2020 MLB Betting Preview: MVP Odds, Picks and Longshots with Value
Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: Austin Meadows
For additional information on the criteria for how MVP award winners are selected, check out my 2020 MVP betting preview from February.
In short, 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. Additionally, each of the past seven MVPs in the AL and each of the last twelve MVPs in the NL has finished in the top three in WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
While OPS (on-base % + slugging %) remains the most highly correlated metric for MVP winners, defensive metrics are becoming increasingly important in deciding the award.
Baseball Stats Bettors Should Know
FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if the pitcher experienced league-average defense and luck. xFIP is a regressed version of FIP that adjusts or “normalizes’ the home run component based on park factors.
wRC+ or Weighted Runs Created Plus takes the statistic Runs Created and adjusts that number to account for critical external factors — like ballpark or era. It’s adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is league average, and 150 would be 50 percent above league average.
wOBA or Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively. You can expect an average hitter to post a .320 wOBA in a given season, according to FanGraphs.
I initially selected Juan Soto (+1200) for the National League and Matt Chapman (+2500) for the American League as my lone 2020 MVP futures at the time.
However, given the shortened schedule, there is now significantly more potential for a longshot to take home the award. Mike Trout is no doubt the best player in baseball, but his advantage, like that of the Yankees or Dodgers relative to their peers, dissipates with fewer games to prove his statistical dominance.
In a two-month season, a single two-week cold streak for either the Angels or Trout could cause his 2020 MVP candidacy could go up in smoke.
While I would still recommend betting Juan Soto down to +1000, or Matt Chapman down to +2000, the following players also caught my attention.
American League MVP Sleeper Picks
Joey Gallo (+6600), Austin Meadows (+6600), Yasmani Grandal (+6000)
Why bet the Rangers at +1600 to win their division, when they have the worst projected group of position players in baseball per WAR, outside of the Orioles and Marlins, with Gallo as their only standout player?
To win the award, Gallo likely needs to lead the majors in homers – so I’m not interested in taking a short price on him to win the home run title – while continuing to play above-average outfield defense.
The big man has made significant strides over five seasons in the majors, posting a career-best swinging strike rate, walk rate, OPS (.986), wRC+ (144) and wOBA (.401) over 70 games in 2019 – before his season ended in July due to a broken hamate bone. Had he stayed healthy and if the Rangers continued on their wild card run, there’s no doubt that he would have received substantial MVP considered.
Again, why bet the Rangers to win the division (+1600) or bet on Gallo to win the home run title (+1200) when he likely needs to put in an MVP performance – at quadruple those odds – for their club to achieve those heights this season.
The wagers on Chapman, Grandal, and Meadows align with my divisional bets on the A’s, White Sox, and Rays.
Chapman finished seventh in AL MVP voting in 2018, and sixth last season while winning the platinum glove as the AL’s best defensive player on both occasions.
Meadows, a 2019 all-star, finished 14th in AL MVP voting despite playing only 138 games due to a short IL stint. He should continue to improve in his age-25 season and is one of few players in that deep lineup who project for everyday at-bats.
Grandal finished 15th in NL MVP voting in 2019, and he was the first significant free-agent signing this offseason – before the White Sox also added Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Steve Cishek, Nomar Mazara, and Edwin Encarnacion to their roster.
Grandal is one of, if not the best defensive catcher in baseball, and even though he struggled over the second half of last season, his first two months of production (52 games, .276 average, 12 HR, 30 RBI, .910 OPS) had him at the forefront of the early MVP discussion.
The narrative is already built-in too if Grandal can turn the young White Sox staff into a group of winners.
National League MVP Sleeper Pick
Starling Marte (+10000)
In the NL, the Diamondbacks new center fielder is the only MVP longshot bet that intrigued me.
Starling has never received an MVP vote – playing in the anonymity of Pittsburgh for the entirety of his eight-year career – and he has only made one all-star game (2016), so he may seem like a curious choice for a late-career breakout.
Like some other players that I have already targeted in these prop categories, Marte usually misses a couple of weeks throughout a full 162 game season – averaging 121 games played over the past four years – but I think he can stay healthy for two months and help the Diamondbacks to make a playoff push.
He has always seemed a bit mercurial, and his on-field performance has fluctuated from year to year, but I think he has just wanted to play for a contender.
More intriguingly, however, Marte moves from one of the worst hitters parks to one of the best, and his power metrics are improving at the age of 30 – posting a career-best 8.2% barrel rate in 2019, with a .304 expected batting average that ranked in the top 4% of MLB hitters.
From June-August of last season, Starling launched 17 homers and stole 16 bases in 78 games, while posting a .940 OPS in the second half of the season. If he can repeat that production – prorated out to roughly 12 homers and 12 steals over 60 games – while helping the Diamondbacks to an NL West crown, Starling can put himself into the MVP discussion.
While he returned negative defensive metrics for the first time in 2019, Marte’s sprint speed (29.0 feet per second) increased and remained in the top 8% of the league. He still looked pretty flashy in the outfield, too.