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MLB Awards: AL MVP Race Turning Into One-Man Show

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In recent weeks, we’ve taken a look at a few MLB awards races that have multiple contenders set to battle over the final weeks of the season. In the AL MVP race, however, one candidate has blown away the rest of the field, and it’s highly unlikely anyone reels him in. There are still a few players though who deserve recognition, even if they don’t take home the hardware.

The Darkhorses

Rafael Devers, 3B, BOS

Even after a rough month of August, Devers‘ overall numbers look strong. He’s hitting .294/.351/.543 (144 OPS+) with 25 homers, 33 doubles, 65 RBIs, and 4.2 rWAR, which already eclipses the 3.5 he put up in 2021. While Devers’ walk rate has fallen, his 17.8-percent strikeout rate is a career low. Statcast is high on Devers too, as he ranks in the top one percent in average exit velocity, the top five percent in hard-hit rate, wOBA, and xSLG, and the top 10 percent in xBA and xwOBA. While his glove still needs some work, Devers’ negative-1 DRS and 3 OAA represent a huge step forward from the negative-13 DRS and 0 OAA he posted a year ago.

José Ramírez, 3B, CLE

José Ramírez seems to be an AL MVP candidate every year, but he’s yet to take home the award. J-Ram is having another fantastic season, hitting .283/.353/.548 (155 OPS+) with 26 homers, an AL-leading 38 doubles, four triples, 14 steals, and a career-high 106 RBIs. Ramírez ranks fourth in the AL with 4.9 rWAR, third in OPS and OPS+, and second in extra-base hits. In fact, Ramírez has more extra-base hits (68) than he does strikeouts (54).

Within Shouting Distance

Yordan Álvarez, OF/DH, HOU

At the end of the first half, Yordan Álvarez was considered a front-runner for AL MVP honors, especially after hitting .418/.510/.835 in the month of June. However, a hand injury right before the All-Star Game sent him to the injured list, and he’s hit just one home run in August.

Still, Álvarez owns a strong .294/.398/.597 (182 OPS+) batting line with 31 homers, 80 RBIs, and 5.0 rWAR. He leads the AL in OBP thanks to a career-best 14.2-percent walk rate, and he ranks second in the league in OPS and slugging percentage. Statcast indicates that Álvarez has actually been a bit unlucky, as he owns a .322 xBA, .417 wOBA, .452 xwOBA, .646 xSLG, and .537 xwOBACON, all of which rank in the top one percent in MLB. Furthermore, he leads MLB with a whopping 61-percent hard-hit rate and has an average exit velocity of a scorching 95.6 miles per hour. While he isn’t necessarily viewed as a front-runner anymore, it’s hard to say that Álvarez can’t get himself back into the top two spots in the race.

The Runner-Up: Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH, LAA

After winning the AL MVP award unanimously last year, Ohtani came out of the gates a little sluggish in 2022, but he’s been firing on all cylinders since the first week of May. Since May 8, Ohtani has a .946 OPS with 25 homers in 96 games, which has raised his overall stat line to .267/.359/.523 (147 OPS+) with 29 homers, 19 doubles, six triples, and 11 steals. Ohtani leads the AL in intentional walks and has lowered his strikeout rate from 29.6 percent last year to a career-low 24.1 percent.

On the mound, Ohtani is having the best year of his career, posting a 2.67 ERA/2.59 FIP (151 ERA+) with a 1.063 WHIP and a career-high 176 strikeouts in 128 innings (MLB-leading 12.4 K/9). Ohtani’s 34-percent strikeout rate and 6.4-percent walk rate are both the best marks of his career, as is his 5.33 K/BB ratio. His fastball velocity is up to 97.2 MPH and his slider has registered a strong negative-18 run value. Between hitting and pitching, Ohtani has put up 7.1 rWAR, which is second in the AL.

The Heavy Favorite: Aaron Judge

In his contract year, Aaron Judge is in a great position to finally win his first AL MVP award. He’s hitting a monstrous .294/.396/.661 (197 OPS+) with 50 homers, 110 RBIs, 14 steals, and 7.6 rWAR. Judge leads MLB in homers, RBIs, runs scored, total bases, slugging percentage, and rWAR, while also leading the AL in walks, OPS, OPS+, and extra-base hits. Judge also ranks in the top one percent in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, barrel rate, wOBA, xwOBA, xwOBACON, and xSLG, while ranking in the top two percentile in xBA. Judge is in great shape to pass his career-high 52 homers, and still has 33 games to catch Roger Maris‘ franchise record of 61. Barring an injury or a major dropoff in production, it’s very difficult to see anyone passing Judge in this race.

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.