Hope springs eternal.
So said Alexander Pope in An Essay on Man apparently, all the way back in 1733, presumably oblivious to the fact his off-the-cuff phrase would become a widely and popularly used idiom.
This three-word saying has a delightful link to the baseball we know and love, for there is no time when hope is more eternal for your average baseball fan than in the spring, when previous records are no longer relevant and you can dream on your roster like never before.
The more pessimistic among you may well snort at this point, and argue that the only bloody thing that’s eternal in baseball is Spring Training itself.
Nevertheless, it remains human nature that we dare to dream of the best for our team, safe in the knowledge that everyone starts the season 0-0. Why not us right? Unless, of course, you are a Rockies fan, watching one more critical member of the roster drop with each passing day…
With that message of hope in my mind, I decided to take a look at why a member of each MLB team might win the MVP award this season. For some players, this is not a difficult argument to make. For others, rather more artistic licence is required.
But in a world where the Cubs can win the World Series and Leicester City can win the Premier League, why not dream of the seemingly impossible.
Oakland Athletics – Khris Davis
You probably don’t look at Spring Training standings – I mean why on earth would you? – but the A’s are top of the Cactus League as of this writing. There must be a keen new Athletics fan out there somewhere, following their games intently, growing more and more excited for the upcoming season. That poor bastard.
This is a team woefully devoid of star talent but let’s dream on Khris Davis for a second. The big bopper arrived from Milwaukee last season and duly whacked 42 dongs. He did also strike out 166 times and barely post an OBP above .300 but 42 home runs in Oakland is no mean feat.
According to MLB statcast, Khris Davis had the highest percentage of ‘barrels’ per plate appearance – that is a ‘well struck batted ball with an estimated BA/SLG above .500/.1500′. That would appear to correlate fairly directly to successful plate appearances.
His average exit velocity of 92.7mph also places him among the top echelon of major league sluggers, and that velocity jumped up to 94.5mph in the final month of the season. If Davis can cut down on the K’s and get more balls in the air (his 1.06 GB/FB rate is not on par with the average 40-bomb candidate) then he might just slow trot his way to the MVP trophy on homers alone.
Los Angeles Angels – Mike Trout
You probably don’t need me to make any kind of argument here, because Mike Trout is almost unanimously considered the best player in baseball.
But Trout did say in February that he wanted to steal 40 bases this year. Base-stealing sort of disappeared from his game in 2014 and 2015, which would have been a shame except that he mashed 77 home runs over those two seasons.
Player always make outlandish claims in spring, so caution would usually be required. Except that last spring, Trout told reporters he wanted to start stealing bases again and he literally just went out and stole 30 bags, as if the only thing holding him back in years prior was that he couldn’t be bothered to run when he could just jog round the bases most of the time.
This world is Mike Trout’s, and we’re just living in it. I will continue to believe any and all of his pre-season predictions until such a time as he is proved wrong.
Seattle Mariners – Robinson Cano
The very argument I made above about Khris Davis can very easily equally apply to Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager continues to improve with every given season.
But let’s ignore those two guys and focus instead on Cano. His disappointing 2015 season is a mere blip on the radar now, having followed it up with a monster 39 homer, six-win campaign.
Among guys with 35 or more home runs in 2016, Cano’s strikeout rate of 14% was the best mark outside all players not named David Ortiz. His walk-rate was also third lowest but hey, this isn’t the time for downsides.
Cano’s simple, elegant swing has always been productive and in 2016 he rediscovered it with devastating effect. Some more BABIP luck (his .299 mark represented his lowest since 2008) and a long-overdue Mariners play-off appearance could give him the statistics + narrative combination to vault into the MVP conversation.
Houston Astros – Carlos Correa
Correa’s extraordinary talent has been so quick to translate to the Major League level that it seems almost unbelievable he has just 250 games of experience under his belt.
He’s long been pegged as a future MVP candidate and we saw glimpses of that upside in 2016 – power, speed and patience.
Among players under the age of 25, Correa had the fourth-best walk percentage (11.4), seventh-best line drive percentage (22.4) and ninth-best hard-hit rate (37.2%). Guys with that combination of patience, contact and hard contact tend to do well.
Still just 22 years of age, Correa’s upside is astronomical, in 2017 and beyond.
Texas Rangers – Adrian Beltre
Adrian Beltre is awesome. No other player looks as if they are enjoying the game as much as him, no other player his age is able to play anywhere near his level of defense and no other player his age can even hit like him, now that Ortiz has departed.
There is no statistic to quantify just how enjoyable to watch Adrian Beltre is, but fortunately there are quite a few that quantify how excellent he is at baseball: despite being in the top-20 in the league in chasing pitches outside the strike zone, he was top-20 in walks per strikeout and he was number one among all third basemen in UZR – at the age of 37!
Heading towards his twilight years, Beltre refuses to slow down and continues to play with a life-affirming passion for the game. Who couldn’t support an MVP case if he puts up his best offensive season since 2004?