Who will be the MVP of the 2021 Oakland A’s?
For many teams who have an established superstar, that might be an easy question. It might even seem obvious in the opening weeks of an A’s season, before reality shows up to rearrange our expectations.
Here at Athletics Nation, we picked Matt Chapman as our 2018 Team MVP, and it looked like he might hold down that spot for years to come. Then the very next summer, Marcus Semien put together a breakout for the ages and beat him out for the 2019 Team MVP throne. Surely the following year would be a competition between the two of them, but Chapman got hurt and Semien regressed, and Mark Canha took over as 2020 Team MVP.
Even when the A’s meet or exceed expectations in the standings, they rarely do so in exactly the fashion we expect, nor even in whatever way they did so the previous year. Would anyone be surprised if it was Matt Olson this summer, slugging 40+ homers and winning gold at first base? Or Sean Murphy, doing the same as a catcher? Or Chapman getting back on track, or Canha repeating?
Any of those could happen, but the best all-around start might belong to Ramon Laureano.
If you only glance at his hitting stats, then his .236 average and 124 wRC+ don’t jump off the page, but if you switch to WAR then he leads the team on both scales because of the various ways he impacts the game.
- Laureano: .236/.306/.473, 124 wRC+, 6 HR, 6.6% BB, 24.8% Ks, .384 xwOBA, 8-for-11 SB
That was especially true on Sunday, when he displayed several of the tools in his skill set. Laureano took over that day’s game in a way we rarely see in baseball, doing everything but the pitching. He reached base in his first at-bat, and then used his hustle to score from first on a single when the other team got too casual in throwing the ball back in from the outfield.
That's one way to start the day #RiseAndGrind pic.twitter.com/s2cULvseBo— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 2, 2021
Later on, with the game tied in the 8th, Laureano made the defensive play of the night. A deep drive to center took him back to the wall, and he made a leaping grab to rob what could have been a go-ahead double for the opponent.
Reminder that Ramón is a Gold Glove caliber outfielder. pic.twitter.com/9bGTRoMkTz— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 2, 2021
After preserving the tie, Laureano came up in the bottom of the inning and delivered the game-winner, a two-run homer to the opposite field.
ARE YOU SERIOUS RAMÓN!? pic.twitter.com/0Ln5MXjwUK— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 2, 2021
His speed and hustle earned a run, his CF defense saved one, and his powerful bat sealed the deal at the end. And it wasn’t even the full Laser Show, as he didn’t need to throw anybody out with his ridiculous arm, which might be his strongest tool of all.
A lot of other things happened in this 7-5 victory, so it’s not as if Laureano won it all on his own, like Catfish Hunter throwing a perfect game while going 3-for-4 with an RBI. But he made his presence known in every area throughout the evening — at the plate, on the paths, and in the field, directly impacting the scoreboard using each avenue.
That’s an MVP type of performance, and none of it was unexpected. We’ve seen Laureano pull all of these feats on the regular, and we expect he’ll keep doing so.
He’s been hustling all year and he’s still second in the majors in stolen bases even though he hasn’t swiped one in over three weeks, and he’s second on the A’s in dingers. Statcast says he’s swinging better than ever by a significant margin, 40 points over his career xwOBA mark, with a career-high barrel rate and a slightly reduced strikeout rate. He’s not chasing out of the zone less, but he’s more often taking advantage of meatball offerings. Either his low small-sample BABIP will normalize and his batting average will go up 30 points to his career norm (or more), or he’ll draw more walks as he showed the ability to in the minors, or both.
After his big Sunday against the Orioles, Laureano did it again Monday against the Blue Jays. He came up in the 5th with the score tied, and homered to give Oakland a lead they never relinquished.
RAMÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓN pic.twitter.com/4Lr866bO4D— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 4, 2021
Two straight days with the game-winning homer, and he also runs and throws and fields. Sounds like somebody to add to the list of potential 2021 Team MVPs, at the very least.