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MLB Futures Update: Yordan Álvarez in Conversation for AL MVP Award

MLB Futures Update: Yordan Álvarez in Conversation for AL MVP Award article feature image

Bob Levey/Getty Images. Pictured: Yordan Alvarez

I don’t typically invest in MVP markets before or early in the season because there’s usually better value to be found in the middle of the season — once we develop enough of a batted ball profile for every hitter to project how they may perform going forward. I may have a long shot or two, but there’s very rarely value in betting favorites at the top of the board for this type of award.

Bryce Harper and Shohei Ohtani weren’t at or near the top of boards entering the 2021 season. Although Harper’s underlying metrics in 2020 suggested an MVP was possible, it certainly wasn’t evident when he struggled (relatively) in parts of the first half of the season. He wasn’t even voted an All-Star in July, but won the MVP in October.

It’s ultimately a marathon and as hot as Manny Machado or Aaron Judge have begun the 2022 season, voters won’t even really remember what happened in May when September comes around.

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The entire body of work does matter, of course. But there were also a lot of people who penciled in Fernando Tatis Jr. for NL MVP halfway through last season, only for the Padres‘ star to struggle with injury and ineffectiveness as San Diego collapsed to end of the year. Tatis was as high as -250 at some books to win the award prior to the collapse.

With all of that being said, I’m ready to get involved in the AL MVP race.

Here’s the current AL MVP odds, courtesy of FanDuel.


Aaron Judge +150
Shohei Ohtani +270
Mike Trout +700
Jose Ramirez +1100
Rafael Devers +1600
Yordan Álvarez +2500
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. +2500

If Judge continues at this pace, he is the clear favorite to win the AL MVP. He has the highest barrel rate in all of MLB. His 22 homers are five more than the next closest competitor and both his 200 OPS+ and .671 SLG are well above his prior career-best numbers. The question with Judge has never been ability, though. It’s been availability.

Judge managed to avoid injury last season, but injuries derailed large portions of his 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons. There’s no value in betting a player with the injury history of Judge at this current number as you’re buying at the peak of the market on the Yankees‘ slugger.

In a way, the dominance of Ohtani in 2021 could hurt him with some voters in 2022. He was both the best hitter and one of the 10 best starting pitchers in the American League last season. While Ohtani has been just fine at the plate in 2022, he hasn’t matched the success of last season. His barrel rate has dropped a couple points and his hard-hit rate declined by eight percent.

He’s still been great on the mound, but hasn’t taken a step forward to place himself among the top five AL starters.  We’re holding Ohtani to an incredibly ridiculous standard, but I do wonder if voters will do the same because he is a two-way player and was so dominant last year.

He’s taken a small enough step back as a hitter that I think he may be viewed as worse in the eyes of the voters and that may hurt him when voting comes around.

That brings me to the long-shot pick that I’m firing on to win the American League MVP right now: Houston designed hitter Yordan Álvarez

Based on underlying statcast numbers, Judge has been the second best hitter in baseball with a .470 xwOBA this season. Álvarez is first at .497.

Álvarez is second in xISO behind only Judge, and he’s doing everything from a process stats point of view that suggest real skill development at age 24.

Álvarez had a 24.8% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate in 2021. There’s nothing wrong with those numbers when you consider his power and hard-hit rate, but he’s taken his K/BB rates to the next level in 2022. He’s now striking out in just 15.3% of his at-bats and his walk rate has increased to 13%.

His hard-hit rate improved from 54% in 2021 to 64.5% in 2022, which puts him at the top of the league.

It’s hard not to just laugh at his statcast percentile profile. He’s dominant at just about every possible aspect of hitting in 2022.

Anyone want to guess who this is?

— Anthony Dabbundo (@AnthonyDabbundo) June 10, 2022

Hitting in an excellent Houston lineup, Álvarez will get plenty of opportunities for runs and RBIs in the middle of the order. He already has 17 home runs, which is tied for second in the league. The BAT X projections have him finishing the season with 40 homers and 104 RBI.

Given what we know about the baseballs early in the season and how they might respond to better conditions in the warmer months, I think I’d bet the over on both of those numbers.

Álvarez’s swing profile is extremely encouraging for his long term strikeout and whiff rates, too. In 2021, he swung at 43% of pitches. In 2022, he has swung at 43% of pitches.

Those two numbers are exactly the same, but he’s getting there in a much more efficient and effective way. He’s cut down his swing rate on pitches outside of the zone from 30.3% to 25.1%. He’s improved his swing rate on pitches inside the zone from 62.1% to 67.4%.

The result is that he’s swinging at the same number of pitches, but now he’s only swinging at the ones that he can effectively slug and drive for power. His swinging strike rate and called strike rate have fallen as a result.

Álvarez could be on the verge of a ridiculous hot streak at the plate, similar to what Harper did last season. Judge has a head start on the home run lead, but Álvarez has more than enough time to catch up.

The only question with Álvarez is that he doesn’t really play the field. Will voters punish him for that come October? If he’s hitting enough, I don’t think they will. At +2500, I’m willing to take a shot on arguably the best pure hitter in baseball right now.

AL MVP: Yordan Alvarez +2500

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