Last year in my spring American League and National League MVP props story, I thought the best value on the board in the Senior Circuit was Giants catcher Buster Posey at 25/1. I’ll be honest in that I thought Posey had almost no chance to win it at the all-star break (he wasn’t even an option on Bovada’s midseason MVP props).
At last season’s break, the Giants were a so-so 46-40 and not looking much like a future World Series Champion. Posey had excellent numbers for a catcher, hitting .289 with 10 homers and 43 RBI but really wasn’t in the MVP discussion. In the second half, the former Florida State star went crazy, hitting an absurd .385 with 14 homers and 60 RBI to finish with an NL-best .336 average (the first catcher in 70 years to win the NL hitting crown), 24 homers and 103 RBI. He also led the NL in WAR at 7.2. Some other guys maybe had better overall numbers, like 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun of the Brewers, but Posey was a runaway winner by receiving 27 of the 32 first-place votes for MVP to outdistance Braun and No. 3 Andrew McCutchen. Posey was the first NL catcher to win the award since Hall of Famer Johnny Bench in 1972.
It’s now clear that an MVP winner must come from a playoff team, even though the voting is concluded before the postseason. Since MLB instituted the wild card in 1995, six MVP winners have come from non-playoff teams. Those were Larry Walker in 1997, Barry Bonds in 2001 and 2004, Alex Rodriguez in 2003, Ryan Howard in 2006, and Albert Pujols in 2008. Thus Braun and McCutchen really had no chance since their teams didn’t make it.
In the American League, I thought the Rangers’ Kinsler at 30/1 was the best value on the board, and his Rangers did make the playoffs again, although they gagged the AL West away down the stretch. Perhaps I should have done more homework on Kinsler. He usually rakes at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark, but he’s a different player on the road. In his career at home, Kinsler hits .306 with a .526 slugging percentage at home and .238/.396 on the road. Last year, he hit just .220 away from home and finished at .256 with 19 homers and 72 RBI overall – to be fair he was bothered by an ankle injury much of the year. Those are pretty good numbers for a second baseman but not MVP-worthy.
Reds’ Votto Leads NL Again
Cincinnati star Joey Votto was the preseason NL MVP favorite last year at 7/1 at Bovada, and he is again this season at 15/2. A vast majority of "experts" have penciled in Votto as this year’s winner. Two knee surgeries ruined his 2012 season as Votto hit "only" .337 with 14 homers and 56 RBI in 111 games (thus not eligible for batting title). After he returned from August surgery in early September, his power was gone as Votto wouldn’t homer the rest of the season and didn’t drive many runs in either. But he’s healthy now and in a stacked lineup that got better with the addition of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians. You also have to like that Votto plays 81 games in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
Matt Kemp, Braun (9/1), Bryce Harper (10/1) and Posey (12/1) round out the Top-5 favorites. Kemp was on a Triple Crown pace last year before hamstring and shoulder injuries essentially ruined his season. He had surgery on the shoulder in October and hasn’t looked great this spring, but should be fine. Braun will put up his numbers, but I have two concerns there: he’s again linked to PEDs, which will turn off voters and could lead to a suspension, and I don’t see the Brewers making the postseason (sorry, the Kyle Lohse signing doesn’t do it for me).
Harper has been crushing the ball this spring but has a thumb injury that’s a worry. He could need a cortisone shot to treat inflammation. It’s supposed to be no big deal, but thumbs are rather important for a hitter. Plus, I do believe in the sophomore slump. It’s a cliché for a reason. As for Posey, it’s just too hard to repeat unless you put up obscene numbers like a Bonds or a Pujols. That lineup remains pretty questionable around him. I’m not saying Posey is a one-year wonder, but I do question if he ever has a season quite like last year.
I would recommend Votto but also throw some longer-shot dollars on Atlanta’s Jason Heyward at 20/1. After a big-time sophomore slump in 2011, he hit .269 with 27 homers, 82 RBI and 21 steals a year ago, the latter three career highs. He’s only 23, and his numbers are trending up. Plus, he has the addition of the Upton brothers in the lineup now (I don’t think the Braves will miss Michael Bourn that much). If Heyward can cut his strikeouts down by about 30 percent (152 last year), look out. The Braves seem almost a lock to be a playoff team, even in a division with the Nationals.
Cabrera Not Favored To Repeat In AL
I never saw Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown coming – who did? – but I didn’t even love him much as an MVP candidate. He was the opening third-favorite behind Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez but beat out Angels rookie phenom Mike Trout to become the second straight Tiger to win the award behind pitcher Justin Verlander.
It will nearly be impossible for Cabrera (7/1) to win again, because how can he top last year’s incredible season? Answer: he can’t. Plus, no AL player has repeated since the White Sox’s Frank Thomas in 1993-94.
I don’t like Trout as the 6/1 favorite, either. His rookie debut was by all accounts so incredible that it was a statistical oddity. After an epic July, his numbers, while still very good, went down in August and September; he hit just .257 in September as the Angels faded out of the playoff race. Maybe it was just a rookie wall, maybe fatigue. He’ll no doubt put up strong numbers again, but I tag him with the same mini-sophomore slump as Harper.
I do somewhat like Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria at 12/1, but I don’t trust him to stay healthy. I could say the same about Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury (20/1), but he’s the value choice. Ellsbury is in a contract year -- thus more apt to play hurt -- and could get a monster deal with another season like 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 homers, 105 RBI, stole 39 bases and finished second to Verlander for MVP.
That Red Sox lineup isn’t what it used to be, but Ellsbury should steal a ton of bases and score an equal amount of runs hitting leadoff. If he can steal 40, score 110, bat around.325, add 15-20 homers (those 32 were a fluke), 85 RBI and the Red Sox reach the playoffs, he definitely will be an MVP favorite.