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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t the only one driving the Blue Jays toward October.Associated Press
With the 2021 Major League Baseball season set to wrap up Oct. 3, things have gone far enough for us to name each team’s most valuable player.
But you know what’s better than one MVP? Two MVPs. And even better? Three MVPs.
We’ve sought to pinpoint each team’s MVP in the three fundamental aspects of baseball: offense, pitching and defense.
For the first two, we considered overall production and how players have performed in the clutch in case a tiebreaker was necessary. For the latter, we considered players’ metrics and whether they’ve served their teams well at multiple positions on the field.
We’ll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
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Rafael DeversMichael Dwyer/Associated Press
Baltimore Orioles: CF Cedric Mullins (O), LHP John Means (P) and OF Austin Hays (D)
The Orioles are 52 games under .500 precisely because they lack good players, but Mullins and Means are the obvious exceptions to the rule. Mullins is one home run and two stolen bases shy of a 30-30 season, while Means is the author of a no-hitter and more than twice as much rWAR as the next O’s hurler.
Mullins’ team-leading nine outs above average arguably cast him as Baltimore’s best defender, but neither defensive runs saved nor ultimate zone rating is on board. Hays, on the other hand, has accounted for 10 DRS at three different outfield spots with help from both his glove and his arm.
Boston Red Sox: 3B Rafael Devers (O), RHP Nathan Eovaldi (P) and CF/INF Enrique Hernandez (D)
Though Xander Bogaerts has a leg up on Devers in offensive WAR, the latter has a higher OPS (.887 to .879), more home runs (34 to 21) and more win probability added (2.5 to 1.3). And with respect to Hunter Renfroe and his MLB-leading 16 outfield assists, Hernandez’s 11 DRS just in center field give him the cake.
As for the Red Sox’s best pitcher, Garrett Whitlock has done yeoman’s work in putting up a 1.92 ERA out of their bullpen. But with a 3.52 ERA over 168.2 innings, Nathan Eovaldi has done just as much to solidify what’s otherwise been a shaky starting rotation.
New York Yankees: RF/CF Aaron Judge (O/D) and RHP Gerrit Cole (P)
Amid all that’s gone wrong for the Yankees this year, it’s no small positive that Judge is having one of his most productive seasons and his healthiest season as a big leaguer. He’s put up a .922 OPS and 34 homers as well as six DRS in right field, and he likewise gets credit for moonlighting in center field.
As much as it feels like Cole has had an up-and-down year, the totality of it is impressive. He’s very much in the AL Cy Young Award race by way of his 2.75 ERA and 224 strikeouts over 163.2 innings. Some voters might even care about his AL-leading 15 wins.
Tampa Bay Rays: 2B Brandon Lowe (O), RHP Andrew Kittredge (P) and CF Kevin Kiermaier (D)
The Rays’ pitching staff is essentially baseball’s version of the Borg, in that it works not so much because of individuals but because of the strength of the collective. But Kittredge has carried as much weight as anyone, co-leading in rWAR and leading in WPA after 68.2 innings of multifaceted work.
Lowe and Kiermaier, meanwhile, are layups as Tampa Bay’s offensive and defensive MVPs. Lowe has 34 home runs to go with an .845 OPS, while Kiermaier is making a case for yet another Gold Glove with 13 DRS and nine OAA. Watching him run down fly balls remains as fun as ever.
Toronto Blue Jays: 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (O), LHP Robbie Ray (P) and 2B/SS Marcus Semien (D)
Semien was pushing Guerrero for a second, but the latter has pulled away, and his case for the overall AL MVP is bolstered by league-best marks in multiple categories, including OPS (1.011) and home runs (45).
Semien is, however, a standout on defense, where he’s starred at second base and capably filled in at his old stomping grounds at shortstop. Ray is likewise exceptional on the mound, where his case for the AL Cy Young Award is punctuated by a league-best 2.69 ERA and over 170.1 innings.
