MLB

American League MVP Betting Guide: Fade Mike Trout

We're less than two weeks away from Opening Day of a 60-game MLB season. In other words, time's running out to get your pre-season bets in.

A 60-game season has a number of huge implications, not the least of which is the potential for fantastic value bets. Over at FanDuel Sportsbook, one future that's particularly appealing is that of the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.

In any ordinary season, betting Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout at +195 would make all the sense in the world. The dude's an absolute machine who happens to have won three of the last six AL MVPs. Since his official rookie season in 2012, Trout has finished second, second, first, second, first, fourth, second, and first in MVP voting. Bonkers. But this is no ordinary season.

Two hot months for another hitter or a couple of off-weeks for Trout, and that's all you need to cash in big. The fact that the next closest player in odds -- New York Yankees' Aaron Judge (+950) -- is nearly at 10/1, presenting an opportunity ripe for the taking here.

With that in mind, let's look at which players not named Trout are the best bets to take home the hardware.

2015-2019 Winners

A look back at the last 10 MVPs can give us a pretty good idea of what type of metrics we can expect from the 2020 winner. Overall production is irrelevant here due to the shortened season.

Let's glance at some advanced stats via MLB Statcast in order to try and discern what players might be worth a bet for the upcoming season. The graph is sorted by expected batting average (xBA).

NameMVP
Year
K%xBAxSLGxwOBAxOBPSweet Spot
%
Barrel
Rate
Christian Yelich201820.70.3270.5720.4180.40636.712.9
Cody Bellinger201916.30.3230.6380.4290.4234013
Mookie Betts201814.80.3140.610.4330.41439.414.1
Mike Trout201620.10.3110.5750.430.43938.414.6
Mike Trout2019200.3110.6690.4550.45644.118.6
Jose Altuve201712.70.3030.4940.3760.37334.66.7
Bryce Harper2015200.2970.5480.4170.43637.813.2
Josh Donaldson201518.70.2910.5520.3910.36831.912.2
Giancarlo Stanton201723.60.2760.5860.4010.37331.617.4
Kris Bryant2016220.2720.550.3880.36836.711.9


The first item to note is that just 2 of the last 10 winners -- Kris Bryant in 2016 and Giancarlo Stanton in 2017 -- had an xBA below .290. Both of those two were in the bottom four of this group in five of the seven categories.

Additionally, of the 10 winners, nine had an expected slugging percentage (xSLG) of at least .548 and a strikeout rate at or below 22%, seven had an expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) above .400 and a barrel rate of 12.9% or better, and six had an expected on-base percentage (xOBP) higher than .400.

Betting on players who reached or came close to those thresholds in 2019 wouldn't be a bad start. So let's take a look at the hitters that fit the bill (listed in order of my favorite bets).

Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels (+1600)

Anthony Rendon finished third in MVP voting in the NL last year, but he probably deserved to be closer to first than where he ended up. The former Washington Nationals infielder led the majors in runs batted in (RBI). Rendon also finished second in the NL in on-base percentage, as well as third in batting average, runs scored, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).

After signing a 7-year, $245 million deal with the Angels, Rendon will be vying for the AL MVP award with his teammate Trout.

Going from the 4th-friendliest hitting park to the 13th-friendliest is a drop, but not one we need to be too worried about given Rendon's profile.

Among those 10 MVPs, Rendon's 2019 strikeout rate (13.3%) would've ranked second-best, his xBA (.319) third-best, his xSLG (.599) fourth-best, and his xwOBA (.418) and xOBP (.415) fifth-best. His 12% barrel rate was not far off from a number of those seasons.

Though it might not benefit how voters view him, being surrounded by Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Tommy La Stella in the lineup certainly won't hurt Rendon's production.

Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox (+2000)

No matter who leaves or gets shipped out, the Boston Red Sox never seem to be lacking talented hitters, and Rafael Devers is certainly that.

Last season, Dever slashed .311/.361/.555 across 702 plate appearances, scoring 129 runs and driving in 115 more. He led the league with 54 doubles, 90 extra-base hits, and a whopping 359 total bases.

Devers' strikeout percentage was an impressive 17%, and his xBA a solid .295. The other metrics were not quite on the level of past winners, but he's just 23-years-old and improving with each day.

At 20/1, Devers is worth a flyer.

Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros (+4000)

Speaking of flyers, might I interest you in some Yordan Alvarez? The Houston Astros' outfielder/designated hitter comes in at 40/1 fresh off a superb Rookie of the Year season.

Alvarez slashed .313/.412/.655 in 87 games for the 'Stros last year, posting a 162-game pace of 50 home runs and 145 RBI.

What is the 23-year-old capable of doing over a 60-game stretch? Well, in his first 60 contests, he totaled 21 homers and 62 RBI while slashing .329/.420/.703. A repeat of that would make it very difficult to not hand him the award.

Alvarez's 2019 xSLG (.602), xwOBA (.410), and barrel rate (17.2%) were well within the parameters of what past winners have posted, while his xBA (.289) and xOBP (.394) were not too far off. Of course, he'll have to cut down on his 25.5% strikeout rate, but even that's not all that too far off.

Anything can happen in a 60-game season, and Alvarez winning the MVP is well within the range of possible outcomes.

Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (+950)

I'm listing Judge last for a number of reasons. First, he has the second-shortest odds, meaning that more value could be found elsewhere. Second, he's already dealing with some injuries, and his history doesn't exactly alleviate any concern there. Third, there are some metrics that are not close to where past winners have been -- that's not to say that he can't get there, but he's not there yet.

What does Judge have going for him? Well, for one, he's one powerful man. Last season, Judge's average exit velocity (EV), hard-hit rate, solid contact percentage, and barrel rate were all top-three in the Majors.

Judge's xSLG (.580), xwOBA (.401), and xOBP (.390) were all in the same ballpark as past winners of the award, but his strikeout rate (31.5%) was in a different stratosphere. Similar to what teammate Giancarlo Stanton did when he cut his punchout rate down from 29.8% in 2016 to 23.6% in 2017, Judge will need to cut his in order to contend.

Honorable Mentions

Francisco Lindor (+1200): Has finished inside the top-10 in voting three times, but will need to up it a notch.
J.D. Martinez (+4000): Finished fourth in voting in 2018. His metrics prove that he's more than capable.
Yoan Moncada (+3000): Seemingly improving by the day. Like Judge, he'll have to cut down on his K rate.
Austin Meadows (+3500): Needs to get on base more to have a realistic chance.