Major League Baseball's MVP WAR: Counting Down the Top Ten
I will assume everyone understands what MVP means, and go straight into the explanation of WAR.
It stands for “Wins Above Replacement,” and it calculates how many more wins a player has earned his team than a replacement level player would have. It factors in offense, defense and base running and is becoming more widely accepted as a great way to measure the value of players.
Here is the current MVP ballot if WAR was the primary way of handing out the award. I should warn you now; there are quite a few surprises.
#10. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves (3.2 Wins Above Replacement)
Really, Martin Prado… REALLY!?!? Yes, really.
Remember, WAR calculates the worth of a player both offensively and defensively, and Prado is the 2nd most valuable defensive player on this list.
He’s played 2nd base, 3rd base and left field this season, has managed to hit .315 while sliding all over the diamond and has been very solid at all three positions.
I can’t sit here and rattle off impressive offensive numbers to win you over, I can merely tell you to watch the Braves play and pay attention to how annoyed the opposing team gets with Prado.
He’s a pest and a nuisance that also happens to be playing at an all-star level. Basically, he’s any old school manager’s dream, and he has earned his way onto this list.
#9. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies (3.4 WAR)
Normally catchers provide an unseen value to their team that often can’t be quantified, but Carlos Ruiz’s triple slash line of .348/.418/.560 has made it much easier for us to see how good he’s been this year.
On a team that has been scoring runs like most soccer teams score goals, Ruiz has kept the Phillies offensive ship afloat while Howard and Utley get healthy.
Trying to explain just how valuable Ruiz is behind the plate would take all day, so I’m just going to ask that you trust me when I say he’s been one of the three best catchers in the league, so we can move on.
#8. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers (3.4 WAR)
After one of the craziest two month stretches in baseball history that included a four home run game, Hamilton was been an absolute disaster in June.
For the month, he’s hitting .194 with a .275 OBP, 20 more strikeouts than RBIs and one measly home run. Even with the wasted month, he’s still hitting .319 on the season, leading the world in RBIs and is third in home runs.
What Hamilton did those first two months is why he’s on this list, but logic would say that he’s going to become a monster at the plate again; he’s going to flirt with another AL MVP award.
He’s just too talented to be as bad as he’s been in June.
#7. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (3.4 WAR)
It feels like we’ve been waiting as long for Adam Jones to make the leap to super-stardom as we have for Zach Braff’s movie career to take off, but at least ONE of these things is happening.
Jones is still only 26. Having to overcome the terrible culture that is the Baltimore Orioles organization may have delayed the process a few years, but he’s finally become one the premiere five-tool players in the league.
He’s hitting .300 on the year with 19 home runs, is on pace for 15+ steals and plays a solid center field. More importantly however, he’s been the main cog in a young nucleus that has put a stop to the Orioles from being the laughing stock of baseball.
I don’t know if this team is going to hold on and make the playoffs, but I know that if they are able to do so, Adam Jones is going to be the main reason why.
#6. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (3.5 WAR)
As a former left-handed baseball player, there are exactly two hitters whose swings I have been jealous of in my lifetime: Ken Griffey Jr. and Robinson Cano.
He may have the quickest hands in the league, and the power he generates from those hands is incredible. Currently, he is second in runs scored, sixth in hits, fourth in doubles, and tenth in home runs in the American League.
He is no longer a product of a really good Yankees lineup, but rather the primary reason the Yankees lineup is so dangerous. With a roster filled with aging veterans, Cano is the most important player for New York going forward.
If he continues to swing the bat like he has and play Gold Glove worthy defense, he’s going to be worth $20 million/year to the Bronx Bombers. As for right now, he’s the second most valuable player in the American League.
#5. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (3.7 WAR)
The fact that Trout is in the top five on the list (and No. 1 in the American League) is insane considering he’s only played 51 games this year.
He’s very similar to Michael Bourn in that much of his value is generated from his speed and defense, but he’s even scarier than Bourn on the base paths; Trout actually has more steals this season.
On April 27th, the Angels were 6-14, and everyone in Anaheim was freaking out. Trout’s first major league game was the following day on April 28th. Since then, L.A. is 15 games over .500 and has the fourth best record in the American League.
They are still five games behind the Rangers for the division leader, and if they lose the AL West by a game or two, somebody should lose their job because they didn’t have Trout in the Majors from Opening Day.
But the Halos have found their star center fielder, and the guy can’t even legally drink a beer for two more months.
#4. Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves (3.8 WAR)
If I hadn't teased it on the last slide, I'd imagine most people would have been shocked to see Michael Bourn on here.
While Bourn is rarely mentioned as one of the best defensive center fielders in the league, advanced metrics show he’s the best. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know the guy can fly and gets to a ton of balls in the alleys that other outfielders would watch fall.
Also, of the ten players on this list, he’s by far the most valuable player on the bases. He’s third in stolen bases this year, and nobody has had more stolen bases over the last three seasons than Bourn (since 2010, he has 52 more than second).
In a league that has seen its power hitters disappear, taking the extra base has become even more important, and Bourn’s ability to do that, essentially anytime he wants, is the primary reason he’s No. 4 on this list.
Of course, the .311 average and being in the top ten in runs scored don’t hurt either.
#3. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers (4.3 WAR)
The reigning National League MVP is having a better year this season than last, but nobody really wants to talk about the numbers.
It’s more fun to talk about the failed drug test and the questionable (at best) explanation for the victorious appeal, but the reality is that he’s the best right-handed hitter in the game right now, and he’s been even better without Prince Fielder behind him.
I don’t know if he took steroids in 2011, but I know that he’d have to be the dumbest guy on the planet to be taking them this year, which means he really is as good as his MVP award would indicate.
Barring injury, he’s going to finish the season near the top in most offensive categories, and watching the Baseball Writers squirm over whether or not to give him MVP votes is going to be fantastic.
#2. David Wright, New York Mets (4.4 WAR)
What a difference a year makes. He’s hitting 94 points better than 2011, already has more doubles and he’s walked five more times than he’s struck out (2011: 52 walks, 97 strikeouts).
Wright has always been capable of being the best player on the planet, but injuries and playing for a team that’s shadier than your cousin, who always wants to be the banker in Monopoly, has made us forget about just how good he can be.
The Mets have been one of the biggest surprises in the league this year, and while I expect them to eventually fade into the shadows, I’m confident that Wright will continue his great year and continue to remind us why he’s always belonged in the “Elite Player” conversation.
#1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (4.9 WAR)
Joey Votto is the National League MVP right now. Whether or not things stay that way remain to be seen obviously.
But Votto has the Reds in first in the NL Central, gets on base more often than any player in the league and is also leading in slugging percentage. He’s never going to be great defensively, but he is serviceable; when he’s mashing like this, you can live with a few seeing-eye singles getting through the right side.
Right now, he is both the stat nerd’s and old-fashioned Baseball Writer’s MVP, and anyone would be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.