With six weeks complete in the 2021 MLB season, the American League MVP race is taking an early shape.
Through the first month of the season, the early consensus was that the award was already Mike Trout’s to lose.
Through May 1, Trout boasted an absurd .413 batting average and 1.332 OPS.
In 13 games since May 1, however, Trout has returned to Earth with a 6-for-40 skid, dropping his batting average to .333 and his OPS to 1.086.
Despite the recent slide, Trout still leads the American League in on-base percentage (.462), slugging (.624), OPS (1.086) and OPS+ (200).
Trout’s fellow Angel Shohei Ohtani is far from a dark-horse candidate, as the do-it-all 26-year-old currently has the second-shortest AL MVP odds according to most sportsbooks.
On the mound, Ohtani has maintained a 2.10 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 3.59 FIP thus far, while striking out 40 batters over 25.2 innings.
At the plate, Ohtani is batting .262 with a .901 OPS and 12 home runs.
He furthered his MVP case with a clutch two-out blast in the ninth inning on Sunday which gave the Angels a 6-5 win over the Boston Red Sox.
Ohtani’s versatility makes him a WAR magnet—he currently boasts a 2.3 WAR, which puts him on a 9.6 WAR pace.
It is deeply unacceptable that Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani are, again, not going to be in the playoffs.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) May 12, 2021
The discussion will eventually turn to whether another lousy overall season in Anaheim will hurt Trout and Ohtani in the race.
With two of the early-going favorites discussed, let’s get into some of the dark-horses.
Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez is off to a hot start this season.
He’s fifth in the AL in batting average at .342 and has maintained a 1.025 OPS to this point.
He also leads the league in total bases, hits and runs.
Value added on swings, 2021:
+11.3 runs JD Martinez
+9.7 runs Byron Buxton
+9.3 runs Jared Walsh
+8.7 runs Mike Trout
+7.8 runs Jesse Winker
-13.7 runs Jurickson Profar
-13.9 runs Alec Bohm
-14.4 runs Eugenio Suarez
-14.9 runs Francisco Lindor
-17.5 runs Elvis Andrus
— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) May 11, 2021
The challenge for Martinez will be overcoming the obstacle of primarily being a designated hitter.
Since it was introduced in 1973, no full-time DH has won the MVP award.
Don Baylor—who split time between the outfield and the DH spot—did win the 1979 MVP.
If MLB history repeats itself, this could be a good sign for Martinez, who generally splits starts between the DH spot and the outfield, too.
The catch is that Baylor’s award came in an era where WAR was not a factor in MVP voting.
Martinez will likely lose some ground in the race by not being able to accumulate much defensive WAR.
The outlook is not all bad for Martinez, though: he’s the beneficiary of playing for a contending team in the Red Sox, which is an important piece of criteria for many voters.
Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton has been on a tear to start the year.
Buxton is currently slashing .370/.408/1.180 to go along with a league-leading 2.8 WAR.
Buxton is a phenomenal defender, and defensive WAR reflects that—he’s third in the AL in that category.
Unfortunately for Buxton, he will face the argument that Trout has dealt with for many years: that a player can only be so “valuable” when he’s playing for a non-competitive team.
Buxton’s Twins are last in the AL Central with a 13-25 record.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has met all expectations since coming into MLB.
The 22-year-old is having the best season of his young career so far, batting .319 with a 1.049 OPS and 11 home runs over 39 games.
Guerrero is on pace for 46 home runs at his current rate.
His Blue Jays have been a pleasant surprise early in the season, posting a 22-17 record and staying afloat in the AL East.
Vladimir has a 2.1 WAR and figures to remain a player in this race as long as he keeps the production up and Toronto remains in the MLB postseason mix.