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Twins Daily 2020 Awards: Most Valuable Player

Should a pitcher be considered for the MVP award? It's an oft-debated subject, and – given that only one pitcher (Justin Verlander) has received the honor over the past 27 years – it's clear which way the BWAA electorate generally leans.

Perhaps our Twins Daily panel of 23 leans the same way. I can't be sure. Nevertheless, Kenta Maeda's case in 2020 proved undeniable.
Image courtesy of Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Cruz looked like the runaway winner of this award for much of the season. In fact, at times he looked like a serious contender for AL MVP. Ultimately, he came up just short of Maeda, earning 95 points to Kenta's 99 in our balloting. Across 23 panelists, Cruz earned eight first-place votes compared to 13 for Maeda.

It was close, but the choice was clear. Maeda was not only the team's best pitcher (and, according to Twitter, also the pick for most improved). He was their best player.

Let's break down the numbers:
  • According to FanGraphs' version of the Wins Above Replacement metric (fWAR), Maeda led all Twins players at 2.1, though Cruz narrowly trailed him at 2.0. Maeda's career-high for fWAR came as a rookie, when he put up a 2.9 mark over 32 starts. If you project this year's 2.1 over that many starts, you get 6.2, which would put full-season Maeda in the category of 2014 Phil Hughes and 2006 Johan Santana.
  • According to Win Probability Added, Maeda was the greatest quantifiable single contributor in Minnesota's division-winning season. His WPA of 1.96 towers over all teammates (Max Kepler finished a distant second at 1.17). Only six MLB starting pitchers posted a higher WPA than Maeda.
  • Baseball Reference's WAR measurement (bWAR) actually has Maeda tied with Cruz for second on the team at 1.6 – both behind the leader Byron Buxton (1.9). Buxton did finish third in our balloting with 77 points, and he received a couple of first-place votes.

Maeda only played every fifth game, which would be the knock against him in a Most Valuable Player context, but he rose to the occasion every single time out, making an outsized impact.

He never allowed more than three runs or six baserunners in a start, and the Twins went 8-3 in his 11 turns.

He set a new franchise record for consecutive strikeouts in a game, flirted with a no-hitter, and paced all of baseball in WHIP.

He led all Twins pitchers in innings but issued only 10 walks, and never hit a batter or uncorked a wild pitch.

He delivered bigtime in Game 1 of the playoffs with five shutout innings – the finest effort from a Twins pitcher in the postseason since Johan's departure.

If the argument against Maeda as team MVP is that his contribution was incomplete, compared to an "everyday player," then that same argument must be applied to his competition for the award. Cruz was a designated hitter who offered zero defensive value. Buxton missed more than a third of the team's games. While the bullpen was a crux of Minnesota's success, no reliever threw more than 26 innings.

The bottom line is that Maeda was everything the Twins needed: a bona fide ace, a successful Game 1 postseason starter, and a premium arm brandishing elite swing-and-miss stuff atop the rotation.


Cruz had a tremendous year and that cannot be downplayed. He was a very close second in our balloting after slashing .303/.397/.595 with 16 home runs in 53 games as Twins DH. Buxton checks in third – he was pretty clearly the biggest individual difference-maker on the team, pound for pound, but his season was once again defined by health impediments. Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Tyler Duffey were the others to receive double-digit points in the voting.

Here’s a look at the ballots from our 23 voters.

Seth Stohs: 1) Byron Buxton, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Kenta Maeda
Nick Nelson: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Byron Buxton
John Bonnes: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Nelson Cruz
Tom Froemming: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Byron Buxton 3) Nelson Cruz
Andrew Gebo: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Byron Buxton 3) Kenta Maeda
AJ Condon: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Byron Buxton, 3) Nelson Cruz
Cody Christie: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Byron Buxton 3) Kenta Maeda
Cody Pirkl: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Byron Buxton 3) Kenta Maeda
Cooper Carlson: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Kenta Maeda, 3) Byron Buxton
Jeremy Nygaard: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Byron Buxton 3) Kenta Maeda
Lucas Seehafer: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Byron Buxton, 3) Nelson Cruz
Matt Braun: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Byron Buxton
Matt Lenz: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Byron Buxton 3) Nelson Cruz
Matthew Taylor: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Byron Buxton
Matthew Trueblood: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Tyler Duffey
Nash Walker: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Byron Buxton
Nate Palmer: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Kenta Maeda, 3) Byron Buxton
Patrick Wozniak: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Kenta Maeda, 3) Byron Buxton
Derek Wetmore: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Byron Buxton
Steve Lein: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Byron Buxton, 3) Nelson Cruz
Renabanena: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Matt Wisler
Ted Schwerzler: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Kenta Maeda, 3) Byron Buxton
Thiéres Rabelo: 1) Byron Buxton, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Kenta Maeda

