Red Sox stars were shown no respect in AL MVP ballot results

BOSTON, MA - MAY 15: Rafael Devers #11 and Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox look on after scoring during the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 15, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 15: Rafael Devers #11 and Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox look on after scoring during the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 15, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox players didn’t fare well on the AL MVP ballot

The Boston Red Sox were projected to spend the year fighting to climb out of the basement of their division but they exceeded expectations with a 92-win season to secure the top Wild Card spot. Unfortunately, that success wasn’t reflected in the results for the Most Valuable Player award, which MLB released last night.

Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani was the unanimous choice for the American League MVP. His historic season was one of the most extraordinary performances the sport has ever seen. Ohtani ranked second in the league with a 158 OPS+ and third with 46 home runs while also serving as the ace of his pitching staff with a 141 ERA+ that ranked fifth in the league among pitchers with at last 130 innings. His value at the plate and on the mound added up to a major league-leading 9.1 WAR.

Ohtani is technically the first designated hitter to win an MVP award but he’s no ordinary DH. He’s also the 23rd pitcher in major league history to win an MVP. These are two positions that generally don’t get much attention from voters but when a player handles both roles at an elite level, how could they not vote for him?

The narrative of Ohtani’s unprecedented performance was impossible to ignore. His only competition was Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who received 29 of the 30 second-place votes. The Blue Jays star would have had a stronger case for overcoming Ohtani if he captured the Triple Crown but he ultimately fell short. Guerrero Jr. tied for the league lead in homers but was a runner-up in the batting title race and finished fifth in RBI.

These two superstars were clearly the best players in the league. The only obstacle that could have held them back was that neither played for a playoff team. The Angels were four games under .500 and never sniffed the postseason hunt. Ohtani is only the fourth player to unanimously win an MVP while playing for a team that missed the playoffs. Toronto won 91 games but fell one short of a Wild Card spot. At least they were playing meaningful games down the stretch but it’s still unusual for two teammates from a non-playoff team to finish in the top-three on the ballot, with Marcus Semien landing right behind Guerrero Jr.

The addition of a second Wild Card in each league has made it easier for teams to earn a trip to the postseason yet playing for a contender seems to matter less than ever to MVP voters. The top three players in each league all came from teams that didn’t qualify for the postseason. Bryce Harper won the NL MVP despite that his Phillies were 6.5 games behind the division-winning Braves and 8 games out of a Wild Card spot. Washington’s Juan Soto and San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. finished second and third in the senior circuit.

On the AL ballot, seven of the top-10 played for non-playoff teams. Only Aaron Judge (4th), Carlos Correa (5th) and Brandon Lowe (10th) appeared in the postseason this year.

Red Sox players deserved more attention

Meanwhile, the Red Sox made the playoffs but weren’t represented anywhere near the top of the ballot. Rafael Devers finished 11th, Xander Bogaerts was 13th and Nathan Eovaldi was 15th. None of these players received higher than a fifth-place vote.

Bogaerts and Devers earned Silver Slugger awards for being the best hitters at their respective positions but they finished behind shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Jose Ramirez in MVP voting. It’s clear that voters are factoring in defense more than they have in the past. Correa was a Gold Glove winner while Ramirez tied for the league-lead at the hot corner with 10 defensive runs saved. Boston’s infield duo is dynamic at the plate but liabilities in the field.

WAR appears to be playing an increasingly vital role in influencing voters, particularly the FanGraphs version, which weighs defense a bit more heavily. Ohtani’s 8.1 fWAR easily led the majors when factoring in his offensive and pitching value. Guerrero Jr. (6.7 fWAR) and Semien (6.6 fWAR) had the highest totals for AL position players and appropriately finished in the runner-up spots for the MVP. Ramirez (6.3 fWAR), Correa (5.8 fWAR), Judge (5.5 fWAR), Mullins II (5.3 fWAR), and Lowe (5.2 fWAR) round out the top-eight in the league. All eight finished in the top-10 in MVP voting.

This logic makes it even more head-scratching that Bogaerts finished so low on the ballot. He tied Lowe with 5.2 fWAR. Why would Bogaerts finish behind Matt Olson (5.0 fWAR) if WAR factored into the results and Oakland didn’t make the playoffs? Mullins played for the league’s worst team and barely finished above Bogaerts in WAR. Salvador Perez (3.4 fWAR) was well behind while playing for a losing team but warranted consideration after setting the single-season record for home runs by a catcher. Was that enough to put him ahead of Bogaerts?

Devers was an even greater offensive force, ranking fourth in the league with 113 RBI, seventh with an .890 OPS and ninth with 38 home runs. Those traditional statistics along with playing for a playoff team weren’t enough to vault him into the top-10 in MVP voting. Clearly a case where his shaky defense held him back.

Eovaldi tied Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray on the ballot with each pitcher receiving one seventh-place vote. Gerrit Cole, who finished right behind them with one eighth-place vote, was the only other AL pitcher to appear on the ballot. Eovaldi was fourth in Cy Young voting but tied for the highest spot in the league among pitchers in the MVP race (excluding Ohtani, who belongs in his own category). The Red Sox ace led AL pitchers with 5.6 fWAR, providing further evidence that the FanGraphs metric factored into these results.

There was a time when the MVP essentially had to come from a playoff team. Ted Williams was robbed of several MVP awards when he was clearly the best player but the Red Sox fell short of the pennant. That was when only one team in each league made the playoffs! Now a handful of teams from each league advance to the postseason but playing for a contender hardly seems to matter anymore.

Times have changed, as they certainly should to some extent, but perhaps the change has gone too far. WAR is a useful tool that can absolutely be used as part of the criteria for selecting an MVP but producing for a playoff contender should be more meaningful than putting up empty numbers for a losing ballclub. Ohtani is a special case but the top Red Sox stars trailing players from terrible teams despite being rated fairly similarly in WAR is baffling.

I’m not by any means suggesting that a Red Sox player deserved to win the MVP. Far from it. Ohtani was a deserving winner and Guerrero Jr. was the only other player worth considering for the top spot. However, Red Sox players didn’t get nearly enough credit for their team defying expectations to reach the playoffs. Not having anyone from Boston crack the top-10 on the ballot is an egregious oversight by the voters.

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