“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Those are the prophetic words of Yogi Berra, supposedly, although he would later qualify this – and every statement he ever made – by claiming: “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
But whether old Yogi said it or not, the statement undoubtedly holds true, and in order to see just how true it is, I decided to go back and have a look at the ESPN MVP predictions from last April.
Anyone who has ever made any kind of prediction will know how harsh an activity this is, because hindsight tends to be cruel and unforgiving.
Let’s do it anyway.
Tip of the hat to 14 of the 31 ESPN experts, who accurately (if not particularly boldly) had Mike Trout winning the American League award.
A surprising 14 of the other 17 had Carlos Correa winning the award. Correa had a terrific year, but win MVP he did not. Miguel Cabrera, Mookie Betts and Manny Machado scooped the other three votes.
On the NL side, absolutely no-one pegged Kris Bryant for the award. 18 had Bryce Harper, eight stumped for Paul Goldschmidt whilst Kershaw, Rizzo and Stanton scooped up the other votes.
Which maybe goes to show that ESPN analysts know nothing, but maybe goes to show that baseball is weird and fickle and sometimes the MVP comes out of nowhere.
That is precisely why I am hedging my bets to an unprecedented scale with 30 MVP picks.
I’ll probably still be wrong.
Without further ado, the next five:
Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor
It feels weird to say that the unanimous best player on the team that just won the AL pennant might be underrated but yet here I am saying it.
In baseball history, Lindor ranks 16th all-time in bWAR over a player’s first-two seasons, and he was not called up until just before the all-star break in his 2015 campaign.
His 20.8 UZR placed him second in the Majors at shortstop, just behind Brandon Crawford, and he was one of the best in the Majors at ‘out of zone’ plays, a statistic backed up by his jaw-dropping highlights.
He is a freakish athlete with incredible defensive talent but with the bat is where he has made the most strides. His BB/K rate was second among all shortstops, whilst his line-drive profile portends to a batting average that should consistently threaten .300. He doesn’t even have to improve much to be an MVP candidate, but at the age of 23 don’t be surprised if he does anyway.
Chicago White Sox: Jose Quintana
The White Sox decided to make my life hard this off-season, trading away their two most valuable players in 2016, Adam Eaton and Chris Sale. So let’s get funky with this one. Sure, Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu are a threat to hit 100 home runs combined, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Quintana.
Since 2013, Quintana has pitched between 200 and 208 innings every season, struck out between 164 and 181 hitters every season, walked between 44 and 56 hitters every season, had an ERA between 3.20 and 3.51 etc. etc.
You get the point. He’s been the model of consistency. Maybe 2017 will be the year of natural disasters, nuclear winters and Mike Trout struggling (gasp). No matter what, Quintana will have his 200 quality innings in the bag.
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera doesn’t give a damn about defence. Get out of here Lindor. Miguel Cabrera thinks it’s cute that Quintana has been consistently good. Has he tried being consistently great?
You see, Miguel Cabrera just doesn’t care. He hits. There were whispers after 2015 that his best days were behind him, but it turns out ‘proving a point Miggy’ is a lot like ‘really good Miggy’.
Top ten in the Majors in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, weighted-on base average etc. He was bottom of the Majors… in soft contact, top-five in hard contact and he absolutely demolished pitchers in the lower-half of the strike zone to the tune of a near-1.000 slugging percentage. It’s hard to vote against him.
Minnesota Twins: Brian Dozier
I’m still not sure how the nickname ‘BullDozier’ hasn’t taken off yet. Or maybe it has. I haven’t spent much time hanging out in #TwinsTwitter.
Anyhow, within his monster 2016 was a weird tale of two seasons. In late May, Dozier was hitting below the Mendoza line with no power. In the final 115 games, he slashed .291/.356/.621 with 38 home runs and 16 steals.
That’s unbelievably good, and although the struggle of the first couple of months is a reminder of how streaky Dozier can be there can be no doubt he has upside.
Kansas City Royals: Danny Duffy
A lot of my MVP picks have the potential to be wrong (that’s sort of how picking an MVP works) but this pick might have the potential to be most wrong. But this isn’t the time to be bearish.
Duffy broke out big time in 2016, striking out hitters at a rate of one per inning, limiting walks to a career-low 2.10 BB/9 and posting a career-best xFIP of 3.79.
His average fastball velocity of 94.8mph was sixth in the Majors, whilst his newly-honed change-up graded out as the 10th best change-piece in baseball.
In summary, the stuff is quality. If the walks and strikeouts stick, the arm holds up over a full season of starts and he earns a little more luck than a 13% HR/FB rate we could be talking about a legitimate ace this time next season. Of course, he might regress to his pre-2016 form and he might drop out of the rotation.
And whisper it quietly, but he might just be eaten by a bear.