Tale of the tape: AL MVP

via @Yankees

Surprise, surprise. DJ LeMahieu is one of three finalists for the American League Most Valuable Player award. The second baseman had a stellar 2020 campaign and is unquestionably deserving of consideration. Whether or not he’ll win it is another story. His competition, José Abreu and José Ramírez, are also worthy candidates. The winner will be announced on November 12th. Let’s compare the finalists statistically and examine if a narrative can make a difference.

By the numbers


Although LeMahieu is at the top in a number of offensive categories, he falls behind in the power department. The big home run and RBI totals for Abreu and Ramírez certainly could help make up the distance between LeMahieu’s league-leading batting average, at least if we’re considering this from a traditional perspective.

From an analytics standpoint, LeMahieu is still the top all-around hitter if you prefer wRC+ or OPS+. However, DRC+ is in favor of Cleveland’s third baseman.

If this were a WAR contest, which it is not, LeMahieu and Abreu are neck-and-neck. Meanwhile, Ramírez’s evaluation per versions at FanGraphs (fWAR), Baseball Reference (rWAR), and Baseball Prospectus (WARP), vary quite a bit. I suspect that FanGraphs’ version favors J-Ram’s defense a whole lot more than the others.

All of this is to say that there isn’t an obvious winner based on the numbers (I cherry-picked) alone. It would seem, unless you really prefer fWAR or DRC+, that LeMahieu and Abreu should be 1-2. But as you’ll see shortly, Ramírez has some other things in his favor that could make up ground.

In context

wRC+ (High Leverage)61127178
wRC+ (RISP)138186223

Although players can’t necessarily control what base-out situations they appear in, what those players do in big spots is still very important, especially in MVP voting. Above, it’s pretty clear that LeMahieu’s the laggard in win probability added (WPA), championship win probability added (cWPA), and a couple of situation wRC+ measures. By the way, keep in mind that these are all regular season numbers.

My presupposition was that Ramírez would sweep these categories, but instead, he split with Abreu. You’ll understand why I thought Ramírez had these in hand once you read the next section (or if you watched September baseball). As for LeMahieu, I am a little surprised that he fell so far behind his competition here. DJLM is pretty darn clutch in my mind, though the numbers don’t necessarily show that.

The Narrative

I unintentionally wrote about the MVP narrative when I previewed the Wild Card round last month. The relevant excerpts (skip for the TLDR):

Through September 7th, [Cleveland] was tied for first place in the division with the White Sox. By September 16th, they were six games out of first (behind Chicago) and holding on to one of the two Wild Card spots. Cleveland’s lineup tallied just 24 runs during an 8 game losing streak from the 8th to the 16th. That plummet wasn’t Ramírez’s fault, that’s for sure: the third baseman hit .348/.400/.652 during the skid. Everyone else let the team down.

Cleveland surged to finish the season in second place. They made up those six games by going 9-2 to end the year to tie Chicago, though Cleveland held the tiebreaker to claim second place. That run also included a four game sweep of the ChiSox. None other than Ramírez was right in the middle of that hot finish: he hit .436/.522/1.103 (316 wRC+) with 6 homers in the last 11 games to make his case for MVP. The rest of that team during that stretch? .203/.291/.314.

So yeah, you can talk about how great Cleveland’s pitching is all you want, but if it wasn’t for Ramírez, they are a Wild Card team at best right now. He couldn’t even get much help from Francisco Lindor (100 wRC+) or Carlos Santana (95 wRC+) this season.

In short: Ramírez was super clutch in September and had almost no help around him. Meanwhile, the White Sox and Yankees stumbled to the finish. The Yankees poor September wasn’t any fault of LeMahieu, who had a 183 wRC+ that month. Abreu was darn good in the final month too (165 wRC+).

Leaving out LeMahieu for a second, if we pit Abreu and Ramírez head-to-head, there’s a September series that stands out: Cleveland’s four game sweep of the White Sox from September 21st through the 24th. Ramírez tormented Chicago (.417/.588/1.167, 330 wRC+) whereas Abreu was quiet (.154/.294/.385, 85 wRC+). Cleveland was 28-24 and Chicago was 34-19 entering that series. Although both teams were playoff-bound, the postseason picture might have looked different had Chicago played better. Or, had Ramírez simply cooled off.

Now, back to DJLM. Maybe my memory is fuzzy, but I just don’t think he has the narrative behind him in the way Ramírez does. Yes, many Yankees were hurt throughout the season, but LeMahieu had Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, and Clint Frazier rack up big hits around him too. Ramírez had no such assistance. To me, that’s going to play as much of a factor as Ramírez’s incredible close to the regular season.

This is Yankees blog, but I’d be hard-pressed to vote for someone other than Ramírez here. He may not stack up against LeMahieu or Abreu in terms of regular season numbers, but it’s not like he’s far off. Hell, he’s ahead if you are an fWAR or DRC+ fan above all. Moreover, and what seals the deal for me, is the fact that the rest of Cleveland’s lineup was of no help. Ramírez was a beast in the final weeks of the season, just when he was needed most.


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  1. Can we get a new article already??? This work week has been BRUTAL with no new content to read!! haha

  2. I'm Not The Droids You're Looking For

    I’d be interested to see the average line-up spot for each of them.

  3. MikeD

    La Machine, for the win!

    Now, can we just sign him again without breaking the bank?!

    I see projections of 4/84 for him, but I’ve also seen a 3/54 from Bowden. He’s clearly adding in a pandemic discount here, but I have to say he’s had a decent track record on these over the years. Probably helps that he’s served as a GM. 3/54 or anywhere near there? Sign him now,

  4. Mungo

    What’s disturbing is the MVP voting is now just about WAR. The top three finishers in each league are the leaders in rWAR. BBWAA members spent so long fighting WAR, now they’ve become a slave to it.

    Beyond that, Ramírez seems to have the narrative based on his strong September, but in a 60-game season it is the totality of the stats. Ramirez is a streaky hitter. Throughout the entire month of August, basically half of the season, Ramirez hit an anemic .202/.296/404. If he wasn’t so streaky, the Indians wouldn’t have needed his great September to help pull them back. We can reward him for his great September, but then we also have to ding him for his lousy August. In the end, we shouldn’t do either; we should look at his numbers, and based on that, I have LeMahieu as the league’s MVP. That’s not a Yankee fan vote. I rarely vote for the Yankee, but I also don’t penalize him for being a Yankee as many NY writers do. They seem to want to show they’re so fair that they end up penalizing the players they follow. You don’t see that from any other media members following other teams.

    The argument for LeMahieu is he plays the more difficult position up the middle, but it goes beyond that. As has been noted, an argument can be made that LeMahieu is the best available 2B’man, the best available 1B’man and the best available 3B’man in free agency. This gets back to his strength. He plays all three positions and he plays them well. That flexibility is a significant advantage to a team. WAR has not figured out a way to properly value that, yet he’s still the co-leader in rWAR, but recognizing WAR doesn’t value his multi-positional skills pushes him ahead for me. Last, the Yankees struggled to make the postseason. It wasn’t a coincidence they had their most trouble when LeMahieu was away. Now that’s an argument, and a good one, against him. He wasn’t there for all the games, and if he was, he probably runs away with the award, yet he did way more than enough for me in those games to be named the best in the league. I’d have it LeMahieu, Abreu and Ramírez in that order.

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