The MVP landscape is coming into picture more than 1/3 of the way through the 2022 season
The 2022 MLB season is just about a 2020 season (60 games) in, give or take a few games depending upon the team. Sitting in the middle of June, we’re just getting deep into the grind that is the dog days of the regular season. When it comes to gamblers trying to grab an MVP future, it’s certainly an interesting time.
Our task right now is to sift through the odds, via Caesars Sportsbook, and find who might be over-valued along with some under-valued picks who could surge to the win. And hey, the favorites might end up being the best pick.
In recent years, we’ve seen both versions of MVP. One version: A frontrunner in the middle of June continues to have an elite-level season and ends up winning the MVP. The other would be late surge from a player who was good, but not necessarily that great, early in the season.
In fact, we actually saw both last year. Shohei Ohtani was the favorite for AL MVP in the middle of June and he won it. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. was right with him and he finished second, too. On the NL side, however, Bryce Harper didn’t even make the All-Star Game, but from June 12 to the end of the season he hit .331/.448/.681 with 34 doubles, 27 homers, 69 RBI and 73 runs in 98 games.
Ronald Acuña, Jr. was one of the frontrunners for NL MVP in July but then he tore his ACL. Jacob deGrom would’ve also been in the mix before his injuries.
Players can level off, too. We’ll stick with Harper. Remember, he was the NL MVP in 2015 and then had a ridiculous three weeks to start the 2016 season. He was the easy and obvious MVP favorite into May, but he ended up not even getting a single down-ballot vote (26 players got at least one).
How does it look right now?
Manny Machado (+350) is probably the leader in the clubhouse, but Mookie Betts (+350) isn’t far off. Neither is Paul Goldschmidt (+400). Bryce Harper (+750) is right there again. Pete Alonso (+1000) leads in homers and has a big lead in RBI while the Mets have the best record in the league, so he’s absolutely in the mix.
- Nolan Arenado (+2500) has actually “only” hit .241/.314/.400 since April 24 after a scorching hot start to the season at the plate. His defense is going to keep his WAR in the mix, but it’s tough to win the MVP when you’re either the second or third (we’ll get to that) most valuable player on your own team.
- Jazz Chisholm (+2500) is an up-and-coming star and one of the most fun players in the league to watch. He’s also sitting with a sub-.300 (.299) on-base percentage right now on a fourth-place team. There’s a reason he’s got these kinds of odds, and it’s because he’s talented enough to be one of those players who gets insanely hot down the stretch — and if the Marlins make a playoff run while he does that, he’s got a good shot. I’m just not seeing it this year. He’s above at least a handful of players I’d pick over him without even considering the odds.
- Juan Soto (+2500) finished fifth in 2020 while leading the league in average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and intentional walks. Last season, he was the runner up while leading the majors in OBP and posting a .999 OPS (177 OPS+). He is hitting .228 with an .833 OPS (141 OPS+) in 2022. The field is much more crowded right now, the Nationals are awful and Soto might be hurt. Move along.
- Acuña might be? The only possible drawback is he’s +1600 and that’s only behind Machado, Betts, Goldschmidt, Harper and Alonso. I’m just looking at the simple fact that the Braves are 22-11 when he plays and 13-16 when he doesn’t. He started off a bit slowly, by his standards, after returning from an ACL injury, but he’s slashing .337/.441/.568 in his last 26 games. If the Braves surge and his hot play continues, a strong narrative takes over. Would it be enough to overcome him missing around 30-35 games and getting a late start?
- The upper-middle range might be the sweet spot. From Freddie Freeman (+2500) to Trea Turner (+3000), Austin Riley (+4000), Francisco Lindor (+4000) and Matt Olson (+5000), you could absolutely see someone from this mix getting extremely hot for the last 6-8 weeks while leading a division-winning charge.
