MVP talk, more on Schoop and the need for a left-handed bat

The race for Most Valuable Player in the American League - and it’s just an expression since I’m not aware of footspeed factoring into the outcome - comes down to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and the Yankees’ Aaron Judge. The result will be announced tonight on MLB Network.

I can’t reveal my ballot until the winner is confirmed, but it’s safe to assume that I wasn’t thinking outside the batter’s box.

Indians infielder José Ramírez is the other finalist. Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop will try to crack the top 10.

I’d like to know how many fans would have chosen Schoop in spring training if asked which Oriole had the best chance to appear on a ballot. He was a nice breakout candidate, but that’s a different category.

(I picked left-hander Chris Lee as my breakout candidate, but it didn’t happen. I picked Jake Arrieta multiple times, but it didn’t happen. I’m going to stop trying ... after I pick Lee again next spring.)

schoop-in-black-yankees.pngSchoop batted .293/.338/.503 with 35 doubles and a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs in 160 games. His on-base percentage increased from .298 in 2016. His 35 walks were 14 more than his previous best from last year and his 182 hits exceeded his personal high by 18.

The voting for Most Valuable Oriole wasn’t a complicated process.

The Orioles’ list of American League MVPs consists of Brooks Robinson in 1964, Frank Robinson in 1966, Boog Powell in 1970 and Cal Ripken Jr. in 1983 and 1991.

Eddie Murray finished second in 1982 and 1983, fourth in 1984 and fifth in 1985. He should be remembered as more than a switch-hitter with power and distain for the media. He registered OBPs of .391 in ‘82, .393 in ‘83, .410 in ‘84 and .396 in ‘86.

Schoop hit .243/.276/.412 against left-handers last season and .300/.361/.593 in 2017. He hit .262/.293/.408 with runners in scoring position last season and .338/.391/.519 in 2017. The improvements just kept coming.

It’s premature to start making out lineups, but Schoop batted third in 85 games and registered a .301/.340/.494 slash line with 13 doubles, 18 home runs and 60 RBIs. Manny Machado hit .296/.335/.524 in 91 games batting second and .205/.275/.395 in 65 games batting third. A team that had a knack for going back-to-back probably should keep Machado and Schoop in that order.

The need for a left-handed bat is pronounced but also problematic for a lineup that’s mostly set barring a trade.

Breaking camp with catcher Chance Sisco would give the Orioles a left-handed hitter, but not on a regular basis. How much he plays is to be determined.

If pressed to name a starting outfield on this date, it would read as follows: Trey Mancini, Adam Jones and Austin Hays. Not a lefty in the bunch.

Mark Trumbo will be the subject of trade speculation through the winter, with the Orioles gauging interest in their attempts to land a starting pitcher. If he stays, he’s a right-handed hitting designated hitter and part-time outfielder.

First baseman Chris Davis is the only projected regular who bats from the left side. The Orioles aren’t going to replace Machado or Schoop, and Tim Beckham is expected to handle the shortstop duties with J.J. Hardy leaving via free agency. Outfielder Anthony Santander is a switch-hitter who should occupy a spot on the bench, at least until his Rule 5 status is finally shed. He’s got another 44 days into the 2018 season.

Utility infielder Ryan Flaherty is a free agent and he didn’t stick for this many years because of his bat. Pedro Álvarez didn’t have his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk until September and he’s a free agent without a position. Seth Smith has a position - he made 72 starts in right field - but the Orioles aren’t expected to make any attempts to re-sign him.

So what’s the solution? If Trumbo remains the primary designated hitter, the Orioles need a left-handed hitting corner outfielder to at least platoon with Hays, who isn’t guaranteed a job on opening day.

Hays batted .217 against right-handers and .214 against left-handers in his tiny September sample size, so we can’t glean much from it. He hit .289 against right-handers at Double-A Bowie and .303 at Single-A Frederick. He posted a .333 average versus right-handers at short-season Single-A Aberdeen in 2016 after the Orioles drafted him in the third round.

The counterargument centers on the fixation with left-handed hitters and how right-handers with even splits lessen the need.

Jones is a career .283 hitter against right-handers and a .264 hitter versus lefties. He posted a .293 average against right-handers this season and a .260 average against lefties.

Here are some other splits from right-handed hitters on the roster:

2017: .255 vs. RH, .269 vs. LH
Career: .278 vs. RH, .281 vs. LH

2017: .285 vs. RH, .257 vs. LH
Career: .262 vs. RH, .258 vs. LH

2017: .290 vs. RH, .300 vs. LH
Career: .269 vs. RH, .248 vs. LH

2017: .293 vs. RH, .293 vs. LH
Career: .292 vs. RH, .299 vs. LH

2017: .221 vs. RH, .272 vs. LH
Career: .247 vs. RH, .254 vs. LH

Joey Rickard
2017: .209 vs. RH, .279 vs. LH
Career: .230 vs. RH, .293 vs. LH

Caleb Joseph
2017: .255 vs. RH, .258 vs. LH
Career: .228 vs. RH, .217 vs. LH

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