Can Nelson Cruz Win American League MVP?
With only 15 games remaining in the Minnesota Twins regular season, there are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be addressed before the expanded playoffs start in October. Who is the top pitcher in the rotation? Who is in the rotation? Will injured players come back and make an impact?
Depending on who you ask, those questions can lead to a variety of different answers. There is one question, though, that is much easier to answer. Who is the Minnesota Twins’ 2020 MVP?
The answer is simple: Nelson Cruz.
At 40 years old, Cruz isn’t just running for the Twins Most Valuable Player, but the American League’s too. That’s right, Nelson Cruz doesn’t even need a glove to win MVP.
Stats don’t lie and voters eat them up. That could play into Cruz’s favor as we approach the end of the season. If you look at how Cruz stacks up against the field, you’ll quickly see why he’s in these MVP conversations. Just look at how highly he ranks among some of the most elite offensive statistics.
|Statistic||Cruz’s Stats||AL Rank|
Nelson Cruz has 15 home runs, the most through 45 games in #MNTwins history.— Nash Walker (@Nashwalker9) September 9, 2020
He leads baseball in OPS, wOBA, wRC+ and is tied with Anthony Rendon for most fWAR in the A.L.
This isn’t even cherry-picking numbers. In fact, many advanced analytics such as “Adjusted Batting Runs” and “Wins and Offensive Win %” were left off. I did leave out one statistical category that needs to be addressed. That’s “Wins Above Replacement”
This Means WAR.
“Wins Above Replacement” was left off the chart because it is calculated differently, depending on where you look. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference use their own calculations, thus they tell a different story.
When you look at Baseball Reference, Cruz is tied for third among position players, with a 1.9 WAR, and second in Offensive WAR (also 1.9). Compare that to his FanGraphs WAR, which leads the American League at 2.2, and you can see where “Wins Above Replacement” can get a little messy. This distinction could end up playing a role in whether Cruz wins MVP.
Throw in that, between Monday’s win over Detroit and the double-header against St. Louis, Cruz added 0.4 WAR to his total. That’s a lot, especially for someone who plays solely as a designated hitter. Nelson Cruz has also only played in 42 of 45 games.
Cruz’ position as a DH, is likely his biggest obstacle to winning the AL MVP. It means he can only produce in one facet of the game, and while that part of the game is arguably the most important, it minimizes his ability to rack up more WAR in the field. The fact that he is even in the top-5 (via both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs) shows just how impactful his bat has been.
Mike Trout leads the American League in Offensive WAR, Runs Scored and he is tied with Cruz for most Home Runs. Trout also ranks second in Slugging, OPS, RBI, Runs Created, and OPS+. He has the media on his side, too. Trout has already won MVP three times and has placed second four times. He is a darling.
Shane Bieber could be an even bigger threat than Trout. Bieber currently sits atop the American League in WAR (2.9), ERA (1.25), Wins (7-0), and K/9 (14.7) and second in WHIP (0.850). Those are not only numbers worthy of a Cy Young, but an MVP too.
How Can Cruz Win?
If Cruz is really going to cruise (pun intended) his way to an AL MVP, a few things will have to go his way. With 15 games to play, Cruz will have to stay healthy and continue to mash the living hell out of the baseball.
While Cruz might be up there mashing with players like Trout and Jose Abreu, he isn’t playing defense like they are. He might have to win the Triple Crown, to make MVP come to fruition. That means leading the American League in HR (1st), RBI (T-5th) and AVG (3rd).
But that is asking for a lot. Currently, the AL leader in batting average is DJ LeMahieu, at .362. Cruz sits at just .342. Trout and Cruz are tied at the top of the HR category, with 15. but Abreu has 40 RBI. Nelson Cruz has just 31.
If Cruz needs the Triple Crown, in order to win AL MVP, then he has an uphill climb ahead of him.
Hell, maybe voters will shock me and view Cruz’s season to be something other-worldly, as a 40 year old, and just give it to him based off that. Whether Boomstick wins AL MVP or not, he’s all but locked up the Twins’ MVP. More importantly, he should be a vital cog in the Minnesota Twins machine, as it ramps up to the playoffs.
Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan