Who Are The Favorites to Win MVP of the World Baseball Classic?
Many of the game’s best and most exciting players will take part in the fifth edition of the World Baseball Classic, which starts tonight and continues through March 21.
Besides the quest for the championship, some of the global stars will be vying for the WBC MVP award. If they played in Major League Baseball in 2022, we can use raw value from the MLB season to help differentiate the candidates.
Raw value allows us to evaluate hitting or pitching performance by considering every pitch of the at-bat in the analysis, not just the outcome. With this, the luck factor is somewhat eliminated from the equation and everything the batter or hurler does is measured.
RV+ evaluates hitters, and RV- assesses pitchers. In both cases, 100 is considered league-average performance, with the caveat that a higher RV+ is preferred for hitters and a lower RV- is ideal for pitchers.
Here are some of the likeliest MVP candidates in the World Baseball Classic:
Shohei Ohtani, Japan
Japan has a really talented squad, but we’re not revealing any secrets when we say that Ohtani is the team’s best player and most obvious MVP candidate.
He has hit 80 home runs in the last two seasons to go along with ERAs of 3.18 and 2.33 while averaging significantly more than a strikeout per inning. His career FIP on the mound is a cool 3.06 and his OPS so far in the majors is .886.
The Japanese star was among the league’s best hitters in 2022 with a 147 RV+ that ranked eighth in MLB. He also ranked second in the bigs in total RV accumulated throughout the season.
Ohtani has already put on an offensive show during the exhibition portion of the tournament and the world will witness his all-around uniqueness in the Classic.
If Japan wins or makes the final, there is almost no way that the MVP isn’t Ohtani.
Mike Trout, United States
Injuries have taken away the chance to watch Trout do his thing for somewhere close the full 162 games since 2019. Still, that doesn’t make him any less impressive.
Trout hit a whopping 40 home runs in just 119 games with the Los Angeles Angels last year. He might have established a career high (45 in 2019) in the category had he been able to play 140-150 contests.
With a 165 RV+, Trout was third in MLB last season behind Aaron Judge and Yordan Álvarez. It means Trout rates very, very well at doing the right things at the plate: swinging at strikes instead of balls, making contact and hitting the ball hard.
The Americans have a strong offense, but Trout has the potential to be the best among the elite and help them repeat as champions.
Ronald Acuña Jr., Venezuela
It’s pretty simple: Venezuela will likely go as far as Acuña takes it in the tournament. A true 40-40 threat with hunger and flair, the star outfielder of the Atlanta Braves will lead a very talented offense and a generally underachieving – in the history of the Classic, at least – country that seeks its first title.
Acuña has something to prove after his OPS fell from .990 in 2021 to .764 in 2022 – his first season back from knee surgery. He still has that dreamy power-speed combo, though, and won’t be afraid to put it on display in the WBC.
Acuña had a healthy 130 RV+ last season and was above the league average in contact+ (101), discipline+ (109) and BIP+ (147). He was one of only four qualified batters (along with Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa and Taylor Ward) to post at least a 140 BIP+ with above-average discipline and contact+ numbers in 2022.
Contact+ and discipline+ consider the pitch velocity, movement, location, count and other factors to try and measure a hitter’s ability to make contact and sound decisions at the plate, respectively. For both, 100 is considered league average, and higher is better when it comes to evaluating offensive performance.
BIP+, on the other hand, evaluates how much damage a hitter inflicts on contact relative to the league average.
With Acuña, the scary thing is that he wasn’t quite at his best in 2022. Now more than a year and a half removed from his ACL surgery, there is a chance that he’s ready to put on some pretty special performances in the Classic.
Cristian Javier, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is stacked on offense: Rafael Devers, Manny Machado, Eloy Jiménez, Juan Soto, Teoscar Hernández, Julio Rodríguez and Wander Franco all have legitimate chances of being crowned MVP.
However, if the team is going to advance into the final rounds, pitching will likely be the key – and Javier might be its best pitcher.
Yes, we realize Sandy Alcántara, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, is on the squad, but Javier is N-A-S-T-Y.
He’s improved his slider, curveball, and changeup, but his four-seam fastball has always been a wonder because it “rises.” OK, it doesn’t really rise: all fastballs drop because of gravity, but Javier’s low release point and solid spin rates mitigate some of that drop.
It was the best four-seamer in Major League Baseball in 2022 with a total RV of minus-21.
Javier, who played a key role for Houston in the playoffs, parlayed his excellent heater to a 2.54 ERA.
He struck out 194 batters in 148.2 innings and was third in MLB with a 58 RV-, just behind Spencer Strider and Ohtani.
Luis Robert Jr., Cuba
For the first time in ages, Cuba will have at least a couple of big leaguers. In this case, it will be Chicago White Sox teammates Robert and Yoán Moncada. The former, in particular, has the kind of electrifying talent required to be crowned as the MVP of the WBC.
Plate skills are a concern with Robert (17/77 BB/K ratio last season in limited action, with a mediocre 81 discipline+), but his 124 RV+ was comfortably above average and few players in the tournament can match his power-speed combo.
Injuries limited him to 98 games and a .284/.319/.426 line with a .746 OPS in 2022. But let’s not forget that this is a 25-year-old budding star at the peak of his physical abilities who posted a .946 OPS in 296 plate appearances in 2021.
He has the skills to make a real difference and take Cuba to the final stages.
Francisco Lindor, Puerto Rico
Many players had a better RV+ than Lindor’s 117 in 2022. However, what he can contribute to Puerto Rico as a whole goes well beyond the box score.
Lindor has power (26 homers last season), speed (16 steals), Gold Glove-caliber defense, charisma, flair and leadership. He has been named team captain in Puerto Rico and is very much capable of getting hot over a two- or three-week span.
Puerto Rico has been the runner-up in the last two editions of the WBC. While this year’s roster is not quite as strong as some of the past ones, it certainly has enough to complicate matters for the top candidates.
As long as Lindor is healthy and leading the way, Puerto Rico has a chance to go far and the New York Mets shortstop has tangible MVP odds.
Julio Urías, Mexico
The Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw ranked in the top 10 among starting pitchers, holding opponents to a 72 BIP+ in 2022. BIP+, as stated, studies damage on contact relative to the league average (100). The stat is typically used for hitters, in which case higher is better, but it can also be used for pitchers – lower would be ideal.
What we are trying to say is that Urías showed last season – and during his whole career, if we are being fair – that he can limit the damage he concedes on contact at an elite rate. Combine that with his excellent command+ of 115 and his above-average ability to miss bats (110 whiff+), and we have a true ace.
Urías is currently lined up to start Mexico’s first game against a manageable offense – in theory, of course – Colombia. He has a chance to rack up some nice stats in preparation for a potential quarterfinal clash against a tougher opponent.
He can certainly pitch Mexico into the semifinals and position himself to get the award.