MLB‘s rightful MVPs don’t always receive the hardware.

The writers voting for the recipients are smarter than ever, though. Those tasked with choosing this year’s most valuable performers appreciate analytics more than they did 10 years ago, when Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard won over the more deserving Grady Sizemore and Albert Pujols, respectively.

Back then, batting average, home runs and RBI towered above all other numbers in significance. Now an intelligent baseball observer knows that plate discipline, gap power, baserunning and defense all matter as well.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t necessarily mean the guy with the best WAR will win. Voters are still suckers for a good narrative, which almost always must involve a playoff bid. As a result, the game’s premier superstar may again pay the price for his peers’ failures.

Let’s take a look at who should and who will win the MVP awards in both leagues.


National League

Who Should Win: Kris Bryant

The National League is nice and easy: Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant is the clear choice, so let’s not overthink this.

No, this is not getting swept up in Cubs fever. Don’t accuse writers of any such recency bias if he wins, as they submitted their ballots before the postseason. Instead of giving the third baseman bonus points for helping break a 108-year title drought, they’ll award him extra credit for being the NL’s best player on a 103-win squad.

Bryant comfortably led the NL in WAR on both FanGraphs and He also scored an NL-best 121 runs while blasting 39 long balls. Having batted .292/.385/.554 with strong defensive contributions, Bryant has no holes in his portfolio.

Two possible competitors stand in his way.

Daniel Murphy wielded a superior .347/.390/.595 slash line for the NL East-winning Washington Nationals, but he was also a subpar defensive second baseman who played 142 games, 13 less than Bryant.

Corey Seager, an NL Rookie of the Year lock, is an interesting choice. The Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 homers and 105 runs scored. For all of the talk about the 6’4″ youngster needing to change positions one day, he waved off that concern with stellar defense at a premium position.

Despite Seager‘s excellent first year,’s Jonah Keri argued that Bryant played better across the board:

Bryant’s [bat] was just a little better, even after adjusting for the offensive gap between Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium. Seager helped his team on the basepaths … but Bryant was, by advanced metrics, the third-most valuable baserunner in the entire league, despite swiping a relatively modest eight bases. And while Seager‘s solid defense at short is a major asset, Bryant displaying above-average glovework at third while also playing plus D in left and right field makes him the kind of invaluably versatile player the Cubs crave.

Offensively, the 22-year-old lags behind Bryant, Murphy and a handful of other second-tier candidates on lesser teams (Joey Votto, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt). It’s unfair to penalize him for receiving less run-producing opportunities in the No. 2 slot, but Seager‘s 72 RBI will likely cost him some votes.

There’s no shame in saying a rookie should finish second on the MVP ballot, especially with a second-year stud like Bryant in the top spot.


Who Will Win: Kris Bryant

Bryant offers the best of all worlds. He registered gaudy counting numbers on baseball’s best team while running the bases and fielding well. Every voter will find something to like.

The only possible case to levy against Bryant is this: The Cubs were too good to consider him the most valuable. They won the division by 17.5 games and have another star slugger, Anthony Rizzo, across the diamond, so they conceivably could have still claimed the NL Central with a mediocre third baseman filling Bryant’s shoes.

This is an even bigger reach than punishing a superstar on a subpar team. Bryant was the league’s best player, and he contributed a great deal of value to an amazing club. Why complicate a simple decision?  

Seager doesn’t have enough offensive merits. Murphy’s defense will cost him, although it may have been a different story if he had crushed 36 homers instead of 25.

Had Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw not missed more than two months with a back injury, he would have made things interesting. If he had maintained a 1.69 ERA and 15.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 30-plus starts, how could voters not have given him the nod?

Since the Dodgers ace was limited to 21 starts, Bryant will run away with the hardware.


American League

Who Should Win: Mike Trout

Once again, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. If writers didn’t attribute his team’s shortcomings to diminished individual value, the superstar would be in line to win his fifth straight AL MVP trophy.

The 25-year-old has finished every season of his remarkable career first in both FanGraphs‘ and‘s AL WAR calculations. Even in 2016’s crowded field, he handily led the way on both sites:

By Trout’s standards, it was merely another ordinary season. His .550 slugging percentage represents the worst mark of his career, and defensive metrics no longer support his status as a supreme center fielder.

He did, however, hit .315 with a career-high .441 on-base percentage. Only six other players in MLB reached base at a clip of .400 or higher, and the Angels stud can thank an AL-best 17.0 walk percentage that ranked second in the bigs behind Bryce Harper’s 17.2 percent.

Trout is the best player in baseball. This is not up for debate.

Yet writers are too busy conjuring different meanings of “value” to make their jobs easier. Because of this flawed logic, Trout won his only MVP trophy during the worst season of his career.

In September, teammate Tyler Skaggs discussed the perceived correlation between value and team success with’s Jerry Crasnick

If we’re in first place, this guy is literally on the top of everybody’s MVP charts. Very rarely do you see a guy win the MVP who’s on a last-place team that’s 20 games out in the division. But at the same time, would they be 50 games out in the division if he’s not on the team? There’s something to be said about that.

If the Angels had a deeper lineup and any pitching, Trout would receive the recognition he deserves. But they squandered their superstar’s season with a meandering 74-88 record.

At least there’s no Triple Crown winner, like Miguel Cabrera in 2012, blocking his path, but a handful of candidates will make a case for the award.


Who Will Win: Mookie Betts

If not Trout, who? Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado and David Ortiz will all earn votes. That’s not even mentioning Adrian Beltre, Cabrera and Robinson Cano.

Ortiz has an MLB-best 1.021 OPS and the allure of a feel-good sendoff fueling his candidacy, but serving as a designated hitter stymies his overall worth. Lindor would have had a better case if writers submitted their ballots after the postseason, but his case conversely relies too heavily on defense to win the popular vote.

Donaldson matched Machado‘s 37 homers with an OPS that was 77 percentage points higher. That narrows down the final four to Altuve, Betts, Donaldson and Trout, who already has three runner-up finishes.

This year, Trout could settle for No. 3 or 4.

According to Odds Shark, the 5’6″ Altuve stood tall as the AL MVP favorite to start September. He then closed the season by hitting .276/.328/.371, and the Houston Astros fell short of a playoff berth. 

Even an old-school writer should now comprehend the vast universe beyond batting average, so the second baseman’s AL-best .338 clip won’t overcome a rocky finish.

That could leave Donaldson to edge out Trout for the second straight season. The Toronto Blue Jays third baseman notched a higher OPS this season (.953) than in his award-winning 2015 campaign (.939) while scoring an identical 122 runs.

Some other dips, however, may cost him. His batting average fell from .297 to .284, and his RBI count decayed from 123 to 99. While those stats are overrated, many writers who overrate them still have votes. The more analytically inclined scribes will note a decrease in defensive runs saved from 11 to two.

And then there was one.

Betts had a season fantasy baseball gamers can usually only dream about, batting .318 with 31 home runs, 26 stolen bases, 122 runs and 113 RBI. The Gold Glove finalist also accounted for more DRS (32) than anyone in baseball by a wide margin:

He played a pivotal role in the Boston Red Sox’s first-place finish in the AL East with 93 wins. As long as Ortiz doesn’t take too many votes away, Betts looks like the probable choice.


Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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