2020 MLB AL and NL MVP Betting Preview: Why I’m Backing Wunderkind Juan Soto


Joe Robbins/Getty Images. Pictured: Juan Soto.

Feb 27, 2020, 07:21 PM EST

In 2003, the baseball landscape changed for good as a result of two events.

First, Michael Lewis released Moneyball and let fans and media peek behind Billy Beane’s analytics curtain. This helped those fans and media members to think differently about the game and allowed advanced metrics, including Wins Above Replacement (“WAR”), to become a regular part of player analysis.

Additionally, MLB began testing for Performance Enhancing Drugs during that 2003 season, two years after Barry Bonds slugged an MLB-record 73 home runs, and before scoring regressed league-wide for nearly a decade.

But in 2016, the league morphed into a complete home run and strikeout bonanza, and the 1.39 home runs and 8.81 strikeouts per game in 2019 were both MLB records.

Only three pitchers have won the MVP award in the past 30 years, and it’s difficult to forecast any hurler to bring home an MVP trophy in this inflated offensive environment with both improved tendency data and increased pitcher injuries.

Therefore, I’m going to discount any pitcher analysis for purposes of betting these awards.

In the past 16 years, pitchers have won just two MVP trophies, while outfielders and corner infielders have won the award 75% of the time:

MVP Data Points

But while there has only been a slight change in the distribution of MVP winners, there is a significant trend with regards to the correlation between WAR and MVP finishers:

In the AL, each of the past seven MVPs has finished in the top three in WAR, and in the National League, the last twelve MVPs have finished in the top three in WAR;  ten of whom were the league leader in the metric.

A 2019 study made similar findings, holding that, “before the advent of WAR, there is no statistical evidence that defensive performance (defensive WAR or dWAR) improved one’s MVP vote point count by any amount… From 2004, improvements in dWAR were rewarded significantly in the MVP race… the creation of WAR has changed decision-making behavior.”

Additionally, a 2018 study found the following data points to be the most predictive in selecting MVP winners:

  • OPS ranking
  • Batting Average ranking
  • Team winning percentage
  • RBI ranking
  • HR ranking
  • SB ranking

With OPS counting nearly double compared to every other category.

Taking all of that into consideration, are there any MVP candidates worth betting for 2020?

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