Victor Martinez is having the finest season of his twelve year career, and has been one of the best hitters in the game of baseball during the 2014 season. Martinez leads the American League with a .400 on base percentage. He trails only the Astros’ Jose Altuve in batting average. He is second only to rookie sensation Jose Abreu in slugging percentage, OPS, and weighted on base average (wOBA).
Martinez has belted 31 home runs, and has driven in 99 RBI with a dozen games left to play, at the time of writing. These are numbers that have put him in the discussion when it comes to selecting the league’s most valuable player. Does he have a chance to win the MVP? Not likely.
Even if we were to isolate only batting statistics, Martinez trails both Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, and the White Sox’s Abreu in weighted runs created. (WRC+). He could close that gap before the season is finished. As a designated hitter, Martinez faces an uphill climb to be recognized with an MVP award. He might get more votes than Abreu, since his contribution to his team has had a bigger impact on the Tigers than Abreu’s contribution to the White Sox, who are buried in fourth place, 16 games behind Detroit.
But the MVP award will very likely go to Mike Trout. Trout has performed slightly better than Martinez at the plate, but he also contributes defensively in left field, and on the bases, where he has added 14 stolen bases and leads the league with 108 runs scored. Fangraphs credits Trout with +4.2 runs for his base running. Both teams, as of now, look to be playoff bound.
Trout’s fielding has not held up to the numbers that he posted in his rookie season. He is a plus fielder in left field, and a below average fielder in center field. But even a mediocre center fielder provides more value defensively than a designated hitter. These numbers show up when WAR is calculated, giving Trout 7.7 fWAR, which leads the league, to Martinez’s 4.0 fWAR, which ranks 18th in the league. Victor actually ranks third on the Tigers behind Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera in WAR.
There are a few other candidates worthy of a mention. Cleveland’s Michael Brantley ranks second with 6.3 fWAR and the Royals’ Alex Gordon is third, with 6.1. Gordon’s contribution may push his team into the post season, but Brantley’s will not. Brantley has far better offensive numbers, the kind that usually impress baseball writers, but Gordon blows away his fellow left fielders defensively. Gordon’s defensive contribution, plus 15.8 runs according to fangraphs, is greater than any other outfielder.
Another MVP candidate who gets big points for his defense is Oakland’s Josh Donaldson, who ranks second to Trout in baseball references rWAR. As the A’s have cooled off recently, so has Donaldson- at the plate, but his defense nets him plus 16.0 runs to go with his offensive production which includes 27 home runs.
In a recent discussion on the MLB network, Harold Reynolds was discounting Donaldson’s MVP credentials on the basis of his total number of errors. I’m sorry Harold, but that’s just ignorant. Donaldson is the best fielding third baseman in the league despite the error totals. Nevertheless, there are some aging sportswriters who can’t get past error totals and won’t be impressed with a .254 batting average.
On the mound, Felix Hernandez is having a stellar season for the Seattle Mariners. His 5.8 WAR ranks among the league leaders, and his ERA is second to the White Sox’s Chris Sale, though he has pitched 53 more innings than Sale. Seattle is trailing Kansas City for the final wild card playoff spot, and they’d have to make up that ground for King Felix’s contribution to be measured along with other players on playoff teams.
Corey Kluber of the Indians has surpassed Hernandez with a 6.0 WAR, and trails only Sale in FIP. Once again, there is a difference of some 50 innings, but the Tribe are going to fall short of their quest to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Kluber will get serious consideration when it comes to the Cy Young award, as will Sale and Hernandez, but they are likely to fall short in the MVP voting this year.
The Most Valuable Player award allows the voting baseball writers to use their own criteria to determine which player has provided the most value to his team. There has been great controversy in recent years between those who would simply give the award to the "best player". But a significant majority of writers have used the more traditional standard, giving the MVP award to a player who helps his team to reach the playoffs.
Miguel Cabrera has won the last two awards over the Angels’ Mike Trout, as the Tigers have reached the post season while Trout has gone fishing. Not this time. Victor Martinez may be the most valuable Tiger, but with the Angels sporting the best record in all of baseball, Trout has to be the favorite to win the MVP in 2014.