3 Underrated AL MVP Candidates

3 Underrated AL MVP Candidates

Written by: Jake Tillinghast
Follow him on Twitter: @JTillinghast27
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW

With Mookie Betts out of Boston and the American League, the AL MVP Race, as it stand right now is Mike Trout’s to lose. With Aaron Judge battling injuries, Alex Bregman coming off an off-season where he had to answer all those questions (or not answer), his mindset is going to be in 1 of 2 places, either prove the world wrong with a tremendous season to shut up the critics, or a season he cant handle the pressure of HAVING to produce or hear he is a product of a cheating system the Astros implemented throughout their World Series runs. At this point, it seems like a tough ask to knock off Mike Trout, the reining AL MVP off his throne. But we have a potential shortened season, and quiet honestly anyone could walk away with the MVP award this season, anyone is in play to have a hot 2 months and see themselves in the thick of the MVP Race.

With that being said, I want to highlight 3 players, had we had a full 162 game season, were more then on their way to entering the top class of the AL and giving some competition to the games best player for an MVP award. All of the following are entering their prime years of their career, coming off breakout years, when we all knew they had the talent to become the players they are, but finally took that step to show us it was a reality.

I am here to tell you they have more in the tank then what we saw in 2019. Lets get started…

Boston Red Sox 3B
Rafael Devers

Many expect the Redsox to take a major step back in 2020 with Mookie out the door and in an extremely tough division with the Yankees and Rays both poised to be 2 of the best teams in the entire league. The Redsox however, still have a very lethal lineup. Led by the man we are discussing.

Devers has a chance to be the face of the Red Sox for the next 10+ years. But the defense sure needs to improve to be a complete player. Which it started to take some positive steps forward in 2019. When he broke into the league as a 21 year old in 2017, Devers was classified as a pretty very poor defensive 3B, with many expecting a position switch across the diamond to 1B. Devers has changed that narrative, looking like he should be able to stick at 3B, at least for a couple more seasons. 

After posting a -7 OAA in 2018, Devers landed 4th in the MLB in OAA (Outs Above Average) among 3rd basemen (19th overall) with 7 OAA . (The 2 3B Gold Glove winners in 2019: Arenado 17 OAA and Chapman 14 OAA were well ahead of the pact), Josh Donaldson was 3rd among 3B with 8 OAA. Still not grading out all that well in every defensive metric, posting a -10 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), good for 17th among qualified 3B in 2019. With the improving defense, Devers is slowly becoming a complete player.

Lead the bigs in doubles with 54 in 2019. With a swing built for Fenway, peppering balls off the monster, and starting to lift some of those balls into the seats with him growing more into his powerful body. 

Devers mashed RHP – In 2019, a .996 OPS, HR every 17.56 at bats, .278 ISO!!!! .403 wOBA, 97 wRC, 153 +wRC. Displaying much more PWR and overall hitting ability vs RHP than LHP as he did throughout the minors. If Devers’ wants to become the MVP candidate I believe he can be, he will need to improve and at least become a league average or better hitter against LHP. More on this next…

Room for improvement: Hitting LHP

Devers really struggled in 2019 vs LHP, posting a .744 OPS, HR every 31.2 at bats, .173 ISO, .312 wOBA, 26 wRC, 89 wRC+. And quite honestly, shocked this next stat is not a typo.
A 2.7% BB rate vs LHP…. Hard to be worse than that.

I think Devers can benefit greatly against LHP by simplifying his approach, not looking to drive the ball into the seats, but into the gaps, and find holes with his strong bat to ball skills. Becoming more selective with that ridiculous 2.7% BB Rate.


Chicago White Sox 3B
Yoan Moncada 

A former #1 prospect in baseball, took a huge step last season, he was able to finally able to produce legitimate results with his always clear RAW potential and + tools across the board. Heading into 2020, Moncada puts himself in my opinion in the running for the AL MVP race. With the White Sox hoping to be in contention this year, Moncada will be the main cog in the offense why they can push for a playoff spot in 2020.

Ranking in the top 5 for 3B in the bigs in both defense and sprint speed, Moncada is a game changer on both sides of the ball, as well on the base paths. More utilizing his speed going 1st-3rd, 1st – Home so well. A strong defensive player with + speed and even better base running ability.

Now the bat, a Switch hitter who displays much more PWR from the left side of the plate, that grades strong as his other tools. 7th highest average exit velocity in 2019 at 92.8%. A Sweet Spot% of 40%.

