After a couple of years of intense debate, the 2014 AL MVP race looks like it’s not going to be much of a race at all. Mike Trout is unquestionably the best player in the league, is in the midst of a typically awesome Mike Trout season, and his team is basically guaranteed a postseason berth this year. Miguel Cabrera, while still a pretty great hitter, isn’t really in the picture this year, and the rest of the would-be contenders don’t really stack up against Trout, even by traditional voting standards.
Jose Abreu has the offensive numbers, but his team is bad, and the BBWAA just spent two years telling everyone that great seasons on non-winning teams aren’t to be rewarded with MVP trophies. If they give the award to Abreu over Trout this year, they might as well have a public bonfire for the remains of their credibility.
Robinson Cano only has eight home runs and will probably split any votes he might get with Felix Hernandez, who would be a serious threat to Trout if the BBWAA gave pitchers the same credit as hitters in the voting. They don’t, though, so Felix probably finishes outside of the top five.
There just aren’t any players having great years on winning teams that can even come close to Trout’s numbers. He might not win it unanimously, but barring an injury or the Angels just imploding down the stretch, he’s going to win the MVP, and probably pretty easily.
The NL race is far less certain, with a handful of deserving candidates all bunched up together. However, over the weekend, it became far more likely that the winner is going to be a Los Angeles Dodgers.
Andrew McCutchen was putting together a pretty good case for a repeat before landing on the disabled list, and he may miss the rest of the month of August, which is going to put a big dent in his counting numbers and the Pirates playoff chances. He’s not out of the race, but this is a pretty big setback, and puts him more in the Troy Tulowitzki and Paul Goldschmidt class of guys who will have incomplete great seasons on teams that probably won’t make the postseason.
Take those three away, and you’re left with just a few options. Giancarlo Stanton is having a great year, but again, not on a contender. Jason Heyward, Anthony Rendon, Carlos Gomez, and Hunter Pence are all having very valuable seasons, but doing it with a large helping of defense and baserunning, so they won’t have the big flashy offensive numbers to rack up votes. Jonathan Lucroy’s case hangs on voters giving him a lot of credit for his framing skills, which seems unlikely.
That leaves two guys having great years that are built on the kinds of numbers that voters like and play for a team that will likely make the playoffs: Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw. Puig’s offensive numbers are very similar to Trout’s; Kershaw’s numbers are very similar to no one’s. Kershaw is having the kind of year that gets pitchers real MVP consideration, but the fact that he missed a month will hurt him, especially since voters already prefer giving the award to position players.
Things can change over the next two months, but the odds-on favorites at this point have to be Puig and Kershaw, with no obvious challenger to that top tier now that McCutchen is hurt. With Trout very likely to win in the AL, the BBWAA might want to consider having their awards dinner in Los Angeles this year.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.