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Jose AbreuDavid Banks/Associated Press
Chicago White Sox: 1B Jose Abreu (O), RHP Lance Lynn (P) and SS Tim Anderson (D)
Because he’s grounded into an MLB-high 25 double plays, one could make a case that Abreu isn’t Chicago’s offensive MVP. He gets it from us, though, because he’s been a rock by playing in 137 games and has continued to do his thing with 29 home runs and 107 runs batted in.
Speaking of rocks, Lynn’s 2.50 ERA and 140.2 innings give him the edge over fellow aces Lucas Giolito and Carlos Rodon. Anderson’s defense is the surprise, as his metrics have benefited from a massive decrease in his frequency of errors. Outs above average, in particular, rates him as a top-10 shortstop.
Cleveland: 3B Jose Ramirez (O), RHP Emmanuel Clase (P) and C Austin Hedges (D)
You know your offense is suspect when you get no-hit three times in a season. But hey, at least Cleveland has gotten the dynamic offense it’s come to expect from Ramirez. Courtesy of an .880 OPS, 33 home runs and 23 steals, he should get his share of MVP votes.
It was harder to choose in the other two categories, but Clase stands out because his 1.44 ERA is the lowest of any reliever who’s made at least 60 appearances. As Cleveland’s primary catcher, Hedges has accounted for 11 DRS with an all-around strong effort behind the plate.
Detroit Tigers: RF/LF Robbie Grossman (O), RHP Casey Mize (P) and INF/OF Harold Castro (D)
The Tigers don’t really have an MVP on either offense or defense. Grossman and Castro come the closest, as Grossman leads the team’s regulars with a .357 OBP and 23 home runs, while Castro has ably played all four infield spots.
Thank goodness for Mize, who’s much more in his own league relative to Detroit’s other pitchers. Despite only 108 strikeouts in 140.1 innings, he’s done just fine to the tune of a 3.66 ERA.
Kansas City Royals: C Salvador Perez (O), RHP Scott Barlow (P) and CF Michael A. Taylor (D)
What a year this has been for Perez. His 43 home runs are not only 16 more than his previous career high but also just two off the all-time mark for a primary catcher in a single year. Taylor’s bat is nowhere near that good, but his glove has accounted for 19 DRS and 14 OAA.
As for Kansas City’s top pitcher…well, which perspective do you prefer? By WPA, Josh Staumont has been easily the Royals’ most consequential hurler. For WAR, it’s Barlow. In the context of his excellent 2.34 ERA over 69.1 innings in relief, the latter rings more true to us.
Minnesota Twins: 2B/SS Jorge Polanco (O), RHP Michael Pineda (P) and SS Andrelton Simmons (D)
The Twins have fallen from first place to last place in the AL Central largely because their pitching has been a monumental letdown. And with Jose Berrios now in Toronto, we had to give this one to Pineda by default. His 3.87 ERA over 93 innings isn’t much, but it’s outstanding by Twins standards.
We have no such shade to cast over Polanco, who’s been legitimately good in racking up an .850 OPS and 30 home runs. Simmons is still on Ozzie Smith’s path to Cooperstown with 11 DRS and 14 OAA at short. Here, have a highlight as a treat.
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Shohei OhtaniAssociated Press
Houston Astros: RF Kyle Tucker (O), RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (P) and SS Carlos Correa (D)
Jeez, we can only pick one Astros hitter? Fine, Tucker it is. His .896 OPS leads the team’s regulars, and it comes with double-digit home runs (25) and stolen bases (13). Correa is also having a fine offensive season, yet his defense grabs attention by way of 14 DRS and nine OAA.
Like the Rays, the Astros have had a Borg-like thing going on with their pitching staff. This is nonetheless the best forum to give McCullers the credit that has eluded him as he’s pitched to a 3.12 ERA over 144.1 innings. That new slider is working wonders for him.
Los Angeles Angels: DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani (O/P) and 2B/SS David Fletcher (D)
Alas, Ohtani lost the major league home run lead to Guerrero on Monday. But 44 home runs is nothing to be ashamed of, least of all when said dingers also come with 23 steals, a .965 OPS and, oh yeah, a 3.36 ERA and 136 strikeouts over 115.1 innings as a pitcher. Coming from one player, that’s a decent year.
