AL MVP: The case for David Ortiz

David Ortiz smashes another long home run at Camden Yards. At 40 in his final season, he’s in the hunt for AL MVP. But the Red Sox designated hitter remains a long shot due to stronger candidates who play positions. AP Photo via Getty Images by Deadspin on Twitter.

Normally, when you play in your final year, you have nothing left. That clearly isn’t the case with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. The popular 40-year old designated hitter is having a final season for the ages. In slugging his team-leading 37th home run during Friday night’s 2-1 win over the Rays, he passed Shoeless Joe Jackson for the most runs batted in in a final year.

Ortiz now is tied with Blue Jays’ slugger Edwin Encarnacion for the American League lead with 124 RBI’s. His 37 dingers rank eighth. The 47 doubles leads the junior circuit. Big Papi is hitting .319 which ranks him third in the AL trailing teammate and MVP candidate Mookie Betts by two points. Betts is having quite a year. Having started at lead off and now hitting third in the best lineup in baseball, the star right fielder is .321 with 31 homers, 108 RBI’s and 25 stolen bases. His 117 runs are tied with Mike Trout for second trailing 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson by one. Betts also leads the AL in hits with 207- one better than AL batting leader Jose Altuve, who’s hitting .338.

The common denominator with each player is they all are legit MVP candidates. Most experts believe it’s between Betts, Altuve and Trout. All three are strong position players who have the edge in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Trout leads all contenders with a 10.2 followed by Betts (9.5) and Altuve (7.6). That would explain why DH’s don’t win MVP. Voters don’t just put stock in offensive statistics. But defense. Honestly, all three candidates are superb defensive players. It’s possible that each could win Gold Gloves. Only Altuve has won one earning his first last year. Astonishingly, Trout has never won one despite terrific defense. Partially due to the outfield being crowded. Though it’s hard to explain how Yoenis Cespedes won one for his time in the AL with the Tigers before carrying the Mets to a pennant.

In 2015, Trout’s teammate Kole Calhoun won a Gold Glove along with the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier. A great defensive center fielder who gets high grades. Other contenders this year are Jackie Bradley, Jr., Kevin Pillar and Betts, who leads in defensive WAR with a 2.9- just ahead of Kiermaier and Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (2.7).

The question with the value put on defense is how much of an impact does it have on baseball writers who vote? If you’re nerdy, you can probably find runs saved. Maybe that’s why Manny Ramirez never won despite being a dominant offensive player for both the Indians and Red Sox in his prime. But Albert Pujols was never what I’d call a great defensive first baseman. It was mostly his offense that carried him to three MVP’s with St. Louis. He did win a couple of Gold Gloves. So, his defense was solid. But let’s be blunt. His statistics were what separated him.

Realistically, Ortiz remains a long shot to win MVP. He did finish runner-up to Alex Rodriguez during a memorable ’05 when they went at bat for at bat creaming the ball. Rodriguez took home the award due to his defense at the hot corner. Big Papi had superior situational stats but fell short. Between ’03-07, he had five top five finishes. Since then, he hasn’t come close ranking a distant 10th in 2013.

It’s hard to ignore his AL-leading slugging (.634) and OPS (1.040). Trout ranks second at .992. However, Trout continues to be at the top of the leader board in key categories such as on-base percentage (.437), Offensive WAR (9.5), walks (108), adjusted OPS+ (173), runs created (141), times on base (283), offensive win percentage (.799) and situation wins added (6.3).

What does it all mean? Trout plays for a bad team that’s 18 games under .500 and 23 behind AL West repeat winner Texas. Does playing on such a bad team hurt Trout’s candidacy? I would say so. Meanwhile, Betts is on a first place team running away with the AL East. Boston boasts the most lethal lineup top to bottom with five players having at least 20 home runs or more along with four hitting over .300. Three have driven in over 100 including Hanley Ramirez, who has been on a tear the last two months. His four home runs highlighted a four-game sweep of the Yankees, basically ending their wildcard chances.

