 233 3 0.537 3 -4.4 24 -0.3 25 58 6
trout2016 9.6 7 170 16 0.418 21 4.3 13 9.6 2 59 7
hamilton 2010 8.4 15 175 12 0.445 12 5.9 9 4.9 11 59 8
bryce2015 9.3 9 197 5 0.461 6 -10.2 31 3.6 16 67 9
pujos2008 8.7 12 184 8 0.459 7 -1 21 -0.2 23 71 10
arod 2005 9.1 11 174 13 0.436 15 -0.2 19 2.2 18 76 11
arod 2003 9.2 10 151 30 0.416 23 18.2 2 4.3 13 78 12
miggy2013 8.6 13 193 6 0.455 8 -4 23 -6 34 84 13
Posey 2012 10.4 5 164 22 0.406 26 38.7 1 -4.6 32 86 14
Pujos 2009 8.4 16 180 10 0.447 10 1.6 15 -8.8 36 87 15
Donaldson 2015 8.4 14 154 28 0.398 29 10.1 5 4 14 90 16
giambi 2000 7.7 20 183 9 0.471 5 -15.7 35 0.5 22 91 17
Bryant 2016 7.8 19 148 31 0.396 30 6.3 8 7.1 4 92 18
Cutch 2013 8.1 18 156 27 0.393 31 5.5 11 6.4 6 93 19
mauer 2009 7.6 23 170 17 0.438 14 4.6 12 -2.1 29 95 20
Trout 2014 8.3 17 167 18 0.402 28 -4.5 25 6.2 8 96 21
Pujos 2005 7.7 21 167 19 0.432 17 -9.9 28 4.9 12 97 22
Yelich 2018 7.6 24 166 20 0.422 20 -5.1 26 5.8 9 99 23
Braun 2011 7.1 28 171 15 0.426 19 -10.5 32 6.3 7 101 24
Altuve 2017 7.6 22 160 24 0.405 27 0.8 17 4 15 105 25
Votto 2010 6.9 29 172 14 0.438 13 -10.1 30 1.1 20 106 26
Rollins 2007 6.5 30 119 36 0.371 35 10 6 11.8 1 108 27
Kent 2000 7.4 25 159 25 0.431 18 2.4 14 -1.6 27 109 28
Pedroia 2008 6.3 31 127 34 0.377 33 12.1 3 2.3 17 118 29
ichiro 2001 6 32 124 35 0.36 36 7.8 7 5.1 10 120 30
Stanton 2017 7.3 26 159 26 0.41 25 1.1 16 -2.3 30 123 31
Miggy 2012 7.2 27 166 21 0.417 22 -0.1 18 -7.5 35 123 32
Howard 2006 5.9 34 162 23 0.436 16 -17.5 36 -1.8 28 137 33
Vlad 2004 5.9 33 154 29 0.411 24 -10 29 -0.2 24 139 34
Tejada 2002 4.5 35 129 33 0.371 34 -8.8 27 -5.5 33 162 35
Morneau 2006 3.8 36 138 32 0.39 32 -12.3 34 -3.9 31 165 36

This concludes the MVP rankings series! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing. It still shocks me that Mookie Betts is the best MVP in these rankings. He edged out the legendary Barry Bonds home run era, triple crown Miggy (how is he ranked 32 :(), and even the possible GOAT Mike Trout. Please comment if you’d like to see these rankings for the all-time MVPs since 1901. It would take a while, but if you guys will read it, I will do it.



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