Opening Day for Major League Baseball is quickly approaching! The 2018 season was an entertaining and dramatic one with the Boston Red Sox capturing another World Series title. Along the way, superstar outfielder Mookie Betts captured his first MVP award.
Repeating as MVP will be a tough task for Betts but not because of his abilities. Betts will likely have another fantastic all-around season. However, the field around him is loaded with talent.
2019 AL MVP Candidates
No. 1 – Mike Trout
Let’s get the obvious choice out of the way. Betts may have captured the MVP in 2018, but Trout was the only other player in the American League to eclipse 10 WAR with 10.2. He has posted five seasons with at least nine WAR and three of those were worth 10+. Additionally, Trout’s worst finish in MVP voting since 2012 is fourth. In the past seven seasons, Trout has won two MVP awards and finished second in voting four times.
The scary part is that Trout set career-high marks in a number of areas in 2018. His 122 walks, .460 OBP, and 1.088 OPS were his best yet. The only player capable of beating Trout in the vote last year was Betts, likely in large part due to the success of the Red Sox. Expect both outfielders to battle it out once again for the MVP.
No. 2 – Mookie Betts
After back-to-back top-10 MVP finishes, Betts finally broke through and captured the award in 2018. He did so after leading MLB in batting average (.346), slugging percentage (.640), and runs scored (129). Betts also contributed a 30-30 season with 32 home runs and 30 steals and was one of three players to finish in the top five for batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage in the AL. (Trout and J.D. Martinez were the others.)
Rest assured, the success of the Red Sox was a big boost to Betts’ candidacy, but his fantastic season was no flash in the pan. His 10.9 WAR was tops in MLB and was his second season with at least 9.7 WAR. A plus defender and multifaceted offensive talent, Betts will continue to get plenty of chances in the spotlight with Boston.
No. 3 – Justin Verlander
A pitcher winning the MVP is a rarity in the modern era of baseball. However, Verlander already has the distinction of being one of two pitchers to win an MVP since Dennis Eckersley did so in 1992. (Clayton Kershaw is the other.) A few pitchers every year seem to make a run at the MVP, and Verlander appears primed for a shot at the award in 2019.
Verlander revived his career over the past year and a half in Houston, including a phenomenal performance in 2018. He posted a 2.52 ERA and 16-9 record over 34 starts with an AL-best 290 strikeouts. The one area Verlander would really need to improve to push for the MVP in 2019 is his win total. While it has been proven that wins are not a great indicator of pitcher performance, both Verlander and Kershaw were 20-game winners when they captured their respective MVP awards. Pitching for the Astros should help Verlander in that area. If he can put up a 20-win, 300-strikeout season with a sub-3.00 ERA, Verlander would command plenty of attention in the MVP race.
No. 4 – Alex Bregman
Bregman has been on a steady rise over his first few seasons in MLB, and he now borders on superstar status after an impressive 2018 campaign. He finished fifth in MVP voting after posting a .926 OPS with 31 home runs, 105 runs scored, and an MLB leading 51 doubles. He also rarely strikeouts after walking 96 times to just 85 punch outs.
To be fair, Bregman does need to prove there is still untapped growth after his 6.9 WAR season. But there is no denying his power is for real, and it is complemented by his impressive patience and approach at the plate. Bregman should also get plenty of chances to drive runs in while batting in the middle of Houston’s stacked lineup.
Others to Watch
Chapman is the typical underrated superstar for the Oakland A’s. His 8.2 WAR in 2018 was third-best in the AL while hitting 24 home runs, 42 doubles, and scoring 100 runs.
Judge was limited to just 112 games in 2018 after his second-place MVP finish in 2017. If healthy for a full season, Judge will likely be back in the MVP conversation. Playing in New York doesn’t hurt.
Lindor is arguably the best all-around shortstop in MLB today. He put up a 35-25 season in 2018 with 38 home runs and 25 steals while playing exceptional defense. Unfortunately, a calf injury could keep Lindor on the IL to start the season.
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