Gunnar Henderson Has the Chance to Join Historic Club

Gunnar Henderson is hoping to join an exclusive list of players to win ROY and MVP in their first two seasons.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Gunnar Henderson #2 of the Baltimore Orioles hits a home run in the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on May 08, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Gunnar Henderson was just announced as the American League Player of the Month by MLB. He also currently has the third best odds to win AL MVP via BetMGM at +500. He only trails Juan Soto at +200 and Bobby Witt Jr. at +300. If Henderson is able to win the AL MVP this season, he will join a list of six players to win ROY and MVP within their first two seasons in Major League Baseball.

The list of players who have achieved the feat consist of Cal Ripken Jr. (1982-83), Ryan Howard (2005-06), Dustin Pedroia (2007-08), Kris Bryant (2015-16). Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro (2001) are the only players to win it in the same season. Henderson would also be the second youngest player to achieve the feat. Fittingly, he would only be older than Ripken, who was just 22-years old when he won his MVP.

Furthermore, Henderson would be the first Oriole to win MVP since Ripken did it in 1991. This is a big season for Henderson to prove who he is moving forward. He is off to an incredible start, lets take a look at how he has got here.

Mashing at the Plate

Thus far, Henderson is absolutely mashing at the plate. To start, he is tied for second in all of baseball in home runs with 12. He is tied with Marcell Ozuna and trails Kyle Tucker, who has 13. The power surge could certainly be called unexpected. Most projection systems had Henderson hitting somewhere between 20-25 home runs this season. He is half way there through only 40 games.

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On his current pace, Henderson will be at 50 home runs by the end of the season. That would be the most by a Baltimore Oriole in a season since Chris Davis hit 53 in 2013.

If you go and take a look at Henderson’s Baseball Savant page it is very red. He is in the 90th percentile or better in xSLG, average exit velocity, bat speed, and hard hit rate. Point blank, he is tearing the cover off of the baseball.

The only hole that you can poke in his approach is that he strikes out over 26% of the time. He also is not walking a great deal. A walk rate of just 7.8% should climb as pitchers begin to pitch to him with greater care.

The Orioles are tied for fourth in all of baseball with a 112 wRC+. Henderson is leading the way. He has hit leadoff in every game this season and has been the best player on the best team in the American League.

Defense and Base Running

The most surprising part of Henderson’s rise to super stardom is the quality of his defense and the efficiency of his base running.

Baseball Savant has Henderson in the 95th percentile in outs above average (OAA). That is currently tied for fifth among shortstops. He has also accumulated four defensive runs saved (DRS) which is tied for third among shortstops.

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Last season, Henderson played good defense but he bounced around. Splitting time between shortstop and third base, he never looked truly comfortable at either position. Now that he is only playing shortstop he looks very comfortable and is playing defense at an elite level.

Henderson has also been very efficient on the base paths. He has gone with a quality over quantity approach and it seems to be working. Currently with six stolen bases, he is on pace to finish the season with 25 bags. That would set a new career high in professional baseball for Henderson. Not to mention he has yet to be caught stealing.

His 88th percentile sprint speed also suggest that he could probably be more aggressive on the base paths.

Obviously the bat is the draw with Henderson. However, the defense and base running have played a large role in why he already has 2.3 fWAR in just 39 games. If he keeps on this pace, it is going to be a very tight race in the American League for MVP. Soto, Witt, Tucker, Aaron Judge, and Yordan Alvarez are among players who will challenge for the MVP.

If Henderson can pace the league in home runs it will make him a lot harder to catch. If he also continues to play gold glove caliber defense with 25-30 stolen bases, we could soon see Gunnar Henderson join a very exclusive list of players.