Now that the MLB regular season is officially over, the debate of who should be the American League MVP can finally be put to rest. Sorry Yankees fans, but it’s still not D.J. LeMahieu.
When I wrote my first column on who should be the AL MVP over a month ago, it turned into the article with the most traction of anything I’ve written for The Daily Campus. I’m talking comments galore and even a couple of emails from people giving me a piece of their mind. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t even know that many people read what I write, so even if the comments and emails were – cough cough – not very positive, I still appreciate the read.
I argued for Los Angeles Angeles outfielder Mike Trout as the clear choice. Then, just over a week later, he went down with a foot injury that ended his season, stopping what could have been a historic year just short of its potential. Still, with a slash line of .291/.438/.645, 45 home runs and 104 RBI, he still should at least be in consideration. However, with just 134 games played, it’s hard to give him my (imaginary) vote, even though he is No. 2 in the AL in WAR (via Baseball-Reference, which is what will be used for the whole article).
If it’s not Trout, then the award has to default to LeMahieu, right? Well, that’s where you are wrong, so let’s work our way through it. To the comments section: It’s time for me to double-down.
Generally, there are two trains of thought on who should win the MVP award, and this goes across all sports. People either think that it should go to the best player in the league regardless of team success (which is what I subscribe to), or people think it should go to the player who did the most to help their team win through the season. So let’s go through who should win the award using both thought processes.
Let’s start with the best player in the AL, who, after Trout went down, is undisputedly Alex Bregman. The Houston Astros’ third baseman hit .296/.423/.592 this season with 41 home runs, 112 RBI and 122 runs scored. He leads the AL with a WAR of 8.4, is first in runs created with 150 and is second to only Trout in OPS. He was simply the best player in the league, and if you think that’s who the MVP should be, vote for Bregman.
“But wait! The award clearly says it’s the most VALUABLE player award, not the best player award!” Don’t worry, that’s up next.
While Bregman arguably could also apply to this rule, seeing as he is the best player on the best team, the Astros could likely still win over 100 games without him; they’re that good. People who argue this side of the MVP debate usually say the award should go to someone who not only made the playoffs but is the main reason his team did so. If that player was not there, the team likely would not make the postseason.
Well, the player who falls directly under that bubble is … Marcus Semien! The Oakland Athletics shortstop started 162 of 162 possible games this season, hitting .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs, 92 RBI and 123 runs scored in 747 plate appearances, the most in the MLB. Semien was also third in the AL in WAR with 8.1, behind only Trout and Bregman. The A’s finished the 2019 season with a record of 97-65 and will host the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card round.
One could easily make the argument that without Semien, who was clearly the A’s best player, Oakland would not make the playoffs. They finished just four games ahead of the Cleveland Indians, so if they didn’t have their star shortstop, they easily could have lost five more games.
Semien checks all the boxes: His team made the playoffs, he was the main reason why and he had an overall excellent season. The only problem? He’s in Oakland, not New York.
D.J. LeMahieu is in New York, the biggest market in professional sports. Not only that, but he’s on arguably the biggest franchise in the entire world, the New York Yankees, challenged only by the Dallas Cowboys, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Naturally, he’s getting the most spotlight, but let’s look at it objectively.
LeMahieu had a great season, finishing the year hitting .327/.375/.518 with 26 home runs, 102 RBI and 109 runs scored. The Yankees won 103 games and cruised to a division title, never really being challenged by the Rays or the hungover Boston Red Sox.
But would the Yankees fall into the abyss without him? There’s no shot. Sure, they had to deal with a multitude of injuries this season, but they still got outstanding production out of the people they had fill in, including Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin and cult-hero Mike Tauchman, all players who up until this year had been nothing more than average if not downright bad (like Tauchman). They still had plenty of pieces to make it to the playoffs, and there’s no way that if LeMahieu wasn’t there that they’d fall out of postseason contention. The Yankees are so deep that if LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez all missed the entire season they probably still could have been at least a Wild Card team.
What are the other arguments for LeMahieu? Well, a popular one is that LeMahieu was doing all of his damage from the leadoff spot and that putting up the offensive numbers he did when he had the bottom of the order hitting ahead of him is more impressive than doing so from the three-hole. However, that did not necessarily have a negative effect on him. Throughout the season, non-pitchers for the Yankees hitting from No. 7 – 9 in the batting order hit .278/.345/.486. The OPS of those hitters was actually better than the OPS of the No. 3 – 6 hitters in the Yankees order, .831 to .801.
The only team in the MLB whose non-pitchers hitting from No. 7 – 9 in the order had a higher OPS than the Yankees’ were the Twins’ at .834, and there was no other team in the MLB who had one of even .800. An .831 OPS from the entire team would be the third-best in the MLB (after the Astros and Twins), and the Yankees are getting that production from the bottom of their order. The Yankees clearly had no trouble setting the table for LeMahieu, even if he was only driving in the lowly 7 – 9 hitters.
Not only that, but Semien also hits leadoff for his team, and put up very comparable numbers. For him, the No. 7 – 9 hitters in the A’s order (non-pitchers) hit .234/.296/.409, making their OPS over 100 points lower than the people hitting in front of LeMahieu, more than accounting for the 10 RBI difference between them. If anything, the 92 from Semien is more impressive than the 102 from LeMahieu.
People also like to say that LeMahieu also has the ability to play all over the diamond, seeing as he started over 25 games at three different positions. Although this is impressive, it really shouldn’t carry any weight in the MVP discussion. Besides, I could probably make the argument that since Semien plays shortstop, a position that’s historically not known for outstanding offensive production, that having him put up those numbers from shortstop is just as “valuable” if not more than LeMahieu doing so from first base, second base and third base. Should it factor in? No, but if an argument is going to be made for LeMahieu’s position, I’ll make it for Semien.
If you really care about defensive flexibility and aren’t just using it to give LeMahieu the MVP, then look at Bregman, who started 59 games at shortstop this season even though he is usually the Astros’ everyday third baseman. In fact, Bregman was drafted as a shortstop, making him primarily playing the hot-corner all that more impressive. Like Bregman, LeMahieu started 45-plus games at two positions (2B & 3B), with the only difference being 28 starts at first base, a position that can be played by the now essentially immobile Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols and one that the likes of David Ortiz and Prince Fielder used to patrol. If 28 starts at THAT position is the difference-maker for MVP, then there really is no convincing you. Again, I don’t think this should factor into the MVP race, but if it is going to, there’s a very good counter-argument.
I’m not taking anything away from LeMahieu, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He’s having one hell of a season and it should be acknowledged. But he’s not the MVP.
Personally, I would cast my first-place vote for Bregman, second-place vote for Semien and third-place vote for Trout. LeMahieu would fall somewhere in the No. 4 – 7 range, alongside Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and George Springer, in no particular order (a lot of Astros, I know, but c’mon look at their seasons).
If the arguments for LeMahieu are his spot in the batting order and defensive position versatility, you’ve already lost. Statistically, he doesn’t stack up, which is why it’s no surprise he’s tied for No. 19 in the MLB in WAR at 6.0, and Bregman, Trout and Semien are No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 respectively (No. 1 in the MLB is Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers).
Good season? Yes, but there were plenty better. Let’s not be blinded by the bright lights of New York City and give D.J. LeMahieu the MVP just because he’s a Yankee.
He’s not the best overall player or the best player on the best team; that’s Alex Bregman. He’s also not the player who has the biggest impact on his team making the playoffs; that’s Marcus Semien. LeMahieu is not the American League MVP, no matter how you choose to look at the award.
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31