Angels players not named Ohtani haven’t been very interesting in 2021, yet Fletcher continues to be one of the game’s most overlooked gems. Particularly on defense, where he’s racked up eight DRS and five OAA at second base and also filled in at shortstop.
Oakland Athletics: 1B Matt Olson (O), RHP Chris Bassitt (P) and 3B Matt Chapman (D)
With a .911 OPS and 34 home runs, Olson has carried an A’s lineup that has otherwise struggled to get consistent production from its regulars. And even weeks after his scary head injury, Bassitt’s 3.22 ERA and 151 innings mark the gold standard for the green and gold’s hurlers.
Could we give Oakland’s defensive MVP to catcher Sean Murphy based on his 11 DRS? We could indeed…but come on, Chapman is still a joy to watch in the field, and his metrics are about as eye-popping as ever. To wit, his 16 OAA are three times more than any other A’s defender.
Seattle Mariners: 1B Ty France (O), RHP Chris Flexen (P) and 2B/OF Dylan Moore (D)
In fairness to Mitch Haniger, his .802 OPS and 33 homers give him a compelling argument as Seattle’s offensive MVP. France, though, has a 36-point advantage in on-base percentage and is decimal points behind Haniger with both his .796 OPS and 1.7 WPA.
Pitching-wise, Flexen has done the most to carry Seattle’s flimsy rotation with a 3.73 ERA over 156.2 innings. And with respect to reigning Gold Glover J.P. Crawford and his eight DRS, Moore has been a plus defender in both left field and second base. Especially at the latter, where he’s been worth 10 OAA.
Texas Rangers: CF Adolis Garcia (O/D), RHP Dane Dunning (P)
By WAR, the Rangers’ two best pitchers are Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy, neither of whom is still around. So Dunning, who’s racked up a 4.27 ERA mostly as a two-times-through-the-lineup starter, gets the team’s pitching MVP by default.
Garcia, on the other hand, needs no such disclaimers. In spite of his .296 OBP, he’s stood out offensively by blasting 230 home runs. He’s also underrated defensively, where he notably has 11 OAA. That home run-robbing grab he made last month is just (chef’s kiss) exquisite.
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Bryce HarperMatt Slocum/Associated Press
Atlanta: 1B Freddie Freeman (O), RHP Charlie Morton (P) and CF Guillermo Heredia (D)
Both Freeman and Austin Riley have been raking since Ronald Acuna Jr. went down with a torn ACL in July, and the former barely edges the latter for OPS (.907 to .887) and home runs (30 to 29). Morton (3.49) and Max Fried (3.47) have basically the same ERA, but Morton’s 165 innings easily edge Fried’s 142.2.
Things get tricky on defense, where Riley leads the team with seven DRS yet is also at the bottom of the pile with minus-nine OAA. Heredia, meanwhile, rates positive for both metrics and should also be credited for doing so well as an emergency option in center field.
Miami Marlins: 1B Jesus Aguilar (O), RHP Sandy Alcantara (P) and SS Miguel Rojas (D)
The Marlins are about as bad as they come on offense, yet Aguilar is the last guy to pin that on. Though not great, he’s been solid with a .788 OPS and 22 homers. For his part, Rojas has tallied six DRS while playing more innings at one position than any other Marlin.
Miami is far better off on the mound, and never more so than on days when Alcantara takes the ball. He deserves so much more acclaim than he gets, as he’s racked up a 3.10 ERA as one of only four pitchers to hit the 30-start threshold.
New York Mets: 1B Pete Alonso (O), RHP Marcus Stroman (P) and SS Francisco Lindor (D)
The Mets’ owner will tell you (and has told you) how disappointing the team’s offense has been in 2021, but not when Alonso has been at the plate. After a rough 2020, the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year has bounced all the way back with an .849 OPS and 32 home runs.
