MLB MVP Rankings: Pitchers making noise in way-too-early list

Welcome to the first edition of RunSportBet’s 2021 Most Valuable Player rankings, where we pick the top players from each league.

American League

5. Byron Buxton, Twins

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GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG fWAR
21 8 15 .392/.435/.810 2.3

At long last, Buxton is healthy and showing what he’s capable of. The 27-year-old ranks in the top four of every slash-line category and leads in slugging percentage (.810). He’s also one off the AL lead in both doubles and home runs. Additionally, he’s continuing to play his usual brilliant defense in center field, where he’s accrued four defensive runs saved. Buxton was always a critical piece for the Twins, and now he’s among the AL’s best. It’s about time he took his place there.

4. J.D. Martinez, Red Sox

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GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG fWAR
27 9 26 .347/.431/.713 1.6

Martinez has put his trying 2020 campaign behind him. The slugger leads the AL in extra-base hits, doubles, homers, and RBIs while ranking second in runs scored and fourth in WAR. Martinez is also showing renewed patience at the plate, recording 14 walks and a 12.1% walk rate that’s well above his 2019 clip. When Martinez hits like this, everything changes for the Red Sox.

3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

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GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG fWAR
27 7 20 .356/.496/.644 1.9

Guerrero is becoming the feared slugger that was promised while carrying the Blue Jays through a barrage of injuries in April. After the first month-plus of this season, Guerrero ranks second in OBP, third in WAR, fourth in OPS, and he bested his Hall of Fame father with a three-homer performance. Patience has been the real key to his success. Not only does Guerrero have four more walks than strikeouts, but he also owns the AL’s third-highest walk rate while ranking 131st in strikeout percentage. This is all scary enough for AL pitchers – and then you realize he’s only 22 and has plenty more room to grow.

2. Gerrit Cole, Yankees

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IP K ERA WHIP fWAR
37.2 62 1.43 0.72 2.4

Where would the Yankees be without Cole? The $324-million man has been everything they could’ve hoped for. Cole’s allowed only six earned runs and one homer through his first six starts. He owns the Junior Circuit’s lowest WHIP while ranking second in ERA and third in strikeouts, and his three walks are tied for the fewest among qualified AL hurlers. Opponents have hit just .178 off him. It’s been a dismal April for New York, and it likely would’ve been a whole lot worse without Cole taking the mound every five days.

1. Mike Trout, Angels

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GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG fWAR
24 7 16 .410/.515/.759 2.3

Trout’s detractors will point to his seven home runs, which rank seventh in the AL, or his .333 average against lefties. But then you see his absurd .410/.515/.759 slash line (for those scoring at home, that’s a 1.274 OPS), 2.3 WAR, and 252 wRC+. Afterward, you recognize the three-time MVP is somehow on pace for the best season of his already unparalleled career. And, as usual, you note the Angels would be nothing without him. Until he says otherwise, it’s still Mike Trout’s league – we’re just lucky enough to witness it.

National League

5. Bryce Harper, Phillies

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GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG fWAR
24 6 10 .317/.446/.598 1.3

He may not have as many home runs as Kris Bryant or Nick Castellanos, but the 2015 NL MVP has been the most difficult hitter to retire in the Senior Circuit with an incredible .446 OBP. Despite an impressive 16.8% walk rate, Harper isn’t just being selective, though. The six-time All-Star is still finding time to swing for the fences, sitting in the 98th percentile in barrel rate and the 100th percentile in expected batting average, slugging percentage, and wOBA.

4. Kris Bryant, Cubs

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GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG fWAR
26 9 22 .323/.405/.708 1.8

The most difficult part of figuring out whether Bryant can challenge for the NL MVP is whether or not he stays in the National League. When the trade deadline rolls around, the 2016 MVP will be the most coveted Cub on a team gearing toward a rebuild. And, with how he’s playing right now, he’ll likely be MLB’s most sought-after player. Nobody has ever won an MVP award after being traded midseason. Could Bryant become the first?

3. Corbin Burnes, Brewers

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IP K ERA WHIP fWAR
29.1 49 1.53 0.55 1.8

Until he was placed on the injured list, Burnes looked like the best pitcher in the majors. The right-hander is on a historic season-opening tear, striking out 49 batters without allowing a walk; he seems poised to break Kenley Jansen’s record (51 Ks, 0 BBs) next time out. With no specific injury listed, Burnes’ IL stint could be a short one. And, if the Brewers plan to keep their place atop the division standings, the 26-year-old’s contributions will be crucial.

2. Jacob deGrom, Mets

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IP K ERA WHIP fWAR
35 59 0.51 0.57 2.1

A late bloomer, deGrom continues to astound as MLB’s definitive ace. The 32-year-old is the best strikeout pitcher in the game, doesn’t issue walks, suppresses homers, throws hard, works deep into games, features a deep repertoire, and always gives his team a chance to win – even if the Mets rarely take the opportunity. He’ll be chasing the third Cy Young Award of his career, but, if he keeps up this incredible clip, deGrom might also become the first MVP-winning pitcher since Clayton Kershaw in 2014.

1. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves

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GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG fWAR
26 9 20 .333/.431/.708 2.1

Acuna has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, flirting with a 40-40 season in 2019 and raking over 46 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. It would’ve been fine if that wound up being his ceiling, but the 23-year-old is achieving new heights. More than half of his hits this year have been for extra bases, including his league-leading nine homers, and that’s including his NL-best slugging percentage and OPS. Even further, the two-time Silver Slugger is close to surpassing his WAR total from last year (2.4), and he’s played roughly half the games. He’s the only player in the Senior Circuit to reach the two-WAR threshold so far. Prorated over a 162-game season, he’s staring down an unbelievable 12-WAR campaign.