- Tommy Edman (+10000) has moved to shortstop to accommodate Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan at second base and the Cardinals have gotten a big spark. Edman is one of the best table-setters in the league with a .355 OBP and 15 steals. He’s scored 49 times in 61 games and leads in Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR (he’s trailing only Machado and Betts in Fangraphs’).
- Christian Yelich (+10000) won the award in 2018 and it could be argued he should have won in 2019. After the All-Star break in 2018, Yelich hit .367/.449/.770(!) with 18 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, 67 RBI, 58 runs, 10 steals and good lord, it was an absurd stretch for 65 games. If he did that again and the Brewers won the NL Central, he’d have a shot to cash at these high odds.
- Willson Contreras (+20000) is eighth in Fangraphs WAR among NL position players and sixth in Baseball-Reference’s version. He’s having a stellar offensive season and he’s a catcher. It’s hard to see him getting into the top tier here with the Cubs, but what if he’s traded to another NL team and gets even hotter while serving as a sparkplug with his new guys?
Between a possible Ohtani (+325) repeat and Mike Trout (+650) maybe winning his fourth MVP, there’s a prop to take an Angels player (+250) or the field (-320). I’d probably pass there, but the Angels side is intriguing. There’s also something that could be attractive to Yankees fans. It’s +1000 for Aaron Judge to win the MVP with the Yankees winning the World Series (you have to hit both).
It does look like Judge (+125) would win it right now, but José Ramírez (+750) and Rafael Devers (+1400) are right on his tail. With Judge, we can’t escape his injury history, either. With the margin being this close, all it takes is missing one month and he could be cooked.
- I very well could regret this, but I think Ohtani is. We just saw his career year last season and while we should never take for granted how ridiculously difficult it is for him to be both a pitcher and hitter — and be productive at both, which is the main key — I don’t think he’s in position to absorb the inevitable phase of the season where he tires in the last 4-6 weeks. If he drops down in the +2000 range, we’ll be throwing him back in the sleepers section. For now, I’m passing. The AL is so top heavy, there really isn’t anywhere else to turn. Only Judge, Ohtani, Trout and Ramírez are lower than +1000 and only Devers joins them below +2000. There is an argument to be made that Judge and Trout are over-valued, due to lingering injury concerns, but I’m not betting against either.
- I actually think Devers is under-valued at +1400. He’s a serious threat to win it. He’s second to Judge in both versions of WAR and he’ll fill up all the stat categories, new and old school, except stolen bases. For example, he leads the league in hits and doubles while hitting .335 with gaudy WAR, OPS+ and wRC+ figures. Something for every voter.
- Yordan Alvarez (+2200) has an argument as the scariest hitter in baseball right now, at least this side of Judge. Can a DH win it? That is probably a drawback, but he’s also capable of putting up overwhelming numbers. Like this: In his last 16 games, he’s hitting .468/.514/.790.
- Vladimir Guerrero (+2500) is not currently in the mix. He’s fully capable of going gangbusters in the second half (see the Yelich line above, save for the steals). If he does so while the Blue Jays surge to, say, 95-plus wins, there’s a shot.
- Byron Buxton (+3000) is also currently outside the top tier right now. He has mostly stayed on the field, though, and has a foundation of 18 homers in 46 games. He’s so incredibly talented and the Twins are sitting in first place. A huge second half puts him in the conversation.
- A lot of the AL sleeper discussion is speculative because there’s such a huge separation between the top tier and the rest right now, but we know that can change. Wander Franco (+8000) is someone with the talent. He’s hurt right now, but he hit .314/.372/.500 after the All-Star break last season and that was as a rookie at age 20. Let’s say he’s even better this time around while the Rays somehow chase down the Yankees. There would be a chance. The odds are juicy enough.
- Xander Bogaerts (+15000) is squarely behind teammate Devers, but these odds are far too long for a player of his caliber eyeing a possible opt-out while playing for a team making a run after a horrible start. I suppose we could toss in Carlos Correa at +20000 with a similar argument.