Though he’s been a part of said disappointing offense, Lindor’s defense has remained on point as he’s accounted for 10 more OAA than any other Mets fielder. And while Jacob deGrom still leads the team in WAR, Stroman’s workload (i.e., 2.88 ERA and 169 innings) for a constantly injury-wrecked staff looms too large to ignore.
Philadelphia Phillies: RF Bryce Harper (O), RHP Zack Wheeler (P) and 2B Jean Segura (D)
Remember when Harper was supposed to be overrated? He might have been underrated even then, and he definitely is now given that his MLB-best 1.033 OPS is largely uncelebrated. Wheeler has also silenced doubters, as his 2.86 ERA comes with MLB highs with 195.1 innings and 225 strikeouts.
For that matter, Wheeler leads the Phillies with four DRS. Yet the team’s defensive MVP fits much better in the able hands of Segura, whose 11 OAA easily top the team and are also behind only Tommy Edman among second basemen.
Washington Nationals: RF Juan Soto (O/D) and RHP Paolo Espino (P)
Another year, another case of Soto refusing to make outs as he’s racked up an MLB-best .457 OBP to go with 25 home runs. And so much for his being a one-note guy, as he’s played over 1,000 innings in right field and earned the approval of both DRS (four) and OAA (five).
Sans Max Scherzer and Daniel Hudson, the state of Washington’s pitching staff is even bleaker than it was when those two were in town. Espino gets the nod because he’s been admirably effective as both a reliever (3.42 ERA) and as a starter (4.42 ERA).
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Corbin BurnesJeff Chiu/Associated Press
Chicago Cubs: 3B Patrick Wisdom (O), RHP Kyle Hendricks (P) and C Willson Contreras (D)
Frank Schwindel has only been with the Cubs for 38 games, but he’s up to 11 homers and has grabbed the team lead in WPA. Yet we lean toward Wisdom as the team’s offensive MVP, as he’s been rock-like in posting an .845 OPS and 26 homers amid an ever-changing cast of characters.
In spite of his 4.54 ERA and league-high 184 hits allowed, Hendricks has been a rock in his own right by handling 166.2 innings. The Cubs lost their best defender when they dealt Javier Baez to the Mets, so we’ll take this chance to give Contreras a high-five for shattering his previous career high with 11 DRS.
Cincinnati Reds: RF Nick Castellanos (O), LHP Wade Miley (P) and SS Kyle Farmer (D)
It used to be that the Reds had a serious deficiency at shortstop, but not since Farmer took over. In addition to providing passable offense, he’s easily in the team lead with six OAA. As Reds fans have noticed, he’s as good with backhanded plays as anyone.
We see Joey Votto and his .909 OPS and 30 homers, but Castellanos’ .944 OPS more than makes up for how he only has one less home run. Which brings us to Miley, who’s quietly been one of baseball’s best pitchers as he’s ground-balled his way to a 3.09 ERA over 160 innings.
Milwaukee Brewers: SS Willy Adames (O), RHP Corbin Burnes (P) and OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (D)
It was clear even before he handled eight-ninths of Milwaukee’s no-hitter Saturday, but there isn’t much doubt that Burnes is the best pitcher of 2021. The dude has a 2.25 ERA with 210 strikeouts, 29 walks and only five home runs allowed in 152 innings.
Otherwise, Adames is on track to be an all-time trade steal after compiling a .905 OPS and 17 homers in 88 games with the Brewers. Bradley has been a disaster in the batter’s box, but he has a team-high 10 DRS as a center fielder. He can still catch it. And throw it, for that matter.
Pittsburgh Pirates: CF Bryan Reynolds (O), RHP David Bednar (P) and C Jacob Stallings (D)
Even more than the Marlins, the Pirates are the lowest of the low on offense in 2021. But they have a genuinely great hitter in their midst, as Reynolds has been a tough out in all sorts of ways as he’s tallied an .895 OPS and 23 home runs.
