The Boston Red Sox were the story of the 2018 season, and at the center of it all was right fielder Mookie Betts.
Betts led all of baseball–including pitchers–in fWAR (10.4), batting average (.346) and slugging percentage (.640) while hitting 32 homers, stealing 30 bases and winning his third consecutive Gold Glove.
In one of the most loaded races ever, Betts’ incredible year won him his first MVP award as he helped the Red Sox complete one of the most historic seasons in baseball history with a World Series title.
The American League has some of the best individual talent in all of baseball. In fact, all of the top five leaders in fWAR hailed from AL clubs.
Needless to say, Betts will be hard-pressed to repeat as the MVP this season.
That said, here are the five most likely candidates to win the American League MVP award in 2019:
5. Alex Bregman
As if the Astros weren’t imposing enough with 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the lineup, the 24-year-old Bregman busted out with a career year in 2018.
Bregman led the majors in doubles (51) while clubbing 31 homers. But perhaps the largest sign of Bregman’s growth came in the form of discipline. He drew an additional 41 walks while reducing his strikeouts, an incredible rarity for any hitter of his age.
Manning the hot corner all season, Bregman also had to carry Houston’s offense with both Altuve and Correa missing extended time due to injuries.
If both players are healthy and Correa rebounds from a poor 2018, Bregman stands the most to gain.
The one knock on Bregman is his below-average defense, but third base is one of the hardest positions to master for young players, and he has the athleticism and the tools to be an elite defender.
This could be the season where Bregman establishes himself as the superstar in a roster full of them in Houston.
4. Francisco Lindor/Jose Ramirez
I’m cheating here, but so what? It is impossibly hard to separate the Indians’ switch-hitting infield tandem of Lindor and Ramirez, and they stand a fairly equal chance at winning an MVP.
Ramirez followed up on a breakout 2017 with a big season in 2018, once again finishing third in the AL MVP voting.
Although he hit an additional 10 homers in 2018, Ramirez actually saw a decrease in slugging percentage as well as an overall decline in batting average, although he did steal a career-high 34 bases.
This is due to a woeful second half where Ramirez hit just .218–including .174 in the final month-plus–and posted a .793 OPS after hitting .302 with a 1.029 OPS in the first half.
If Ramirez can sustain the level of excellence he showed in the first half over the course of a full season, he could make the jump to winning the award. Don’t forget, he is only entering his age-26 season.
For his part, Lindor posted career highs in homers (38), RBIs (92), steals (25), slugging percentage ( .519) and OPS (.871) while leading the majors in runs scored (129).
Lindor would stand an even better chance at winning the award if he could capture his second Gold Glove, but he now faces stiff competition at the shortstop position with Andrelton Simmons now in the AL.
That said, a 40-homer, 100 RBI season alongside Gold Glove defense would be very hard to ignore, and the sky is the limit for Lindor’s potential.
3. Mookie Betts
We have already covered Betts’ many feats in 2018, but how about this as a statement of dominance: despite a decline in Defensive Runs saved and Ultimate Zone rating in 2018, Betts still won a Gold Glove.
If nothing else, that speaks to the unbelievable talent that Betts possesses when he is at his peak.
That said, Betts was also the beneficiary of tremendous team success, and it doesn’t hurt to be sandwiched in the lineup by Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez.
The last player to win back-to-back MVPs was Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013, but Betts stands as good a chance as any to to achieve this distinction.
The biggest question mark could be his health. Mookie had his first real brush with injuries in 2018 and still put up monumental numbers.
If he remains fully healthy, he should be the leading candidate once again. But if he should fall prey to the injury bug, any other contender in this loaded field could snatch the award away.
2. Mike Trout
What else is to be said for Trout at this point? He has established himself unequivocally as the best player in the game, and he always in the discussion to win MVP.
Last season, Trout matched a career high in homers (39) while hitting .312 and leading the bigs in OBP (.460) and OPS (career-high 1.088).
Realistically, the argument could be made for Trout winning the MVP almost every season. He is that good.
Unfortunately, he does not play for a contender. Not only are the Angels unlikely to make the playoffs, but also will struggle just to eclipse the .500 mark.
With so many quality players on playoff teams, this is likely to doom Trout’s candidacy yet again.
1. Aaron Judge
This is another selection that is contingent on health, but if Judge’s durability holds up, watch out.
Judge narrowly missed out on becoming the first rookie since Ichiro Suzuki to win both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in 2017 as he finished second behind Altuve in the MVP voting.
While Altuve was certainly deserving, there is a good argument to be made for Judge as well. He led the American League in homers (52) and runs (128) while posting an absurd 1.049 OPS and helping to lead the Yankees to the playoffs.
What many expected to be an encore performance in 2018 was derailed when Judge fractured his wrist after getting hit by a pitch in a game against the Kansas City Royals in late July. Despite playing in just 112 games, Judge still managed to hit 27 homers and a .919 OPS.
Judge was among the leaders in exit velocity in 2018, and possesses an absurd amount of power while still showing the ability to hit for average. Hitting in the middle of a loaded Yankees lineup, it is not impossible to imagine another 50-homer season for the youngster.
And as if his hitting prowess weren’t enough, Judge has already established himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, posting 14 Defensive Runs Saved with an 8.4 Ultimate Zone Rating last season.
Two key factors play into Judge’s candidacy: his aforementioned ability to stay healthy, and cutting down on strikeouts.
Judge led the bigs in punch-outs (208) in 2017 but also led the American League in walks (127) while still hitting .284 on the year.
If Judge can translate K’s into balls in play, he could become the most fearsome hitter in all of baseball, and his two-way excellence could lead to MVP honors.
Honorable mentions: J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton, Altuve, Matt Chapman