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Predicting Jose Abreu's place in the American League MVP vote

The White Sox first baseman figures to receive plenty of votes for the American League's top honor

Thank you for everything.
Thank you for everything.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 season has given the White Sox plenty to celebrate despite the team’s sub-par record. In addition to fine seasons from Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, and Conor Gillaspie, Chris Sale is a finalist for American League Cy Young Award and Jose Abreu should be unanimously voted Rookie of the Year. Abreu’s season has been so great that he should find himself in consideration for another, higher honor: the AL Most Valuable Player Award.

Of course, Mike Trout has the AL MVP award essentially locked up at this point. The Angels finally put a good enough team around Trout to allow him to win his first MVP award in his worst major league season to-date. At this point, there isn’t a particularly compelling case for another candidate to take home the hardware.

Still, Abreu figures to find himself near the top of many AL MVP ballots by virtue of being the best hitter per plate appearance in all of baseball. His .415 wOBA has a bit of a cushion over Victor Martinez’s .409 and he ranks very well against his AL peers in the more traditional stats that some voters may use to make their decision:

  • Batting average: .319 (T-6th)
  • On-base percentage: .382 (5th)
  • Slugging percentage: .594 (1st…..very 1st)
  • Home Runs: 35 (3rd)
  • Runs batted in: 103 (T-2nd)

The elephant in the room, however, is that Jose Abreu does not grade out near the top of the pack by all-encompassing metrics like Wins Above Replacement. Currently, he ranks ninth and 10th among AL position players in the FanGraphs (5.2 WAR) and (5.3 WAR) versions, respectively. In these standings, Abreu gets dinged for defense, defensive position, and baserunning. Fortunately for Abreu, these pieces of a player’s net contribution tend to be undervalued by MVP voters that don’t consider WAR. Even some of those who do consider it are skeptical of the imperfect underlying defensive stats and place a greater weight on offensive contributions.

With Trout securely in first place, let’s look at some of the other contenders and my predictions as to whether they’ll beat out Abreu in the voting.

Key statistics: .322/.381/.498, 19 HR, 94 RBI, 22 SB, .384 wOBA, 6.1 fWAR, 6.5 bWAR

Brantley is having one of the quietest star-caliber seasons in recent memory. However, "under-the-radar" isn’t exactly a phrase you want applied to you when you’re competing for an award voted on by a wide array of baseball writers. Brantley has been great, but other than his batting average, there’s nothing that really screams "MVP" about his season line. If the Indians were still playoff hopefuls at this point, there’d at least be a narrative here, but they aren’t, and there isn’t.

Will he finish higher than Abreu in the MVP voting? No

Key statistics: .283/.400/.517, 32 HR, 97 RBI, .397 wOBA, 5.5 fWAR, 4.9 bWAR

Bautista, too, has had a quietly great season. He's near the major league lead in on-base percentage and has Abreu edged in fWAR due to playing a more challenging defensive position. However, Abreu has been a shade better than him in pretty much every other respect. Like Brantley, his MVP stock has been hurt by his team falling out of the pennant race.

Will he finish higher than Abreu in the MVP voting? No

  • Victor Martinez, DH/1B, Tigers

Key statistics: .333/.403/.567, 31 HR, 99 RBI, .409 wOBA, 4.0 fWAR, 4.9 bWAR

As the best hitter in the American League in 2014 besides Abreu, Martinez is an interesting case. On the one hand, many writers have historically placed a lot of stock in being the best hitter on a contending team, and Martinez has carried the Tigers offense throughout the entire season. On the other hand, many voters are opposed to supporting a designated hitter. There might not be a more polarizing candidate under consideration. Thanks to more traditional voters, he might be the only player who could steal a few first place votes from Trout. Then again, sabermetrically inclined voters might look at his inability to contribute anything outside of hitting and push him far down their ballots or leave him off entirely.

In the end, I think voters will see the offensive output of Martinez and Abreu as similar and give Martinez the nod for his place on a playoff team.

Will he finish higher than Abreu in the MVP voting? Yes

Key statistics: .269/.351/.438, 19 HR, 70 RBI, .349 wOBA, 6.0 fWAR, 6.2 bWAR

Gordon has been the leader of the Royals’ serious playoff push and he will likely be recognized by the voting writers for this. He’s a bit of an odd duck in that he plays a corner outfield position and is only in the conversation in the first place due to his defense. Gordon is outstanding in left field, but his 21.6 UZR/150 this season is a notable outlier compared to previous seasons, which suggests that WAR may be overrating him a bit. There’s no questioning that Gordon has had a great year and belongs in the discussion, but it’s hard to envision enough voters giving him credit for his many contributions that aren’t conveyed by basic statistics.

Will he finish higher than Abreu in the MVP voting? No

Key statistics: .255/.341/.458, 27 HR, 95 RBI, .351 wOBA, 6.1 fWAR, 7.2 bWAR

Like Gordon, Donaldson plays in a pitcher’s park and derives much of his value on a WAR basis from his defense. Though the A’s appear to be playoff bound, they’ve had a tremendous fall from their perch atop the AL West, and Donaldson’s .618 September OPS isn’t exactly helping to build his MVP case with the season on the line. He’s a tenuous candidate, and should the A's find a way to miss the playoffs, Donaldson is probably going to finish outside the top five.

Will he finish higher than Abreu in the MVP voting? No

Key statistics: .319/.386/.463, 14 HR, 77 RBI, .366 wOBA, 5.1 fWAR, 6.1 bWAR

Cano’s case is supported heavily by the anecdote of leading the transformation of the Mariners from a 91-loss team to a playoff contender. The Mariners may well finish on the outside looking in, a reasonably likely result that will hurt Cano’s chances to get many votes near the top of the ballot. On the other hand, a heroic final week could raise his stock significantly. As it stands, Cano’s counting stats are weaker than those of the other candidates and his power game hasn’t translated to Safeco Field. I’d bet against him making much noise in the voting if the playoff standings stay the way they are.

Will he finish higher than Abreu in the MVP voting? No

  • Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners

Key statistics: 14-5 W-L, 2.14 ERA, 0.918 WHIP, 2.59 FIP, 5.8 fWAR, 6.8 bWAR

Pitchers generally get undervalued by a contingent of voters that believe that the Cy Young is for pitchers and the MVP is for position players. While Felix has been the favorite for the AL Cy Young for quite some time, he hasn’t exactly run away with it due to stiff competition from Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester. Typically, pitchers that do well in MVP voting are a clear cut above their peers. It’s easy to argue that King Felix has been the best pitcher in the American League this year, but the fact that there’s been an argument about it in the first place doesn’t bode well for his MVP chances.

Will he finish higher than Abreu in the MVP voting? No

So, is this essentially a prediction that Jose Abreu will finish third in the AL MVP voting? Not quite. Each of these candidates are flawed when looked at from the point of view of at least one type of voter. However, Abreu is also flawed as a candidate in that he plays for a losing team and doesn’t add much value with his glove. There’s really no sure-fire runner-up order for the AL MVP award and it’s pretty likely that one or two of these MVP candidates for whom I put "no" will prove me wrong and edge out Abreu. For that reason, I’d predict that fourth or fifth place is the most likely outcome. Even if Abreu winds up finishing lower than that, maybe it’s best to just think about where we were six months ago and be ecstatic that we’re talking about this now.