If there ever was a year for a DH to win the MVP award, it’s this year.
If you look at articles predicting this year’s American League MVP winner, most of them are riddled with the likes of Boston’s Mookie Betts, Los Angeles’ Mike Trout, and Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez. Most predict it to be a three-horse race, with this last month of play really dictating the outcome.
However, one name doesn’t often appear on many experts’ pieces, and that’s Boston’s J.D. Martinez.
As of August 20th, Martinez is leading the league in home runs with 38 and RBI’s with 106. If it weren’t for being behind Betts in batting average by a mere .012 points, he would be a Triple Crown winner if the season ended today. Only ten different players have ever won the prestigious award (since RBI’s became an official stat), the last was Miguel Cabrera, won it with Detroit in 2012.
-Stats courtesy of MLB.com (stats accurate as of August 20, 2018)
So if Martinez is close to leading the league in every major statistical batting category, then why is he not even in the MVP conversation?
What’s really holding him back is the fact that he plays DH, and history has proven that voters like positional players over the DH’s. In fact, a DH has never won an MVP in MLB history, so the odds are immensely stacked against him.
The last DH to get some serious consideration was another Boston legend; David Ortiz. He finished sixth in the 2016 AL MVP race, even receiving one first place vote. Though Ortiz didn’t hold the numbers that Martinez is hitting now, he did lead the league slugging percentage, RBI’s, and OPS. Ortiz did finish top ten in both batting average and home runs as well, so the recognition was well deserved, however still not even a top five finish in the MVP voting, and that’s largely in part because he is a DH and not a positional player.
I get it. Yes, a player that plays the field each game should deserve some more recognition than a player that plays DH each game. But here’s my next argument for you. What about pitchers? Though there haven’t been many winners, there are a few pitchers that have hoisted the MVP trophy at the conclusion of the season, and those guys only play once every five games. So if a case can be made for a guy that plays a fifth of the season, why can’t we make a case for a guy who plays every game, just not on the field?
Yes, Martinez is hurt by playing DH because some of his fellow MVP competitors actually help their case with their fielding capabilities, particularly Trout and Betts. Trout has a fielding percentage of nearly 1.000 (195 putouts in 198 chances) and Betts has a percentage of .995 (212 putouts in 218 chances). Ramirez has a lower fielding percentage than the two (.973), however most would argue that his volume and the sheer difficulty of the position puts him at a bit of a disadvantage over his counterparts (note fielding percentage is calculated by the player’s average of errors per total chance).
This is not a slight towards any of the other candidates either, for Betts, Trout, and Ramirez are all worthy candidates. All four collectively are making this an interesting and exciting race to watch. The fact that two Boston hitters are in consideration just shows their dominance this season (Boston’s ace Chris Sale is also probably running away with the Cy Young award this year). Betts dominance is hurting Martinez’s case too, for the argument could be made that Martinez may not even be the most valuable player on his own team, let alone the entire league. Arguments can be made for the other top candidates as well. The same argument could be made vice versa for Betts, and that Martinez is actually making Betts and company better hitters overall. Trout, who is widely regarded as the best pure baseball player right now, isn’t even leading his team to the playoffs this season. Ramirez may be leading his team to a first place finish in the AL Central, but that division is widely regarded as the worst division, with Cleveland the only team above .500, so Ramirez could be benefiting from playing worse competition more often. These kind of arguments are tough to make justifiable however, so I personally like to just stick with the stats.
Another stat that’s been getting a lot of attention is Wins above Replacement, or WAR. It’s a controversial stat, but baseball analytics love it. With the WAR stat, Betts, Trout, and Ramirez round out the top three. Martinez doesn’t even crack the top five. Fielding helps raise that number for the top three, but rightfully so. Stolen bases are a big factor too, and Betts, Trout, and Ramirez all have respectable stolen bases numbers above 20, where Martinez only has five.
The MLB needs to stop acting like the DH isn’t deserving of the award. They may not play the field, but a player of Martinez’s caliber brings incredible value to their team, and when they are hitting at the rate of Martinez, they definitely deserve recognition of the MVP. If a pitcher can get recognition of the award even when they play one fifth of the season because of their dominance, so should a DH. Martinez has been on a tear this season, especially of late. In the month of August, Martinez is hitting .385 with six homers and 17 RBI’s. The odds appear to really be stacked against him, and Martinez will need to continue this hot streak and win the Triple Crown if he wants a legitimate shot at winning the prestigious award, and even then he may not win it. If he wins the Triple Crown, history will be made one way or another, whether him winning the first MVP as a DH, or the first Triple Crown winner to be denied the MVP since Ted Williams in 1947.