Altuve plays on the fading Astros. A favorite to reach the World Series, bad pitching has put them on the brink of missing the playoffs. Consecutive losses to the Angels have them two out of the second wildcard. Baltimore and Detroit are in a flatfooted tie. Seattle has been streaking and are a game and a half back. The Astros must finish strong to make it. None of this falls on Altuve. The excellent second baseman leads the AL in hitting with career highs in homers (24) and RBI’s (94). If he can get to 100 RBI’s, that should solidify his candidacy. He also has 27 steals, a .935 OPS and 206 hits. A terrific player, the 5-6, 165 pound Altuve is one of the game’s most complete players. He has one batting title and paced the AL in hits the last two seasons.

The interesting aspect about this year’s race is you have other players who have had monster years. Particularly the O’s Mark Trumbo, who smashed a walk off home run in extras on Friday for his major league-leading 44th. Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier set the record by clubbing his 42nd home run. After a bad first half that saw him hit only .246 with 14 dingers and 43 RBI’s, his second half has been arguably the best. Despite playing on the worst team in baseball, Dozier has hit .312 with a remarkable 28 homers and 56 RBI’s in 66 games. That’s brought his overall totals up to .277-42-99 with 100 runs scored. The 42 jacks are a career high along with the 99 base knocks.

You also have Encarnacion in Toronto tied with Dozier for second in the AL with 42 long balls and tied with Ortiz for the league lead in RBI’s with 124. Rangers’ ageless third baseman Adrian Beltre has flown under the radar. A future Hall of Famer, he’s had a great year. At 37, his 100 RBI’s pace Texas and 31 homers are tied with teammate Rougned Odor for the team lead. Beltre has also hit .298. While he’s not in the same category as Betts, Altuve and Trout, it’s easy to ignore what the dependable veteran has done in helping lead the Rangers to a second straight division title. He’s always been consistent and deserves recognition.

If the Tigers make it, Miguel Cabrera will have a say. The former AL MVP who won the triple crown in 2013 to edge a then rookie Trout. The first base slugger has quietly had a strong second half helping Detroit back into contention. They did lose in gut wrenching fashion today blowing a two-run lead to the Royals with Eric Hosmer crushing a three-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez. Cabrera is hitting .307 with 34 dingers and 94 RBI’s. The 33-year old remains one of the game’s most dangerous hitters pitchers don’t want to face. With a career .320 average, 442 home runs, 1,539 RBI’s and 2,504 hits, he’s a lock for Cooperstown. Too bad the Marlins didn’t keep him. How long before they unload Giancarlo Stanton or lose ace Jose Fernandez?

The Indians will win the AL Central. They are up to 90-63 and eight clear in the loss column to the Tigers. Pitching, defense and hitting have Cleveland ready to be back in October. While Mike Napoli leads them with 34 homers and 100 RBI’s, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have been the most consistent. In his second season, the 2015 Rookie of The Year Lindor is hitting .303 with 14 homers, 72 RBI’s and 19 stolen bases. He paces them in hits (179) and runs (96). A complete player who plays a superb shortstop, the only reason he might not win the Gold Glove is due to the outstanding Simmons with the Angels.

Ramirez has developed into one of their most trusted players. A versatile player who can play third as well as the outfield if needed, the 24-year old has come from nowhere to lead the Indians with a .315 average and 44 doubles. He has 11 homers and 75 RBI’s along with 22 steals, 170 hits and an .836 OPS. Considering that the Indians have been without Michael Brantley, Ramirez has more than made up for his loss. Brantley was developing into one of the most complete players in the AL. How much better could Cleveland be if he were healthy?

Manny Machado is the forgotten man. The Orioles’ all world third baseman is having another great season. Even though he’s tailed off down the stretch, the 24-year old who should win the Gold Glove again for his tremendous range and defense has already set new highs in home runs (36) and RBI’s (93). Right near .300 with 103 runs scored and 182 hits, Machado remains an emerging star who could one day win MVP. Had he not faded along with Baltimore, who are clinging onto that second wildcard, he would be right in the conversation.

Whoever wins AL MVP will have really earned it. Between Trout’s strong finish and Betts’ sensational season- Altuve’s best overall year- and Ortiz’ amazing final year- there are plenty of worthy choices.

Big Papi will likely fall short due to being a DH. But his final year is one for the record books. You do wonder if there’ll be some emotion when the votes come in. Ortiz could be a sentimental choice. It might be closer than you think.


Published by

Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.

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