Power Ranking Every AL MVP Season Since 2000

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMay 21, 2020

Power Ranking Every AL MVP Season Since 2000

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    Which of Mike Trout's three MVP seasons is the best?
    Which of Mike Trout's three MVP seasons is the best?Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Since it's still no sure thing that there will be a Major League Baseball season in 2020, history will have to serve as the basis for any and all MVP discussions.

    So, what the heck. Let's rank the American League MVPs.

    Not all of them, mind you. We figured it would be good enough if we ranked just the AL MVP seasons since 2000 from worst to best. We naturally weighed how well players' numbers hold up, though we also considered how their performances impacted their teams.

    Let's take it away.

20. Justin Morneau in 2006

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    JOSEPH OLIVER/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 157 G, 661 PA, .321 AVG, .375 OBP, .559 SLG, 140 OPS+, 34 HR, 130 RBI

    WAR: 4.3

    The 2006 season was a watershed event for Justin Morneau, who set numerous career highs and helped lead the Minnesota Twins to their first 96-win campaign since 1970.

    But was he really the most valuable player in the American League that year?

    Even setting aside that it wasn't close by WAR, it's odd that the AL MVP went to a player whose only league-leading figure was his 11 sacrifice flies. And while Morneau definitely hit well in the clutch in '06, he didn't give himself a traditional MVP-winning boost with hot hitting in August and September.

    It's a wonder that the '06 AL MVP didn't go to Derek Jeter, David Ortiz or even one of Morneau's teammates. To wit, Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana lapped the field with 7.6 WAR.

19. Miguel Tejada in 2002

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    PAUL BUCK/Getty Images

    Key Stats: 162 G, 715 PA, .308 AVG, .354 OBP, .508 SLG, 128 OPS+, 34 HR, 131 RBI

    WAR: 5.7

    Contrary to what the film Moneyball would lead one to believe, the 2002 Oakland Athletics had more than just Scott Hatteberg going for them.

    For instance, Miguel Tejada rode what was then the best season of his career to the MVP that year. Nary a number he had wasn't a new personal best. He also hit 19 of his home runs in the second half, and his best hitting was generally done in high-leverage situations.

    This was in service to an A's club that, despite losing 2000 AL MVP Jason Giambi to free agency, famously won 20 games in a row and finished with 103 wins. To this extent, honoring Tejada was more or less the voters' way of honoring the A's for blowing away expectations.

    Still, a handful of guys had better seasons than Tejada in 2002. The best belonged to Alex Rodriguez, who clubbed 57 home runs with 8.8 WAR for the Texas Rangers.

18. Vladimir Guerrero in 2004

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    MARK J. TERRILL/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 156 G, 680 PA, .337 AVG, .391 OBP, .598 SLG, 157 OPS+, 39 HR, 15 SB, 126 RBI

    WAR: 5.6

    The 2004 season was the first of Vladimir Guerrero's five-year, $70 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Boy, did he ever deliver.

    In addition to his stellar baseline numbers, Guerrero led the American League with 366 total bases and 124 runs scored. He was also clutch when the Angels needed him to be, as his 1.150 OPS and 11 home runs in September helped them come from behind to clinch the AL West title.

    To be sure, Guerrero wasn't necessarily the top player in the American League in '04. That was one-time MVP Ichiro Suzuki, who put up 9.2 WAR on the strength of Gold Glove defense and, oh yeah, a record 262 hits.

    Guerrero nonetheless had a terrific season that truly mattered for the Angels. So as narrative-based MVPs go, this one's pretty good.

17. Dustin Pedroia in 2008

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 157 G, 726 PA, .326 AVG, .376 OBP, .493 SLG, 123 OPS+, 17 HR, 20 SB, 83 RBI

    WAR: 6.9

    After winning the AL Rookie of the Year in 2007, Dustin Pedroia subsequently staked his claim to superstardom in 2008.

    Beyond just hitting .326, he also earned his Silver Slugger by leading or co-leading the American League in hits, doubles and runs scored. He also truly deserved his Gold Glove by way of his excellent defensive ratings at second base.

    But as much as anything, it was probably Pedroia's clutch hitting that swayed MVP voters. He hit .353 with a .995 OPS in August and September, which ultimately helped the Boston Red Sox wrap up a wild-card berth.

    Though Nick Markakis led the AL with 7.4 WAR in 2008, Pedroia's outstanding all-around play and the circumstances surrounding it justify his MVP even in hindsight.

16. Josh Donaldson in 2015

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 158 G, 711 PA, .297 AVG, .371 OBP, .568 SLG, 151 OPS+, 41 HR, 123 RBI

    WAR: 7.1

    Josh Donaldson was something of a well-kept secret when the Toronto Blue Jays acquired him from Oakland in November 2014. But not for long.

