Is This Finally the Year José Ramírez Wins His MVP?

The Guardians superstar has been one of the best players in the game for the past eight seasons, but José Ramírez has never won the AL MVP.

Jose Ramirez
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 03: Jose Ramirez #11 of the Cleveland Indians is greeted by teammates after scoring a run in the third inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on October 03, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Around this time last year, I wrote about Gerrit Cole and his quest for a Cy Young Award.

Long one of the best pitchers in baseball, he was overdue for the game’s highest pitching honor. I saw a path for Cole to finally win his first Cy Young in 2023; lo and behold, he led the league in starts, innings, and ERA en route to a unanimous Cy Young victory this past fall.

I decided to look for another overdue award contender this year. The first player that popped into my head was Cole’s new teammate, Juan Soto, but I quickly dispelled that notion. Soto already looks like a future Hall of Famer, but he’s only 25. He has plenty of time to pad his resume.

After that, I shifted my focus from the Bronx to Queens and considered Francisco Lindor. Yet, with all due respect to the star shortstop, thinking about Lindor only served to remind me of an even more deserving player: Lindor’s former teammate, José Ramírez of the Cleveland Guardians.

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The fact that Ramírez wasn’t the first player I thought of goes to show how underrated he is. Indeed, in a recent survey, many of his peers voted him the most underrated player in baseball.

Perhaps it’s because he plays in the AL Central, often one of the least competitive and most overlooked divisions. Perhaps it’s because he excels in all areas but has rarely led the league in any traditional stats.

Whatever the reason, it’s about time Ramírez gets a little more credit for his consistent excellence. What better way to give him his flowers than with an MVP?

José Ramirez of the Cleveland Guardians poses for a photo during the Cleveland Guardians Photo Day at Goodyear Ballpark.
GOODYEAR, AZ – FEBRUARY 22: José Ramirez #11 of the Cleveland Guardians poses for a photo during the Cleveland Guardians Photo Day at Goodyear Ballpark on Thursday, February 22, 2024 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Ramírez made his big league debut in 2013. He was a September call-up, a few days away from his 21st birthday.

This will be his 12th big league season. If you find that hard to believe, I don’t blame you. He has already compiled 45.6 bWAR and 46.7 fWAR through age 31. That’s a Hall of Fame pace.

So, how does a future Hall of Famer fly so far under the radar?

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Ramírez had his first MVP-caliber season in 2017. However, he got lost in the shuffle of a two-way MVP race between Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge. The Guardians third baseman finished in third place.

He was even better the following year, but all the same, his excellence was overshadowed by a pair of generational talents. This time, it was Mookie Betts and Mike Trout. Once again, Ramírez came in third.

After a down year in 2019, Ramírez was on pace for a career-best performance in 2020. Unfortunately, the shortened season got in his way. He arguably deserved to win the MVP year, but the voters disagreed; he finished a distant second with eight first-place votes to Jose Abreu’s 21.

Ramírez was phenomenal as usual in 2021, but that year, no one could steal the attention away from Shohei Ohtani. J-Ram finished sixth in MVP balloting, although one could have easily made the case for him to finish in the top three.

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but Ramírez was fantastic yet again in 2022. Indeed, he was as good as anyone not named Judge or Ohtani. Unfortunately, those two were so incredible that there wasn’t much attention left for anyone not named Judge or Ohtani. Ramírez ultimately finished fourth in MVP voting, behind Judge, Ohtani, and Yordan Alvarez.

Finally, in 2023, Ramírez had another down year by his own standards. You know, he was only worth 5.1 fWAR, and he only finished tenth for the AL MVP.

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Across eight qualified seasons, Ramírez has produced at least 5.0 fWAR six times. That doesn’t even include 2020, when he was on pace for a career-high 8.6 fWAR. Dating back to 2016, he ranks third among all players in fWAR, trailing only Betts and Trout.

Ramírez has racked up all that value by doing just about everything at a high level. He has some of the best plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills in the game, and he uses his sharp eye and smart swing to crush extra-base hits despite middling raw power. He is equally brilliant on the basepaths; his sprint speed is unspectacular, but he ranks sixth among active players in stolen bases and second in FanGraphs baserunning value.

As if that all weren’t enough, Ramírez has been solid and reliable at the hot corner throughout his career. His defense isn’t often elite, but he has compiled 21 DRS, 37 OAA, and 36 UZR at third base. The only season in which he had negative numbers by any of those three metrics was the shortened 2020 campaign.

José Ramírez won’t be the favorite for the AL MVP this season. He faces steep competition from superstars like Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, Corey Seager, Julio Rodríguez, and Yordan Alvarez. He didn’t receive a single vote for AL MVP in our recent staff predictions poll.

Still, there is no denying he’s a strong candidate. Considering his consistent high-level performance over the years, there might be no safer choice to finish among the top vote-getters.

But can he win it all?

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I don’t see why not.