Kenta Maeda: 99
Nelson Cruz: 95
Byron Buxton: 77
Eddie Rosario: 24
Max Kepler: 16
Tyler Duffey: 14
Josh Donaldson: 5
José Berríos: 5
Matt Wisler: 4
Michael Pineda: 3
Ryan Jeffers: 2
Tyler Clippard: 1
Randy Dobnak: 1

Previous Twins Daily MVP Winners

2015: Brian Dozier
2016: Brian Dozier
2017: Brian Dozier
2018: Eddie Rosario
2019: Max Kepler

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I really want to hear the rationale behind putting Kepler ahead of Cruz and Buxton in the team MVP rankings. lol

    • mikelink45 and DocBauer like this
Nick Nelson
Oct 15 2020 11:52 PM

I will let Mr. Bonnes field that one but I bet it simply comes down to: "Win Probability Added." He loves that stat. 

    • DocBauer and Matthew Taylor like this

I still have a difficult time with the concept of a player who can only influence the outcome of a game 11 times out of 60 being the most valuable player. By that measure, I'd probably vote for Buxton, who positively impacted at least as many games, injuries notwithstanding.

If it were 'best player' I'd vote for Maeda, but that's not the same as most valuable player.

Oct 16 2020 06:45 AM

It amazes me that Dobnak received a vote as MVP. But what does not surprise me is that Sano didn't even get one consideration. 

    • mikelink45 likes this

In a perverse way, Jeffers might have been the most valuable.While he was not up all year he was a surprise call up who handled the pitchers, the framing, the defense, and the bat which kept the Twins going after Avila bottomed out and was injured and Garver completely came apart and was injured.Without Jeffers we would have had the turtle behind the plate.  


And then there was Rooker who demonstrated why we needed a right handed bat all season, not just for a short span. 

    • AceWrigley likes this

I think Maeda only left 1 game with the other team in the lead. 2 of the 3 team losses were by the bullpen. I think Cruz without the injury/slump toward the end of the season wins it, but Maeda pitched amazing all season. It's just weird to consider 11 starts a season total. I'm not a big fan of pitchers winning MVP awards, especially when you average only 90 pitches per start, but it is 2020 after all. Can't wait to see Buxton actually play a full season.

Oct 16 2020 08:16 AM


Can't wait to see Buxton actually play a full season.


If this ever happens, the Twins will win the WS.

Maeda was phenomenal. Can’t argue him as MVP.

Personally, I think Buxton is the most valuable player (lowercase) on this team, but Maeda’s performance and Buxton’s missed time give the award to Maeda. If Buxton could ever play a full season and hit the way he did, he’s the league MVP. It’s a little disappointing he couldn’t stay healthy again, he clearly dialed it down a notch in center (which I’ve always been against) and still got hurt.

No disrespect intended to Cruz, he’s clearly the emotional leader of the team and he had a great year (historic for his age). He probably wins team MVP on 25+ other teams. He just ran into a generationally good center fielder and one of the best (partial) seasons from a pitcher in Twins’ history.
    • DocBauer likes this

How anyone could vote Buxton over either Maeda or Cruz makes me wonder what team they were watching. Basically it's a tossup between them. I thought Cruz would be the league MVP before he got hurt. Maeda could have won 8 games if he's have gotten support. For third, I would lean towards Duffy or Rosario. Duffy kept us in many games or kept the leads. Rosario had several key hits during the season. And Jeffers saved the catching position and handled pitchers well so he should get my 5th place vote.

    • jkcarew likes this
I also agree that in a league-wide scenario, it's awfully tough for a pitcher to win MVP. That's kinda what the Cy Young award is for. But if we are discussing a team concept on it's own, I don't have a problem with it. And it's really hard to argue Cruz over Maeda considering how good he was and how consistent, and sometimes dominating, he actually was. IMO, both were so good and SO important voting "justice" would have seen an even split between the two.

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