Bryce Harper’s knee injury last week, while not necessarily a season-ender, certainly took him out of the NL MVP race. What a tough break for the Nationals star. He’s the only player in MLB this season to rank in the top five in WAR, weighted runs created, slugging, and batting average. There was a good chance the twenty-four year-old would’ve claimed his second MVP award.
Nonetheless, Harper’s absence means there is one less viable candidate in a crowded NL MVP field. The race now includes the following players, in no particular order (all stats according to Fangraphs):
- Dodgers 3B Justin Turner: 4.9 WAR (7th in MLB), .347 batting average (1st in NL), 166 weighted runs created plus (wRC+; 4th in MLB)
- Dodgers SS Corey Seager: 5.0 WAR (5th in MLB), .308 batting average, 10.3 defensive rating (11th in MLB)
- Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt: 5.5 WAR (3rd in MLB; 1st in NL), 1.033 OPS (3rd in MLB), .600 slugging percentage (t-6th in MLB)
- Nationals 3B Anthony Rendon: 5.2 WAR (4th in MLB), 10.7 defensive rating (9th in MLB), 147 wRC+ (8th in NL)
- Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton: 4.5 WAR (10th in MLB), 44 home runs (1st in MLB), .646 slugging percentage (1st in MLB)
- Rockies OF Charlie Blackmon: 4.6 WAR (9th in MLB), .333 batting average (3rd in MLB), .611 slugging percentage (4th in MLB)
That’s a damn good group of guys. And that list doesn’t even include Reds 1B Joey Votto (8th in WAR) and Dodgers OF Cody Bellinger (34 home runs). Both Votto and Bellinger have been outstanding, but even they aren’t worthy of serious MVP consideration given how well the other aforementioned candidates have played.
So who’s the favorite, as it stands now? You’d think that the frontrunner would be a Dodger. LA has clearly been the best team in baseball this year, and they’re even in striking range of the all-time regular season wins record (116). Given this nearly unprecedented level of dominance, their best player, in theory, should be rewarded with the MVP. It’d be like not recognizing Stephen Curry as the MVP after Golden State’s 73-win season, or snubbing Tom Brady after the Patriots went 16-0.
But who, in fact, is Los Angeles’ most valuable player? Is it Turner, their best hitter, or Seager, their best fielder and a worthy hitter in his own right? Or maybe this is just a stupid debate: we all know that Clayton Kershaw, who’s also been sidelined of late, is their best player.
Moreover, there’s always the classic, if illogical argument, “if you took X player (say Turner or Seager) off the Dodgers, they’d still have the best record in baseball. How valuable can they be?” Again, that’s not a very sound argument, particularly now that we have such great stats at our disposal, but it’s likely to factor into the minds of certain voters.
Since the Dodgers’ MVP debate is murky, that leaves room for Goldschmidt, the NL leader in WAR and best player on the playoff-bound Diamondbacks, as the favorite. Close behind, though, is Colorado’s Blackmon, whose dazzling numbers have the Rockies also in the playoff picture, and Miami’s Stanton, whose home run totals will be hard to ignore come season’s end if he continues slugging at this rate (he has eleven home runs in his last twelve games, and 24 over the past six weeks).
However, MVP voters should look first to Turner or Seager once the season is finished. The Dodgers have been so dominant that it would look foolish to not recognize their best player, particularly since both Turner and Seager are likely to finish at the top of many of the most important statistical categories. If there is a significant gap between one of these Dodgers and someone like Goldschmidt, only then would it be reasonable to give the MVP to a non-Dodger.
Similar story in the AL: The award should go to the best player on the best team, all else equal
The AL MVP race is still a two-player battle between the sizzling Jose Altuve (he’s hitting .428 since July 1st!) and the struggling Aaron Judge (hitting just .182 in August). Though Altuve has received more attention in the past month, their numbers are still even over the course of the entire season. They essentially have the same WAR (Altuve is at 6.2, while Judge is at 6.1; both rank 1st and 2nd respectively in baseball) while Judge holds an edge in OPS. But since the Astros have had a more impressive season than the Yankees, Altuve should own the tiebreaker over Judge, particularly since he’s kept Houston afloat even while they’ve struggled with injuries to Carlos Correa and some of their starting pitchers. Plus, recency bias helps when comparing Altuve and Judge’s MVP-caliber campaigns.