Per his 21 DRS, the Pirates also have baseball’s best defender at any position in the person of Stallings. There’s less to speak positively about where their pitching is concerned, but Bednar has flown under the radar as he’s pitched to a 2.18 ERA over 57.2 innings.
St. Louis Cardinals: 1B Paul Goldschmidt (O), RHP Adam Wainwright (P) and CF Harrison Bader (D)
You could argue that the Cardinals’ offensive MVP should be Nolan Arenado or Tyler O’Neill, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Goldschmidt simply offers the best of both worlds in that he’s been reliable (i.e., 141 games) and consistent as he’s accumulated an .841 OPS and 25 homers.
No such arguments can be made in the other two departments. It’s been a delight to watch Wainwright finesse his way to a 2.88 ERA over 190.1 innings. Bader boasts 18 DRS and 13 OAA. Relative to the eye test, both numbers arguably undersell the defense he’s played.
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Fernando Tatis Jr.Gregory Bull/Associated Press
Arizona Diamondbacks: CF Ketel Marte (O), RHP Merrill Kelly (P) and SS Nick Ahmed (D)
Amid a season when basically nothing has gone right, at least the Diamondbacks have seen Marte return to form and Ahmed hold it down at shortstop. Albeit in only 75 games, the former has put up a .920 OPS. Already a two-time Gold Glover, the latter holds the overall MLB lead with 18 OAA.
Arizona’s pitching MVP is harder to discern, and Kelly gets it by default. His 4.30 ERA and 142.1 innings are nothing special, yet both figures amount to unparalleled reliability by the Snakes’ standards for 2021.
Colorado Rockies: 1B C.J. Cron (O), RHP German Marquez (P) and 3B Ryan McMahon (D)
Though the Rockies have missed Arenado in 2021, McMahon has been more than equal to the task of replacing his defense at the hot corner. He’s not only looked the part but also played it very well in racking up 13 DRS and 12 OAA.
Offensively, Cron has reestablished his value by hitting 27 home runs with a .901 OPS. Marquez has built on his resume as perhaps the best pitcher to ever come through Denver. He has a 3.93 ERA over 167 innings this year and is third on the club’s all-time WAR list for pitchers.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 1B Max Muncy (O/D) and RHP Walker Buehler (P)
Scherzer has been categorically ridiculous since debuting for the Dodgers on Aug. 4, posting a 0.88 ERA with 72 strikeouts and only 29 hits allowed over 51 innings. But from a season-long perspective, Buehler’s 2.32 ERA and 186 innings overwhelm what Scherzer has done over the last few weeks.
Otherwise, the Dodgers’ season has been the Max Muncy Show on offense, where he has a .915 OPS and 33 homers, and defense, where he leads the team in both DRS and OAA. Mookie Betts perhaps ought to be leading in the latter two categories, but he’s been limited this year by a bothersome hip.
San Diego Padres: SS Fernando Tatis Jr. (O), RHP Joe Musgrove (P) and INF Ha-Seong Kim (D)
Even more than his explosive 2019 and 2020 seasons, this year is a compelling proof of concept of what Tatis can be. He’s put up a .987 OPS with 38 home runs and 25 stolen bases, and he’s done it all with only one healthy shoulder.
The Padres have disappointed in part because their rotation has played under expectations, but Musgrove has done his part with a no-hitter and a 2.93 ERA over 159.2 innings. Despite only being a part-time player, Kim has 17 total DRS at three different infield spots.
San Francisco Giants: SS Brandon Crawford (O/D) and RHP Kevin Gausman (P)
Though he probably won’t crack the top five in the final tally, Crawford deserves MVP votes. He’s second on the Giants in plate appearances and has made the most of them with an .883 OPS and 20 homers. In keeping with his stellar defensive track record, he also leads the team with 11 OAA.
It was oh-so-tempting to name Logan Webb, who boasts a sub-2.00 ERA over his last 16 starts, as San Francisco’s pitching MVP. However, there’s no ignoring Gausman’s sizable advantage (170 to 125.1) in innings, much less his excellent 2.65 ERA.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.