Through the first-quarter of the season, the MLB has seen plenty of intriguing storylines develop to keep fans and analysts more than interested during the early stages of the 2016 campaign. From Bryce Harper trying to make baseball “fun again” and surprise teams like the Philadelphia Phillies winning a majority of their games to the recent brawl between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays, it’s safe to say that the season is in full swing.
Therefore, early-season award predictions are well in order. While early season stats can certainly be misleading, several players in both the National League and American League are putting together potentially historic campaigns that could lead them to MVP awards at season’s end. Pitchers and hitters have displayed their dominance to lead their clubs to quick starts, or at least keep their respective teams watchable.
So, with roughly 40 games in the books for every MLB team, we break down the first-quarter MVP race in each league. We also have our winner of the early season award, which serves as a prediction for who we think should win the actual award in each league this fall.
Contenders: Mike Trout, David Ortiz, Manny Machado, Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve
The American League has its set of usual contenders, like Mike Trout, for MVP. However, a crop of new stars have had excellent starts to the 2016 campaign, forcing the list to grow.
Starting with Trout: The Angels’ outfielder has proven to be one of the best all-around players in the game once again through 40 games; his .320 average, 28 RBI, nine home runs, .975 OPS, and 2.6 WAR all rank among the top in the AL. The Angels have struggled this season, but with Trout on their roster, they have a chance to turn things around before too long.
Other AL contenders include the seasoned David Ortiz, the brilliant Manny Machado, and the electric Jose Altuve. Ortiz has the Red Sox sitting near the top of the AL East with a solid batting average, 10 home runs and 34 RBI. He has never won MVP in his lengthy career, but the 40-year old deserves all the consideration he can get so far.
Machado has continued to rise up the ranks of the game’s best with his play for the Orioles this season. His home run, RBI, OPS, and WAR totals all rank in the top five in the AL. Altuve has the best WAR mark, the second highest average, the best OPS, and the second most hits in the AL (among other impressive numbers), which makes his case tough to beat. However, the Astros have underwhelmed to this point, hurting Altuve’s status.
Despite the strong group of contenders, we have to go with Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners as the first-quarter MVP in the American League. His 12 home runs are tied for the league lead, his 36 RBI lead it, and he’s also top 10 in hits, OPS, and WAR. Those numbers have contributed to a surprising first-place start for the Mariners in the AL West, giving Cano the edge.
First-quarter MVP: Robinson Cano
Contenders: Bryce Harper, Jake Arrieta, Nolan Arenado, Ben Zobrist, Clayton Kershaw
Entering the season, the favorite for NL MVP was Bryce Harper by a near landslide. While being the popular choice for best player in the game certainly hasn’t hurt his case to repeat as MVP — his numbers include 11 home runs and 29 RBI for the Washington Nationals — several other competitors have played their way into the conversation, likely passing Harper in the race (for now, at least).
Pitchers don’t always receive a ton of MVP love, but Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw deserve plenty of attention with the way they’ve performed on the mound so far. Arrieta had that no hitter against the Reds, but that’s only part of his excellent first quarter. He has the most wins and the best ERA among NL pitchers and is just one of the cogs in a well-oiled Chicago Cubs’ machine.
For how good Arrieta has been, Kershaw has been nearly as dominant for the Dodgers. He’s right behind the Cubs’ ace in ERA and wins, but actually owns the best WAR mark for a pitcher in the NL. It’s basically a tossup between the league’s two best pitchers and they should battle for Cy Young honors all season long, but both are also MVP worthy.
It might be surprising to see Ben Zobrist’s name here, but the prized offseason acquisition has potentially been the best offensive player for the best team in baseball. His average leads the team (and is one of the best in the NL). Zobrist also has a high OPS, a nice RBI total, and simply knows how to get on base. He’s proved to be a great pickup for Chicago, but in terms of the early season MVP race, our nod has to go to a franchise-changing player out in Colorado.
Nolan Arenado might not only be the best third baseman in baseball, but he also might be the best player in the game not named Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. After a breakout season in 2015, Arenado proves that it wasn’t a fluke. He leads the NL in home runs, is second in RBI, and first in WAR. He’s also top 10 in hits and OPS while hitting for a more-than-respectable .305 average. Arenado’s play has the Rockies doing well in the NL West, which really cements his status as first-quarter MVP.
First-quarter MVP: Nolan Arenado