MVP Candidates Underrated by Vegas

Date: Jun 17, 2024
Author: Michael Salfino
Topics: 2024 Bowman Chrome Prospects BCP-171 Ethan Salas, Baseball, Bobby Witt Jr, Ethan Salas, Juan Soto, Michael Salfino, MLB, Padres, San Diego, San Diego Padres
Length: 738 Words
Reading Time: ~4 Minutes

At the third-way point of the MLB season, let’s see which players have been more valuable than their current MVP odds indicate.

We’re using mostly two stats, batting run value and defensive run value, according to Statcast/Baseball Savant

Batting run value, according to Statcast, is “the run impact of an event based on the runners on base, outs, ball and strike count.” It changes with every pitch and batted ball event. We do the same with fielding runs saved (or lost) and baserunning runs added (or lost), though these numbers are much smaller generally than batting runs. Everything is scaled to an average player. To illustrate the difference between run value and actual production, consider a hypothetical hitter coming up every time with the bases loaded and knocking in 150 runs. That 150 RBI sounds fantastic. But adjusted for average results in that situation, it actually would be underachieving.  We don’t need to get lost in the weeds here about how the Statcast runs-value sausage is made. The bottom line: modern sportswriters are using these more advanced tools to objectively assess player value in their voting. 

We’re also limiting the field to winning teams since players on losing teams rarely win (despite Shohei Ohtani’s outlying MVP Award win in 2023). 

The impact of winning an MVP Award on card prices has been dramatic. Ronald Acuña Jr.‘s rookie card increased about 250% in the aftermath of his MVP season in 2024. First-time winner Paul Goldschmidt’s first card went up 180% following his 2022 MVP campaign. Cody Bellinger’s first card rose upwards of 300% in light of his 2019 season. These are about the range of expected gains in the aftermath of a first MVP Award.

Outperforming Current Odds in the AL

Let’s start in the American League. When you add batting, fielding and baserunning value at the third-way point of the season, the top three players on winning teams are Juan Soto (29 runs over average), Jose Ramirez (22) and Bobby Witt Jr. (21). Aaron Judge is the favorite in the Vegas odds even though he was fourth at 20 (but these numbers change quickly and Judge has started the second third of the season red hot, as has Soto). 

Soto is the second favorite at +300 vs. +200 for Judge (meaning an implied 25% chance for Soto to win vs. 33% for Judge). The Statcast data says those odds should be flipped at least, given how dominant Soto is relative to the field in overall run value. (Note these odds are constantly changing and that these were the odds at the time this was published.)

José Ramírez is clearly the best player on the Guardians and has never won the Award. The oddsmakers are giving Ramirez only a 3.8% chance to win (+2500). That does not remotely comport with his run value according to Statcast. His odds should be closer to Witt’s +700 (an implied 12.5% chance to win). 

Witt has a tremendous narrative because Kansas City’s team success is such a surprising story. Also note that Witt has amazing baserunning value at seven runs over average. It’s not just stealing bases, as Elly De La Cruz, the league-leading stealer, was just plus-2 compared with plus-7 for Witt. 

Outperforming Current Odds in the NL

In the NL, the runs leaders are more tightly grouped at the third-way point. Mookie Betts (23), Marcell Ozuna (23) and Alec Bohm (22) were the top players on winning teams in overall value. 

Betts is losing a few runs for his defense as he’s been struggling according to the radar technology at second base. Will the voters dock him for switching positions? Probably not. Betts is a massive favorite at +125, meaning a 44.4% implied chance to win. 

Ozuna is +1200 (7.7%) but a pure DH has never won the Award. Also keep this in mind with Shohei Ohtani, who of course is not pitching and only DHing this year, though his odds are +450 (18.2% to win). Think of all the great DH hitting seasons that haven’t won and then you can pretty much count Ozuna and Ohtani out.

Bohm though seems woefully underrated by the market at +3500 (2.8% chance to win). His actual all-encompassing run value a third of the way through the season was right there with Betts and Ozuna. He also has the benefit of relatively inexpensive cards since no one expected him to be this valuable at this juncture of the 2024 season.

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