    Save for his 7.1 WAR, Donaldson set career highs pretty much across the board in 2015. He also led the American League in some key departments, including RBI, runs scored and total bases.

    There was also a clutch component to Donaldson's '15 campaign. He dominated the second half to the tune of a 1.011 OPS and owned high-leverage situations with a 1.150 OPS. Such things helped push the Blue Jays to their first AL East title since 1993.

    WAR-wise, neither Donaldson nor anyone else in the American League could touch Mike Trout in 2015. But otherwise, Donaldson's 2015 season offers everything you could want in an MVP-winning performance.

15. Jose Altuve in 2017

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 153 G, 662 PA, .346 AVG, .410 OBP, .547 SLG, 160 OPS+, 24 HR, 32 SB, 81 RBI

    WAR: 7.6

    Though any mention of the 2017 Houston Astros is sure to draw a certain amount of ire, Jose Altuve purportedly didn't need any help from the club's banging scheme to win the MVP that year.

    He led the American League in hits and average, the latter of which also marked a new personal high. Factor in his good balance of power and speed and what were, by his standards, pretty good defensive metrics, and you get a pretty good recipe for an MVP.

    To be fair, Altuve cooled in August and September and didn't do the Astros much good in high-leverage spots. If Aaron Judge had finished stronger for the New York Yankees, these things may have cost Altuve the MVP.

    Then again, Judge's red-hot September was apparently too little, too late after he had gone cold in July and August. And while he still led the AL with 7.9 WAR, it was by mere decimal points over Altuve.

14. Miguel Cabrera in 2012

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 161 G, 697 PA, .330 AVG, .393 OBP, .606 SLG, 164 OPS+, 44 HR, 139 RBI

    WAR: 7.1

    By leading the American League in batting average, home runs and RBI in 2012, Miguel Cabrera secured MLB's first triple crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

    That alone might have been good enough to win him the AL MVP, but Cabrera piled on other accolades just in case. He also led the American League in slugging, OPS and total bases, and he willed the Detroit Tigers into the playoffs by saving his best hitting for July, August and September.

    Of course, all this happened amid a grassroots campaign for Mike Trout to win the AL MVP. Said campaign notably helped thrust WAR—which Trout ultimately ran away with in 2012—into the mainstream.

    But even if Trout perhaps should have won the AL MVP in 2012, the award certainly wasn't wasted on Cabrera. Even in retrospect, his '12 season is one of the better MVP-winning seasons of the last two decades.

13. Mike Trout in 2014

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 157 G, 705 PA, .287 AVG, .377 OBP, .561 SLG, 168 OPS+, 36 HR, 16 SB, 111 RBI

    WAR: 7.7

    After struggling to escape Miguel Cabrera's shadow in 2012 and 2013, Mike Trout finally broke through and won the American League MVP in 2014.

    He did so with a season that in many ways was a traditional MVP performance. He set a new career high for home runs and led the American League in total bases and, seemingly crucially, runs batted in. He also hit well under pressure with a 1.112 OPS in high-leverage situations.

    Yet Trout also had his battles in 2014. He notably led the league in strikeouts. And while the Los Angeles Angels finished with 98 wins anyway, Trout's excellence dipped from the first half to the second half.

    All the same, it's very much to Trout's credit that even one of his less impressive seasons won him an MVP and still stands out as fine work today.

12. Miguel Cabrera in 2013

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 148 G, 652 PA, .348 AVG, .442 OBP, .636 SLG, 190 OPS+, 44 HR, 137 RBI

    WAR: 7.5

    Even as great as Cabrera was in 2012, his 2013 season proved to be his masterpiece.

    He achieved what should be the true triple crown by leading all of Major League Baseball in average, on-base percentage and slugging, and not a moment was too big for him. As the leverage increased, so did his production.

    One catch, mind you, is that Cabrera stumbled in September as he battled core injuries that eventually required surgery. But those issues didn't sink a Tigers club that won a third straight AL Central title. It also says a lot that they didn't ruin Cabrera's extraordinary overall numbers.

    Once again, Mike Trout led the Junior Circuit with 8.9 WAR in 2013. But Cabrera at least closed the gap on him, and his 2013 season can now be appreciated as one of the greatest offensive explosions in recent memory.

11. Alex Rodriguez in 2003

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    LM OTERO/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 161 G, 715 PA, .298 AVG, .396 OBP, .600 SLG, 147 OPS+, 47 HR, 17 SB, 118 RBI

    WAR: 8.4

    Though Alex Rodriguez's three seasons with the Texas Rangers were eventually sullied by his admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs, there's a good reason his 2003 campaign won him an MVP.

