The 2017 season has come to an end this weekend which means the postseason and season awards are right around the corner. The Most Valuable Player awards are always a fun and thought-provoking debate, and this year’s will be no different. While the American League has three or four legitimate candidates (Altuve, Judge, Kluber, Trout), the National League field is very deep, and since no one has pulled away, I thought I’d try to break it down.
Let’s take a look at the candidates.
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt is the “prototypical” MVP candidate. He’s got the average, homers, RBI, OPS, and is that team’s best player. His Diamondbacks are also headed to the postseason, and while I personally don’t think that should have as much say in the matter, many voters still do. If you look at some of the advanced metrics, Goldschmidt is actually behind several of the other candidates on this list. He’s seventh in wRC+ (146), seventh in BWARP (6.61), and eighth in fWAR (5.5).
Goldy has been the frontrunner for NL MVP for most of the season, but with so many other guys playing their way into the forefront of conversation, has Goldschmidt’s candidacy gone stale? This is by no wrong doing of his own, as he’s matched a great first half with an equally as impressive second half, but the fact that so many other players have come on so strong in the second half will likely play a factor. Jose Altuve is likely facing that same case in the American League.
MVP Moment: Three home run game vs. the Cubs on August 3 including a game-winning homer off Wade Davis in the ninth inning.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
When you look at the daily box scores and see the Marlins, the first thing you ask yourself is, “Did Giancarlo Stanton hit a home run today?” And this season, the answer was likely yes.
Stanton’s had a huge second half of the season, and much of that, of course, can be attributed to his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. For 30 days in August, he was impossible to pitch to, hit everything out of the ballpark, and was the best player in baseball, reminding many of us of Barry Bonds’ historic 2001 season. If he kept his pace from August, he’d be the MVP going away, but a quiet September has brought him back to the pack. It’s worth noting that Stanton will play more games his year than any other year in his career, which has always been an issue before.
The numbers support Stanton for MVP as well, as he leads all of baseball in BWARP (8.42), and is second in NL in wRC+ (154) and fifth in fWAR (6.4). Stanton was not only unreal in the second half of the season, he nearly brought a Marlins team that was nearly dead back into serious NL Wild Card contention for a time, seemingly by himself.
MVP Moment: The entire month of August: Stanton hit .349 with 18 home runs, 37 RBI and an OPS of 1.332
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto has been a model of consistency over his 10-year career and like a fine wine, he seems to get better with age. This season, Votto hit for more power while remaining just as patient as he has always been and in a lineup with very little protection, that is impressive. In that sense, and in his consistency, Votto is the Mike Trout of the National League. Joey V leads the NL in wRC+(165), and is tied for the lead in fWAR (6.7). But just like Trout, his team is going to be watching from home this postseason. Still, Votto has about a good a case as anybody.
MVP Moment: Sees 43 pitches and has no official plate appearance in five-walk game vs. Pirates on August 28.
Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
When the season began, the Nationals had five MVP candidates: Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon. No, Rendon wasn’t some kind of afterthought, but out of all of those guys including one who has already won the award, what are the chances that he would be the one getting talked about. Rendon has been Mr. Reliable for Dusty Baker—he’s hit anywhere and everywhere in the lineup and has produced. Even when Turner, Harper, Werth were all shelved with injury, Rendon continued to put up numbers, hitting .299 with 24 home runs and a .929 OPS.
He’s tied for the NL lead in fWAR (6.7) with Kris Bryant and Joey Votto, seventh in WARP (6.26) and is tied for 10th in wRC+ (140).
MVP Moment: 6-for-6 performance with three home runs and 10 RBI against the Mets on April 30
Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Let’s start with Arenado.
I have a feeling Nolan is going to be the player who is “always a bride’s maid, never a bride” as an MVP candidate. That sucks, because this guy can flat out rake. He’s been one of the most consistent right-handed power bats and run producers since his breakout year in 2015, and that continued this season.
Arenado has finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting the past two seasons with a eighth-place finish in 2015 and fifth place finish in 2016. He’ll likely have another Top-10 finish this season.
Blackmon has been not only the best leadoff man, but arguably the best all-around player in the National League. His ability to hit for both average and power has been on full display this season.
The last center fielder to have a 130+ runs scored, 200+ hits and 375+ total bases in a season was the great Joe DiMaggio back in 1937, and anytime you’re in a category with Joe D, you’ve done something amazing.
The “Coors Effect” comes up anytime a Rockies player is being considered for this award. However, between the two, that affects Blackmon’s case more than Arenado’s.
