Twins Daily 2019 Awards: Most Valuable Player
Here's a rundown of all the Twins players who received at least one first-place vote in our balloting:
- Taylor Rogers, ranked at the top of one ballot, was the glue that held a shaky bullpen together in the first half, and he remained steady down the stretch. He led all Twins pitchers in Win Probability Added and ranked second among American League relievers.
- Byron Buxton, also ranked at the top of one ballot, was arguably the biggest difference-maker for the Twins whenever he was on the field. They were a vastly better team with him out there, going 62-25 (.713) in games he played, compared to 39-36 (.520) without him – not including a playoff sweep where his absence was deeply felt.
- Mitch Garver, ranked No. 1 on two ballots, almost certainly delivered the most qualitative value, mashing 31 home runs and producing 3.9 fWAR in just 93 games as the Twins carefully managed his workload behind the plate. The combination of offensive and defensive impact he brought to the field was transformative for the Twins.
- Jorge Polanco, also ranked atop a pair of ballots, led the team in bWAR (5.7) and recorded the highest mark for a Twin by Baseball Reference's metric since Brian Dozier in 2016. FanGraphs wasn't quite so accepting of his defensive shortcomings (4.0 fWAR) but from any perspective, Polanco was adequate at shortstop and was the team's iron man, playing in 153 games and making 100 more plate appearances than the next-highest player.
- Nelson Cruz, picked as Twins MVP on three ballots, was a dominating force at the plate like we've rarely seen before. Overcoming a wrist injury that plagued him for much of the summer, he still bashed 41 homers with 108 RBIs while registering a career-high 1.031 OPS. He provided zero defensive value but the sheer offensive production and leadership were more than enough to offset it.
Whether due to stylistic adjustments, changes in the baseball, or simply the developmental emergence of a 26-year-old with three seasons of experience under his belt – possibly all three – Kepler turned the corner in a big way:
That fWAR led all Twins players, and was influenced heavily by his strong defensive ratings: Kepler posted a career-high 12.7 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and was credited with 10 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), leading the team in both categories. He was exceptional in right field (third-best in baseball, according to UZR/150) and, crucially, also proved capable as fill-in center fielder – a role made necessary by Buxton's frequent unavailability.
If the Twins don't have Kepler ready to step in for 53 starts and 459 innings at the position, Buxton's injuries take a much greater toll on the team. Speaking personally, this played a big part in my placing Kepler atop the ballot.
But even when you take away that contextual wrinkle, Kepler was just a tremendously productive player all year long, setting the tone as unconventional leadoff hitter for one of the league's best lineups. He amassed 32 doubles in addition to 36 homers, drove in 90 runs, scored 98 times, and had the second-highest WPA among Twins hitters (behind Cruz).
Unfortunately he succumbed late to a shoulder issue that had plagued him for much of the year, costing him the last two weeks of the regular season and seemingly turning him into a nonfactor in the ALDS, but the inauspicious finish doesn't offset the outstanding production Kepler delivered throughout the majority of a true breakout campaign.
It's an impressive bunch. Cruz, who finished second in our balloting, was officially named team MVP earlier this week and it's tough to knock that choice. Ultimately, Kepler's huge advantage in defensive value gave him an edge in our vote. Meanwhile, Polanco's defensive struggles likely dinged him in the eyes of many, even though he delivered high-caliber offensive output at a premium position – albeit output that tailed off in the second half. Garver, Buxton and Miguel Sano were bona fide stars when on the field, but a lack of volume detracted from the ultimate value provided. Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios got some love as leaders in a resurgent rotation, as did Rogers and Tyler Duffey in the bullpen.
One nugget of the final tallies I found surprising, yet telling: Eddie Rosario, last year's Twins Daily MVP recipient, received only one sixth-place vote, despite putting up 32 home runs and 109 RBIs. The misleading nature of his raw totals didn't fool our panel, and unfortunately, probably won't fool potential trade partners this winter.
Here’s a look at the ballots from our 18 voters.
Seth Stohs: 1) Jorge Polanco, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Nelson Cruz
Nick Nelson: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Jorge Polanco, 3) Nelson Cruz
John Bonnes: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Taylor Rogers
Tom Froemming: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Jorge Polanco
Cody Christie: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Jorge Polanco, 3) Nelson Cruz
Ted Schwerzler: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Mitch Garver
Steve Lein: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Jorge Polanco
S.D. Buhr: 1) Mitch Garver, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Nelson Cruz
Matt Braun: 1) Byron Buxton, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Nelson Cruz
Cooper Carlson: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Miguel Sano
Andrew Thares: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Mitch Garver
JD Cameron: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Jorge Polanco, 3) Mitch Garver
AJ Condon: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Jorge Polanco, 3) Taylor Rogers
Matt Lenz: 1) Mitch Garver, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Jorge Polanco
Nash Walker: 1) Jorge Polanco, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Nelson Cruz
Patrick Wozniak: 1) Nelson Cruz, 2) Max Kepler, 3) Jorge Polanco
Thieres Rabelo: 1) Taylor Rogers, 2) Nelson Cruz, 3) Jose Berrios
Sabir Aden: 1) Max Kepler, 2) Mitch Garver, 3) Jorge Polanco
Max Kepler: 96
Nelson Cruz: 78
Jorge Polanco: 65
Mitch Garver: 51
Taylor Rogers: 31
Jose Berrios: 21
Miguel Sano: 18
Byron Buxton: 7
Jake Odorizzi: 5
Luis Arraez: 3
Tyler Duffey: 2
Eddie Rosario: 1
Previous Twins Daily MVP Winners
2015: Brian Dozier
2016: Brian Dozier
2017: Brian Dozier
2018: Eddie Rosario
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