    A-Rod captured his third straight American League home run title in '03, and he also led the league in slugging percentage. Defensively, he won a second straight Gold Glove for what turned out to be his final season at shortstop.

    Clearly, it wasn't Rodriguez's fault that the Rangers lost 91 games. He even buoyed them by hitting in the clutch, turning in a stellar 1.208 OPS and 11 homers in high-leverage situations.

    Aside from all this, there's another reason why A-Rod won the MVP in '03: It was a lean year for other AL position players, as nobody else even topped seven WAR.

10. Mike Trout in 2019

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 134 G, 600 PA, .291 AVG, .438 OBP, .645 SLG, 185 OPS+, 45 HR, 11 SB, 104 RBI

    WAR: 8.2

    Alas, Mike Trout's 2019 season ended early because of a foot injury. And like a broken record, the Los Angeles Angels fell well short of the playoffs even despite his brilliance.

    But now that these things are out of the way, there are no nits left to pick with Trout's '19 campaign.

    Though he hit "only" .291, he was surely the American League's top hitter by way of his league-leading marks for on-base percentage, slugging and OPS+. And had he not gotten injured, he might have also won the first home run title of his career.

    Coupled with the Houston Astros' 107 wins, the voters could have seen Alex Bregman's AL-best 9.1 WAR as an excuse to give him the AL MVP. But when it comes down to it, the only thing Bregman did better than Trout was stay healthy.

9. Ichiro Suzuki in 2001

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    M. David Leeds/Getty Images

    Key Stats: 157 G, 738 PA, .350 AVG, .381 OBP, .457 SLG, 126 OPS+, 8 HR, 56 SB, 69 RBI

    WAR: 7.7

    Ichiro Suzuki was a relative unknown in the states when the Seattle Mariners signed him out of Japan, where he was the Orix BlueWave's top hitter and something of a cultural icon.

    By way of his unusual batting rituals, blazing speed, cannon throwing arm and uncanny knack for hitting it where they ain't, Ichiro's celebrity quickly rose in America throughout the 2001 season. Likewise, there's no arguing with the numbers.

    Ichiro led the American League in average, hits and stolen bases, and he did his best work in high leverage. Though the Mariners had other stars, Ichiro was certainly the biggest influence on their historic 116-win season.

    For these reasons, it's fine that Ichiro won the AL MVP despite amassing fewer WAR than Jason Giambi, Bret Boone and Alex Rodriguez.

8. Justin Verlander in 2011

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 34 GS, 24 W, 5 L, 251.0 IP, 250 K, 57 BB, 2.40 ERA, 172 ERA+

    WAR: 8.6

    If a pitcher is going to win the MVP, it better be the result of a truly spectacular season.

    To this end, Justin Verlander's 2011 campaign is arguably the finest season of his Hall of Fame-bound career. He led the American League in numerous categories, including wins, innings, strikeouts, ERA and ERA+.

    Thus did Verlander drive the rebirth of the Detroit Tigers in 2011. Though they won the AL Central handily by a 15-game margin, it notably marked their first playoff berth since 2006.

    Another factor that contributed to Verlander winning the MVP in addition to the AL Cy Young Award was that the AL's position players didn't put forth a worthy challenger. Verlander compiled more WAR than all of them.

7. Josh Hamilton in 2010

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 133 G, 571 PA, .359 AVG, .411 OBP, .633 SLG, 170 OPS+, 32 HR, 100 RBI

    WAR: 8.7

    Unless you count his jaw-dropping showcase in the 2008 Home Run Derby, the 2010 season was Josh Hamilton's finest hour.

    He marked that year by leading the American League in average, slugging, OPS and WAR. Ultimately, the only downside was that he missed most of September with broken ribs.

    But while the Texas Rangers were able to capture the AL West title despite Hamilton's late-season injury, they likely wouldn't have had a shot at it without him.

    He especially helped the team weather some doldrums in June, July and August, in which he hit .410 with 22 of his 32 homers. Overall, he also came up clutch with a 1.106 OPS in high-leverage situations.

6. Jason Giambi in 2000

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    MONICA DAVEY/Getty Images

    Key Stats: 152 G, 664 PA, .333 AVG, .476 OBP, .647 SLG, 187 OPS+, 43 HR, 137 RBI

    WAR: 7.8

    Though it's fair to frown upon precisely how he accomplished it, there's no question that the 2000 season is the one that made Jason Giambi a superstar.

    The 43 homers he slugged blew away his previous career high of 33. He also achieved AL-best marks for walks, on-base percentage and OPS+. And no matter the leverage, he was dominant.