Arenado Home/Road Splits
Home: .329/.386/.636 – 47 XBH (18 HR)
Away: .283/.355/.531 – 39 XBH (18 HR)
Blackmon Home/Road Splits
Home: .388/.464/.772 – 54 XBH (23 HR)
Away: .276/.337/.447 -31 XBH (13 HR)
The metrics are a fan of neither Arenado nor Blackmon. Blackmon ranks fourth in the NL in fWAR while both rank outside the Top-10 in wRC+. Arenado had a better case for the award in 2015 and ’16, and Blackmon’s disparity between his home and road splits will be too much for voters to ignore, but still two damn good seasons.
Arenado- Walk-off home run to complete the cycle on Father’s Day vs. Giants on June 18
Blackmon- Game-winning home run in the twelfth inning to defeat the Indians on August 9.
Deserve serious consideration
JD Martinez, Arizona Diamondbacks
Martinez has the most unique case out of anyone in this group. He was the first piece to be moved by the Detroit Tigers in their fire sale, and he ended up in the perfect spot.
In just 60 games for the Diamondbacks, Martinez is slashing .305/.370/.752 with 29 home runs and has an eye-popping 1.123 OPS. He not only solidified the middle of their order, but transformed their lineup into an offensive juggernaut that the Los Angeles Dodgers found out was no joke. When Martinez came to the DBacks, the team was just holding on to the second wild card spot, but has taken off since his arrival and took control of the Wild Card race. The metrics don’t love Martinez as much as I do and that’s ok. His contribution to one of the best team’s in baseball is undeniable.
Had Martinez played the whole season in Arizona, we may be talking about him being the clear-cut frontrunner for NL MVP. No player has ever won an MVP after being traded, but what Martinez has done for the Diamondbacks is unreal. If there was a year to make an unprecedented move, this might be the guy to do it.
MVP Moment: The month of September: Martinez hit .418 with a ridiculous 1.477 OPS and NL-record 16 home runs in September.
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times. Kris Bryant remains one of the most underrated players in Major League Baseball. How often can you say that about a reigning NL MVP? Somehow people think if Bryant doesn’t hit 40 home runs and drive in 100 that he’s somehow having a bad season. Consider this: had the Cubs had a competent lead-off man this season, Bryant would be well over the century mark in RBI. On top of all that, he cut down his strikeout rate by four percent and increased his walk rate by nearly four percent.
Bryant has been the Cubs’ best player from start to finish in 2017, and you can make the argument without Bryant, the Cubs would be on the outside looking in of this year’s postseason. Not to mention the fact that Bryant has quietly taken the National League lead in fWAR (6.7), third in BWARP (6.75), and sixth in wRC+ (147). He’s having an MVP-caliber year, but there’s not as much love for ol’ blue eyes this year as there was last year.
MVP Moment: Game-winning home run at Milwaukee to give the Cubs a 5-3 win over the Brewers on September 21.
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Cody Bellinger will win the National League Rookie of the Year unanimously and has had the second best rookie season of all-time. Second to only, Aaron Judge, who may win both MVP and Rookie of the Year in the American League. The Dodgers are 93-46 since his call-up on April 25, and he leads the Dodgers in homers, runs, RBI. His 142 wRC+ also ranks ninth in the NL. Had the Dodgers sustained their record pace from earlier in the season and broken the MLB wins records, Bellinger would likely be in the middle of the conversation. It’s his first season, and the fact that he’s even mentioned in the conversation speaks volumes. He’ll have several chances to win it down the road.
MVP Moment: Game-winning homer off Andrew Miller in two-homer performance to defeat Indians on June 13.
Other Honorable Mentions: Tommy Pham-St. Louis Cardinals, Anthony Rizzo-Chicago Cubs, Marcell Ozuna-Miami Marlins, Ryan Zimmerman-Washington Nationals, Freddie Freeman-Atlanta Braves
And the winner is….. Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton will win the 2017 NL MVP—not only because he was the best player in the National League, but also because of what he did in the second half of the season to captivate baseball and make himself the center of the baseball world. On top of that, MLB should be jumping for joy that Stanton, one of its brightest stars, was finally healthy enough to put together a season like this. He finished the season with 59 home runs, which is the most since Barry Bonds in 2001. I know we’re wired to be cautious anytime someone puts up huge home run totals because of what the Steroid era did, but I am not going to allow that to keep me from appreciating one of the best seasons in the history of baseball and neither should MVP voters.
Lead photo courtesy Jeff Curry—USA Today Sports