The 2018 season is finally in the rearview mirror, which means that it is time to bestow accolades upon the best players in Major League Baseball.
At Beyond The Box Score, we will be voting on five awards: MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, and Reliever of the Year.
Today, we begin with the American and National League MVPs.
American League MVP: Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox
Betts is the no-brainer pick here, sweeping the votes of the Beyond The Box Score staff to win unanimously, and deservedly so.
With 10.4 fWAR this season, Betts posted the highest single-season fWAR by a position player since 2004, when Barry Bonds was worth 11.9 wins above replacement.
Betts slashed .346/.430/.640 over 614 plate appearances in 136 games; his 185 wRC+ was the second-highest in baseball (only behind Mike Trout’s 191 mark), and his 11.6 defensive runs above average tied him for eighth-highest. Betts also ranked in the top 10 in base running runs above average, putting up 6.9 runs to rank 8th. There was not a more complete player in baseball this year than Mookie Betts.
With a near-certain MVP award this season, Betts is building a resume as one of the best players of this decade. Since 2015, Betts has ranked second in baseball in fWAR with 28.7 total wins above replacement. Only Mike Trout — who is an incredible 6.9 wins above him in that stretch — has been better.
Luckily for the newly-minted champion Red Sox, the 26-year-old Betts is still under contract through the 2020 season, giving them at least two more opportunities to win a second World Series with one of the best players in baseball still in the fold.
National League MVP: Christian Yelich, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
While choosing Betts as our American League MVP was easy for the Beyond The Box Score voters, picking our National League MVP was not. Yelich took home the award over Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom by a single vote.
Yelich wasn’t even on the MVP radar pre-All-Star break, despite hitting relatively well in a weak crowd of NL candidates. But, after a torrid second half in which he was worth 5.4 fWAR alone, he became the favorite to take home the hardware. During the second half, Yelich hit .367/.449/.770 with 25 home runs, 67 RBIs and a 220 wRC+, helping to carry the Brewers to the NL Central division crown and to the NLCS.
As a result of this second half performance, Yelich easily posted the top position player fWAR in the National League with 7.6 total wins above replacement, beating out Anthony Rendon by 1.3 wins.
The Yelich-deGrom debate for MVP is much more interesting, however. deGrom, behind his 1.70 ERA and 1.99 FIP over 217 innings, was worth 8.8 fWAR. This easily surpasses Yelich’s mark by a solid 1.2 wins.
The case for choosing a pitcher over a position player for MVP is an interesting one. It has happened twice in recent years, with Justin Verlander winning the AL MVP in 2011 and Clayton Kershaw winning the NL MVP in 2014. Some see choosing a pitcher for MVP as counterintuitive, as they have their own award, while others believe that the MVP award should go to the player (pitcher or otherwise) who was truly the most valuable. In this case, at least by fWAR, that would be deGrom.
None of this should detract from the phenomenal season Yelich posted. He put up a .326/.402/.598 line this season over 651 plate appearances, while playing average outfield defense and running the bases well. He was quite the offseason pickup for the Brewers, who traded for him from the Marlins to upgrade their outfield.
And what an upgrade he was.
Check back tomorrow for the announcement of Beyond The Box Score’s Cy Young award picks, with a clear favorite in the National League and a three-headed race in the American.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.