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Why I voted White Sox’ Luis Robert Jr. sixth on my American League MVP ballot

Vinnie Duber Avatar
November 16, 2023
Luis Robert Jr.

Undoubtedly, Luis Robert Jr. was the most valuable member of the White Sox during an otherwise miserable 101-loss season in 2023.

But how did he stack up against the rest of the best in the American League?

The MVP voting results were revealed Thursday night, with Robert finishing 12th, behind unanimous winner Shohei Ohtani and a host of top hitters in the game, plus one pitcher, AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole.

This is the first year I’ve had an MVP vote, having previously voted for Manager of the Year and the Cy Young Award, and I put Robert sixth on my ballot.

Here’s my ballot, in full:

  1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
  2. Corey Seager, Rangers
  3. Marcus Semien, Rangers
  4. Bobby Witt Jr., Royals
  5. Julio Rodríguez, Mariners
  6. Luis Robert Jr., White Sox
  7. Kyle Tucker, Astros
  8. Adley Rutschman, Orioles
  9. José Ramírez, Guardians
  10. Yandy Díaz, Rays

My sixth-place vote for Robert was the highest he received. In fact, Robert only appeared on eight other ballots, receiving two eighth-place votes, four ninth-place votes and two 10th-place votes.

Why did I have Robert higher than everyone else?

Certainly, I was impressed by what you can easily find on a stat sheet, and Robert’s power numbers were exceptional, even among the rest of the AL’s best. His 38 home runs were the third most in the league, behind only Ohtani’s 44 and Adolís García’s 39. His .542 slugging percentage ranked third among qualified hitters, behind only Ohtani and Corey Seager, who finished second in the MVP vote. His on-base numbers left something to be desired, but his .857 OPS still ranked fifth among qualified hitters.

On top of it, Robert played sensational defense in center field, a finalist for the Gold Glove Award that ended up going to Kevin Kiermaier of the Blue Jays. That combination of power-hitting prowess and defensive excellence put him sixth on my ballot, edging other players who had terrific 2023 seasons but didn’t do both of those things as well as Robert did.

Robert, indeed, didn’t do enough, in my mind, to rank higher on my ballot, and it’s not difficult to understand why other voters split hairs in a different way.

For all his speed, Robert stole just 20 bases in a year when some of the game’s best put up eye-popping stolen-base numbers. Among his fellow MVP contenders alone, Bobby Witt Jr. stole 49 bases, Julio Rodríguez stole 37, Kyle Tucker stole 30, and José Ramírez stole 29.

As mentioned, Robert’s on-base numbers weren’t especially sparkling, his .315 on-base percentage actually a decrease from 2022. He walked only 30 times, compared to 172 strikeouts.

Sometimes, voters are thought of giving too much preference to the players on the teams they cover, and I could see why I might fall into that category with my placement of Robert sticking out like a sore thumb. Maybe, even, it’s unavoidable, given how entrenched we are in the day-to-day greatness of the players we cover.

What I will say, though, is that being on the White Sox beat gave me a unique insight to how Robert evolved as a player this year, and I would argue it was a dramatic evolution that finally vaulted him into superstar status.

Bothered by injuries last season, including a wrist injury at season’s end, Robert looked, at times, like he had little understanding of the strike zone, swinging — sometimes uglily waving — at pitches he had no chance of hitting. And I saw signs of that same hitter early this season, be it in the World Baseball Classic or during the regular season’s opening weeks. But Robert went to work and made a conscious effort to improve his plate discipline and pitch selection, and boy, did he. By May, he looked like a different hitter, and the results were different, too.

Defensively, there was a similar change. After winning a Gold Glove as a rookie in 2020, Robert was a different-looking defender last season, again a time when he was affected by injuries. His laughably good, bobblehead-inspiring range wasn’t quite the same. He was taking less efficient routes to fly balls. And he was struggling with plays at the wall. Robert worked on that stuff, too, and this season, he was turning in “Catch of the Year” submissions in the season’s first week. He was getting to everything and catching everything, and he was vastly improved — if not especially great — on balls at the wall, crediting his work for that improvement. More than any other description, that he “made it look easy” was the most fitting.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have that type of insight for every player I was considering on my ballot, and perhaps if I did, I would have voted differently. I’m sure that there are similar stories from reporters in Anaheim and Arlington and Seattle and Kansas City and Houston and Baltimore and Cleveland and St. Petersburg about the players they cover who also ended up on my ballot.

But each voters’ vote is their own, and when added up, the right choice is almost always made. No one needed special insight to know that what Ohtani did this year — and has done in his still-young major league career — is worthy of the utmost praise. That’s why he’s the first player in baseball history to win multiple MVPs in unanimous fashion.

I had special insight into Robert’s excellent 2023 season, even if it was far from excellent for his team. And perhaps watching a 100-loss baseball team every day this season is why I had a player from another 100-loss team, Witt, even higher than Robert on my ballot. Other voters might not have looked so kindly on great players if their teams weren’t also great, and heck, they might have just plain not been paying attention. Robert’s teammates, after all, were talking about him being underrated at points this season.

But it’s that difference and so many others that make it fun to go through the individual ballots, which you can see here.

Robert had a tremendous season, and he deserved the consideration.

In my mind, he deserved to finish sixth in the MVP vote.

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