Moncada had league leading BABIP and high GB Rates. His extremely low walk rates, and high K rates are all a cause for concern, but in 2019 Moncada became much more aggressive on balls in the zone and put the ball in play more leading to less walks, and more hits. A philosophy him and his hitting coaches, and they urged him to be more aggressive, and boy did it pay off.. Moncada turned himself into an extraordinary player, with all the talent to push for an MVP award. Swinging much earlier in the counts, hunting FBs, rather then waiting to get deeper into counts add have to face tough breaking balls with 2 strikes and try to protect, rather then attack.


Room for Improvement: K/BB Rates

As I mentioned above, Moncada’s new approach has overall paid off. But it has led to extremely low BB rates (7.2% in 2019, down from 10.3% in 2018, and 12.6% in 2017 in a 54 G sample size). Striking out more than league avg at 27.5%, which improved in 2019 (33% combined in the 2017/18 seasons, his 1st 2 seasons in the league) with his newfound attack early and often mentality, I expect to see another slight improvement in this area. Nothing drastic, but a 2-4% improvement on his K rate will put one of his best abilities in play more often. The ability the square up the ball consistently.

The majority of switch hitters tend to be better on one side of the plate then the other, select few are able to be plus hitters on both sides of the plate (most players that come through the MLB can hardly even be an average hitter on one side of the plate, let alone two.) Moncada struggled to hit for much PWR vs LHP (hitting just 4 of his 25 HR during 2019 vs LHP) something he has struggled with throughout his young MLB Career (8 of 50 career HR vs LHP.) If Moncada can even slightly improve his BB/K rate moving forward, and find a little more loft in his right handed swing, Moncada can turn into one of the best players in the entire league for the foreseeable future, not just 2020.

Oakland Athletics 1B
Matt Olson 

Olson missed part of 2019 with a broken hamate bone in his right hand. An injury that generally would dampen a power hitters ability… Not Olson. He had his best season yet. Posting 36 HR in just 127 games. Willing to work the count and draw walks at an above average rate of 9.3%. Posted a 97.1 MPH average Exit velocity on FB/LD in 2019.

Providing unmatched defense at 1B. Olson might just be the most complete 1B in baseball. Just how good is he on defense?? In 2019, 18 DRS (1st among 1B, next best was Christian Walker with 11). UZR 6.6 (1st among 1B, next best was Anthony Rizzo 6.6). Ranking 8th in the league among INF with 12 OAA (Outs Above Average). Consistently showing soft hands and a + ability to scoop the ball and save his infielders from throwing errors, and give them that extra confidence to rush a throw over there knowing they have a guy who will bail them out. Playing in the Oakland Colosseum, I think it is extremely important for the A’s to have a strong fielding 1B capable of doing just what we laid out above. A glove like that, paired with the bat displayed in the image below, provides one of the most underrated, but complete 1B in the game today. When building a model First Basemen. I think of Matt Olson. Powerful run producing LH Bat that can make your entire infield defense better with his play around the bag at 1B. The complete 1B package.

2018: Hands further away body, longer path to get into power position.. Slightly squared stance.
2019: Hands closer to body, held higher. Slightly more opened stance.

But what has this all led to for Olson? Lets take a look at his ability to handle the FB throughout his career..

**Eliminated his 2016 line due to just 15 AB**

Now, lets take a peak into Olson’s ability to handle each zones the past 2 seasons with the adjustments shown above:

Charts from 2018: Charts from 2019:

Room for Improvement: Hitting high FB

An area that would make him one of the most lethal hitters in the game if he was able to handle the high FB with an consistency at all, he has a hard time getting on top of the ball and catching up to any plus velocity in the upper zones of the strike zone. Clearly you can see any other zone: middle, down, or away, Olson is extremely productive. When he can extend those long arms and get nice extension through the zone, and put his natural loft in his swing to work.

In 2018, Olson was hitting the ball hard up in the zone, but it was not translating to HR like you would think. After his hand injury to start 2019, Olson struggled to get those high FB once again, but now he wasn’t even producing much hard contact or analytics to show he can turn it around. I believe this is a slight side effect to the hand injury and some slight positive gains might be made in 2020, like he showed some signs in 2018 being able to at least hit the ball hard.

Swing adjustment, being quieter in the box, quicker to the ball, and most importantly, healthy which he was not 100% throughout the 2019 season. I see Olson improving in this aspect of his game, and turning into the best 1B in the game.

All graphs and images are from Baseball Savant

*** COMING UP OVER NEXT FEW WEEKS: NL gets their shot
– Breakout players for all NL teams, who will breakout from your favorite team?
– 3 Underrated NL MVP Candidates
Be on the lookout!

*** Comment below with who you are keeping an eye on as a potential AL MVP Candidate in 2020

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