It’s way too early to talk MVP race, right?
Yes. Small sample size and short season (SSSSS?) and all that—things are going to change and change fast. It might too early to talk MVP until the final two weeks of the season.
But, hey, we’re almost 20% of the way through the season and Luis Robert is an early MVP favorite and I want to talk about it. So, if you’re allergic to overreactions, I’d suggest epinephrine.
If the season ended today, the award would surely belong to Aaron Judge. He’s excelled at counting stats, historically a boon to MVP chances, as 6 HR, 14 RBI, and 11 R over 9 G is a little ridiculous. The gaudy .314/.385/.886 slash line can’t hurt, either, good for a 1.270 OPS and a 252 OPS+—both of which lead the league. His 249 wRC+ is, well… not bad, and he’s stumbled on 1.0 WAR and 0.8 fWAR (for those counting at home, that’s 18 WAR in 162 games).
And yet, despite the torrid start, Judge isn’t leading the AL in fWAR. At the top of that leaderboard sits Luis Robert, alone, at 1.0 fWAR (his 0.9 WAR is second only to Judge).
Robert has been a different brand of awesome than Judge, but he’s still been awesome. The counting stats don’t measure up, but even old-timers will see some things they like: 2 HR, 6 RBI, 8 R with an MLB-leading 4 SB (0 CS) to go along with a .346/.429/.586 slash line. A 188 wRC+ ain’t bad, either.
What sets Robert apart, however, is the combination of offense and defense. Only Judge (7.0) and Nelson Cruz (6.8) surpass Robert (6.0) in OFF, while only Kevin Kiermaier (3.1) and Matt Chapman (2.2) beat Robert’s (2.1) DEF. He’s third in UZR (1.9)—good for second among CF to only Kiermaier (the third-best CF is Mike Trout at 0.7).
In a statistical nutshell, Robert has been offensively and definitively elite.
Judge and Cruz are putting up massive offensive seasons so far, but neither exactly excels defensively. It’s unlikely Robert will match their offensive season, but, with his defense at an up-the-middle position, he shouldn’t have to. While Robert isn’t exactly immune to being banged up, neither Judge nor Cruz are great bets to hold up all season. Judge, much like ESPN, has seen around 70% of Yankees games over the last two seasons while Cruz, 39, was bitten harder by the injury bug last year than he had been since Dayan Viciedo was roaming LF on the South Side.
It’s true Robert has some company for players who can do it all. Carlos Correa (0.8 fWAR), J. P. Crawford (0.6 fWAR), and our very own Yoan Moncada (0.7 fWAR) are putting up good offensive numbers while being defensively above-average. But Robert has been better.
The important question for Robert’s MVP hopes, however, is can he keep this going?
We’ll see, as they say. A .500 BABIP doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence. He can certainly sting the ball (his first hit was a scorching 115.8 MPH, the 3rd hardest hit ball by any player all season), but he’s not consistently exceptional in this regard. His Statcast numbers (average exit velocity, hard hit %, etc.) don’t stand out in his own lineup, as Eloy Jimenez, Jose Abreu, and Moncada all put up better looking sounding numbers.
There are reasons for optimism, though. While the BABIP is inflated, his speed allows him to leg out hits that shouldn’t be. More encouraging, he’s showing plate discipline improvements. During the first week, he sported a not-so-cool 9:1 K:BB ratio. During the second, a much cooler 5:4. That’s a lot of improvement over a fortnight. It might have more to do with the Sox opponents, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.
The real answer to the question above, however, depends, most of all, on whether he continues to adjust to the league or the league adjusts to him. Both will happen, but will one outpace the other? Former Sox blue-chippers have taken their time adjusting to the league—easing into the league-wide hot tub one limb at a time. Robert has cannonballed in, but time will have to tell whether he can withstand the coming heat.
There is little question that Robert will hit some sort of wall at some point in his career, but this season is just chaotic enough, just short enough, and Robert is just fast enough, that he may well avoid that wall in 2020.
Major League Baseball has handed out five AL MVP awards during shortened seasons. The White Sox have won two of them. If Robert can avoid hitting that wall in 2020, the Sox just might make it 3-for-6.
Do I root for Robert, or Aaron Judge because he was my prediction for AL MVP? Decisions decisions….
I know who I am rooting for:
That’s funny- I didn’t even see your tweets. I actually got started down this rabbit hole because, after his big night, i was curious how Eloy stacked up among possible MVPers. Turns out, Moncada and Robert both have him beat.
I take baseball overreactions as a multivitamin. I’m on board with all of this!
I do like the amount of walks that Robert has been drawing after getting behind in the count. With his speed, a walk can easily turn into a double.
Robert is showing why he should have been batting leadoff all season. Please keep him there. Anderson is a good weapon as well, but Robert’s skills are much more suited toward that role.
Judge, much like ESPN, has seen around 70% of Yankees games over the last two seasons…
That’s a good one.
Frank Thomas MVP in ‘94 and who’s the other one?
Dick Allen in 1972?
Yep, Dick Allen.
You’re selling Robert short. He will win the ROY, MVP, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove awards.
This is some excellent extra content. Thanks @HallofFrank