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Betts Becomes Clear Favorite for 2018 AL MVP; Trout, Martinez Trailing

Boston RF Mookie Betts
Boston RF Mookie Betts has separated himself in the 2018 AL MVP race thanks to sensational offense and defense. Photo by Arturo Pardavila III (flickr) CC License.
  • Crushing it at the plate and saving runs in right field, Mookie Betts is now the odds on favorite for 2018 AL MVP. 
  • Mike Trout has comparable stats, but his Angels are now under .500, while the Red Sox have the best record in the MLB.
  • Betts’ teammate JD Martinez might win the triple crown. Does he have any shot at MVP as a DH?

Two weeks ago, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts were neck and neck in the odds to win 2018 AL MVP. As I said at the time, the value lay with Betts, who is having a slightly better season for a much better team.

Hopefully bettors put their money down on Mookie (-240 average odds) then because the odds have shifted dramatically in favor of the Red Sox right fielder, even though Trout (+450 average odds) has returned from injury and is once again doing Mike Trouty things.

As the graph above shows, the other main contender for 2018 AL MVP is Betts’ teammate JD Martinez (+500 average odds). The 31-year-old DH has a real shot at the triple crown, currently sitting first in RBI, second in batting average (just one point behind Betts), and second in home runs (just one homer behind Khris Davis).

Statistic Mookie Betts JD Martinez Mike Trout
Games Played 120 132 (82 as DH) 120
WAR (per ESPN) 9.1 (1st) 6.0 (7th) 8.2 (2nd)
Batting Average .336 (1st) .335 (2nd) .305 (7th)
On-Base + Slugging Percentage 1.053 (2nd) 1.048 (3rd) 1.061 (1st)
RBI 71 (T22nd) 115 (1st) 63 (39th)
HR 29 (T9th) 39 (2nd) 31 (T7th)
Weighted Runs Created-Plus
(per FanGraphs)
178 (2nd) 175 (3rd) 184 (1st)
Defensive WAR (per ESPN) 1.5 (1st among RFs) -1.3 (81st among RFs) 0.8 (10th among CFs)

The last time an AL player won the triple crown (Miguel Cabrera, 2013), he also won MVP despite not leading the league in advanced stats like WAR. Trout, who finished second in MVP voting that year, had a WAR of 9.2 while Cabrera’s was just 7.2 because of his abysmal defense (-1.2 dWAR).

Ironically, Martinez’ chances of winning the 2018 award are severely attenuated by the fact that he’s a primary DH and isn’t providing terrible, Cabrera-esque defense on an everyday basis. No primary DH has ever won AL MVP; voters do not reward players who are only perceived as playing half the game, even though they’re fine with rewarding players like Cabrera who routinely cost their teams by being in the field. 

It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it’s reality.

If Betts and Trout weren’t having the seasons they were having, Martinez would have a feasible shot at becoming the first DH to win AL MVP. But they are, so there’s little value on him at +500, which carries a 16.7% implied probability.

When it comes to Betts vs Trout, the situation is the same as the last time we checked in. They are still neck and neck in the important statistical categories. Both will get a pass for their deflated RBI numbers, Betts because he hits leadoff and Trout because no one gets on base in front of him. Martinez has had 231 at-bats with at least one runner on base and 133 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

Betts has had 140 at-bats with runners on and 70 with runners in scoring position, while Trout is at just 141/63 despite batting second or third in the Angel lineup.

When voters finally put pen to paper, the factor that’s going to separate Betts from Trout is team success. Boston has not slowed down, still leading the league in winning percentage (.686) and still on pace for the best season in team history. Their 757 runs are nearly 40 more than the next closest team (Yankees, 718).

The Angels, meanwhile, have fallen five games below .500 and are already looking ahead to next year.

When the best all-round player in the league is also on the best team in the league and plays in a massive media market, you have the MVP trifecta. Either bet on Betts or save your money for a more lucrative endeavor.

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Sascha was a hockey player in his youth. He has now been SBD's lead odds-maker/number cruncher since 2014, writing and editing about everything you can possibly put odds on. He's happiest when those things are baseball, hockey, football, and basketball.