For the first time in nearly two decades, the Oakland Athletics have an MVP candidate.
Shortstop and leadoff man Marcus Semien was named one of three finalists for the American League’s top honor on Monday, joining the Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman and the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout.
“I was just sitting there with my family on the couch, just hoping,” Semien said in a conference call on Monday night. “It’s going to be tough to win it, but just to be top-three and see your name in between those guys, it’s really cool.”
After having one of the greatest seasons in the franchise’s Oakland history, Semien is the first A’s player to earn his way into the top three of MVP voting since fellow shortstop Miguel Tejada was named MVP in 2002, the seventh MVP in franchise history.
Semien was fourth in the Major Leagues in wins above replacement with 8.1, behind the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger (9), Bregman (8.4) and Trout (8.3), whose season ended early due to foot surgery.
“When you throw an injury into Trout’s year, but you still look at his numbers, I don’t know how the writers will vote that,” Semien said. “He definitely had the most dominant season at the plate, and he plays a good center field, he runs the bases really well. The Angels not being in the playoffs, I don’t know how much they look into that, but Bregman and myself, both of our teams won almost 100 games. They did, we almost did. The WARs are up there for all of us, but Bregman has a better OPS. We’ll see.”
In Major League history, the only players to surpass Semien’s 2019 totals in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, walks and stolen bases in the same season are Babe Ruth (1921, 1923) and Lou Gehrig (1927).
“Learning about my swing, figuring out a better approach than I’ve had in years past, defensively I cut the errors down, but really, the OPS and everything shot up when I started controlling the strike zone,” Semien said. “I started to get better pitches to hit, and do more damage with them.”
Semien started all 162 regular season games and finished in the top five in Oakland history in eight different offensive categories: runs (tied for first), games played (tied for first), at bats (second), extra base hits (third), hits (tied for third), total bases (tied for third), at bats (fourth), doubles (tied for fourth) and multiple hit games (fifth).
Among American League leaders, Semien ranked second in total bases (343); tied for second in times on base (276); third in runs (123), doubles (43) and extra base hits (83); fifth in hits (187); tied for fifth in triples (7); sixth in walks (87); tied for seventh in multiple hit games (53); and ninth in plate appearances per strikeout (7.32). His 123 runs scored tied the Oakland record set by Reggie Jackson in 1969.
Semien’s value, though, went beyond his performance at the plate.
Once considered a defensive liability, Semien was named a Rawlings Gold Glove Award finalist for the second straight year, leading AL shortstops in fielding percentage (.981), total chances (634), assists (436) and double plays (85) and ranking second in putouts (186). He led Major League shortstops in games, starts and innings (1435.0). His innings were the most ever by an A’s shortstop and his fielding percentage was third-best in Athletics history.
“We don’t have guys who throw 99,” Semien said. “We’ve guys who can pitch and use their defense. I was happy to be a part of the defensive success on the infield.”
Semien was one of five players to appear in each of his team’s games and played all but 30 innings at shortstop. He has a consecutive games played streak of 243, dating back to June 28, 2018 (all starts) and has played all but 37 innings at shortstop over that span.
Semien’s reliability and consistency was trumpeted by manager Bob Melvin all season long, calling his numbers — particularly his defensive transformation — “miraculous” and “amazing.” Melvin repeatedly made the case that Semien deserved to be in the MVP conversation. Semien, a quiet leader, didn’t talk about his numbers much during the season, but his 162 games played, he admitted on Monday that that number means the most.
“The culture when I came up with the White Sox was to be available to play every day, and I did that,” Semien said. “Throughout the minor leagues, an injury in 2012, in 2013 I really learned how to get myself ready to play every day, and that year in Double-A, I ended up winning the MVP, then I got called up to the Major Leagues in September.”