    Yet it was the final month of 2000, specifically, that clinched the AL MVP for Giambi. He went off for a 1.380 OPS and 13 home runs, and the A's went 22-7 to come from behind for their first AL West title since 1992.

    To their credit, Alex Rodriguez (10.4 WAR) and Pedro Martinez (11.7 WAR) had incredible seasons in 2000. But given that he was the AL's best and arguably most clutch hitter, Giambi indeed had a good case for MVP.

5. Joe Mauer in 2009

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 138 G, 606 PA, .365 AVG, .444 OBP, .587 SLG, 171 OPS+, 28 HR, 96 RBI

    WAR: 7.8

    Joe Mauer had already been an All-Star, a Gold Glover and a Silver Slugger by the time 2009 came around, so one might suppose an MVP-winning season was his next logical step.

    Mauer did his most visible work on offense, where he topped the American League in average, on-base percentage and slugging. He was also red-hot in August and September, thereby spearheading the Minnesota Twins' comeback to win the AL Central race.

    Not to be overlooked, meanwhile, is the defense that Mauer played in '09. He started 105 games at catcher and ultimately won his second straight Gold Glove.

    So though he finished second to Ben Zobrist in WAR, there isn't much question even now that Mauer's two-way excellence at a premium position made him the league's premier player in 2009.

4. Mike Trout in 2016

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 159 G, 681 PA, .315 AVG, .441 OBP, .550 SLG, 172 OPS+, 29 HR, 30 SB, 100 RBI

    WAR: 10.5

    As in 2019, Mike Trout's superb 2016 season was wasted on an Angels club that lost 88 games and failed to make the playoffs.

    It's the ultimate compliment to Trout's '16 campaign, however, that it's potentially the best of his history-making career to this point.

    He set new career highs for walks and on-base percentage, both of which also led the American League. He likewise led the AL in runs scored and OPS+, all while playing safely above-average defense in center field.

    To be sure, Trout's best offensive seasons have come over the last three years. But since both his health and defense have fallen off in the process, his 2016 season stands out as the last time he checked all the boxes.

3. Alex Rodriguez in 2005

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    BILL KOSTROUN/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 162 G, 715 PA, .321 AVG, .421 OBP, .610 SLG, 173 OPS+, 48 HR, 21 SB, 130 RBI

    WAR: 9.4

    Alex Rodriguez's first season with the New York Yankees in 2004 didn't go so well. His numbers sagged, he got his face smushed, and he eventually contributed to the club's historic October collapse.

    But in 2005, everything turned up A-Rod. He settled into his new position at third base and led the American League in home runs, runs scored, slugging, OPS+ and, by a fairly wide margin, WAR.

    Rodriguez was also instrumental in the Yankees coming from behind to win the AL East title. They entered August with a 3.5-game deficit, but he took over with a 1.090 OPS and 20 homers, and they finished with a 39-20 mark.

    Out of his three MVPs, Rodriguez's win in 2005 easily trumps his win in 2003. Yet it wasn't his best.

2. Alex Rodriguez in 2007

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 158 G, 708 PA, .314 AVG, .422 OBP, .645 SLG, 176 OPS+, 54 HR, 24 SB, 156 RBI

    WAR: 9.4

    Two years after he won his first MVP with the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez left little doubt that he deserved yet another in 2007.

    He finished that season as the American League leader in home runs, runs scored, RBI, slugging and OPS+. Like in '05, he also led his fellow AL position players in WAR by a mile. 

    Also like in 2005, the Yankees got A-Rod's best when they needed it. Though they never fully made up their 14.5-game deficit in the AL East, they ultimately got it down to just two games in part thanks to his 1.122 OPS and 19 homers in August and September.

    That was very much in keeping with how Rodriguez tackled pressure situations, as his OPS increased with the leverage that season.

1. Mookie Betts in 2018

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    Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

    Key Stats: 136 G, 614 PA, .346 AVG, .438 OBP, .640 SLG, 186 OPS+, 32 HR, 30 SB, 80 RBI

    WAR: 10.6

    Because of an abdominal strain that sidelined him for a while in the middle of the summer, Mookie Betts didn't make it through the 2018 season unscathed.

    If not for that, he would have authored pretty much the perfect MVP season.

    Offensively, he led the American League in average and slugging while achieving one of only three seasons with at least a 180 OPS+, 30 homers and 30 stolen bases. He was the AL's top baserunner, as well as one of its top defenders.

    Betts was also clutch by way of a 1.155 OPS in high-leverage situations. So while the Boston Red Sox almost certainly would have been a playoff team without him, he was indeed the driving force in getting them to 108 wins.

             

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.