Breaking Down the Wide Open National League MVP Race
A few weeks ago, it seemed as if the National League playoff field was set. The Los Angeles Dodgers were (and still are) going to run away with the West by 21 games, and the Washington Nationals were (and still are) going to do something similar in the East.
But things are tight in the Central, with the Chicago Cubs holding a slim 2.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers. And now that long ago it seemed as if the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies had the two wild card spots locked up, but the Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins are now sniffing around those two spots.
So perhaps it's no coincidence that, with all these National League teams still in the mix for postseason berths, the race for the National League MVP award is just as crazy. In fact, this may be the most wide-open MVP race in quite some time.
There are 10 legitimate MVP candidates in the Senior Circuit right now. Here's an overall look at their most important statistics through Wednesday's action. The table below is sorted by each player's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) total, which is a number we got to by adding their Fangraphs and Baseball Reference WAR clips. You can also see their weighted runs created (wRC+), weighted on-base average (wOBA), OPS, on-base percentage (OBP) and home runs.
|Name||WAR Total||fWAR (Rank)||bWAR (Rank)||wRC+||wOBA||OBP||Homers|
|Joey Votto||11.1||5.0 (5th)||6.1 (1st)||165||.431||.447||33|
|Anthony Rendon||10.9||5.6 (1st)||5.3 (5th)||142||.394||.401||22|
|Paul Goldschmidt||10.8||5.3 (2nd)||5.5 (4th)||152||.417||.425||29|
|Nolan Arenado||10.4||4.5 (11th)||5.9 (2nd)||128||.398||.368||29|
|Giancarlo Stanton||10.4||4.8 (7th)||5.6 (3rd)||157||.415||.378||46|
|Corey Seager||10||5.1 (T-3rd)||4.9 (6th)||139||.382||.394||19|
|Charlie Blackmon||9.6||5.1 (T-3rd)||4.5 (T-9th)||143||.421||.398||30|
|Bryce Harper||9.5||4.9 (6th)||4.6 (T-7th)||161||.425||.419||29|
|Kris Bryant||9.2||4.6 (9th)||4.6 (T-7th)||141||.392||.400||23|
|Justin Turner||9.2||4.7 (8th)||4.5 (T-9th)||157||.409||.425||17|
Each guy here has strong reasons why they should win the award, and each have reasons why they shouldn't. Looking at WAR alone should not determine who wins MVP, and some MVP voters continue to give extra consideration to players on winning teams, although there are obvious flaws in that line of thinking.
Let's roll through each of the top-10 candidates.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Kris Bryant, the reigning NL MVP, is having another outstanding season that is, in a lot of ways, superior to last year. His batting average is down a bit (.292 to .287) and his slugging percentage is down a hair (.554 to .529), but his on-base percentage has increased (.385 to .400). The main problem is his homer total has dipped, with 23 so far this season. Last year, he slugged 39. But Bryant has increased his walk rate and reduced his strikeout rate and continues to play outstanding defense at a number of positions. The Cubs' slow start to the season probably it seem like Bryant was struggling worse than he actually was, but he has been excellent once again. At this point, he just doesn't have the best argument in the league this time around.
Justin Turner 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Justin Turner is one of the more underrated players in baseball, and he currently is tied -- with the next guy on this list -- for the league lead in batting average (.336). Now, say what you want about batting average, but winning a batting title isn't easy. He's also added 17 dingers in just 99 games, and he would probably be higher up the WAR leaderboard if he hadn't missed 19 games earlier in the year. Turner's wRC+ ranks fifth among these 10 candidates, but that time missed hurts some of his counting statistics, and there is one player on his own team who is having a better season.
Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies
Charlie Blackmon has turned into probably the best leadoff hitter in baseball, which is saying a lot considering what the leadoff position has become. Blackmon checks in with 30 bombs out of the top spot in the order. He's tied for 3rd in fWAR, but he falls a bit, down to 10th, in bWAR. Blackmon is one of five NL players with an OPS over 1.000. Of course, he plays in Coors Field and is generally penalized for that when it comes to getting his due. Blackmon is a really good player and has emerged as one of the NL's best. But he's probably not been the best overall player in 2017.
Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper is insane. He's second in the NL in wOBA, wRC+ and OPS, and he is just one dinger away from the 30-homer club. He's probably the league's best overall player, and he is certainly one of its most dynamic. But in 2017, Harper doesn't lay claim to being the best player on his own team, at least according to WAR. Among the 10 players above, his combined fWAR and bWAR ranks 8th, and his recent injury, which has kept him out since August 13th, doesn't help matters.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Corey Seager has been a superstar since he entered the league last year, and he is having, without doubt, an MVP-caliber campaign. He is tied for third with 5.1 fWAR and is sixth in bWAR at 4.9, giving him a total of 10.0 WAR when you add those two numbers together. That's the sixth-most combined WAR in the NL. He's been the best full-time shortstop in baseball this season, with a wRC+ and wOBA that are second only to Marwin Gonzalez among shortstops (and Gonzalez stretches the definition of the word shortstop). Seager's 21 dingers are also tied for most at the position (again, with Gonzalez), and he's one of the best defenders in baseball, too.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton is the unquestioned king of the tater. He entered Thursday with 46 home runs, 9 better than the next closest player, Aaron Judge. He hit his 47th homer against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday and appears to be steaming toward 60 bombs. Since the All-Star break, Stanton is batting .301/.417/.801 with 21 jacks, 11 more than anyone else, and he has a league-best 2.5 fWAR during that stretch. He may not be at the top of the WAR leaderboards yet, but if he keeps this up, he could be atop virtually every category by the end of next month.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Nolan Arenado may be the best combination of power and defense at the hot corner since Mike Schmidt. He's really that good, and he's not just a product of Coors Field. At home, he's batting .339/.386/.665 with a wRC+ of 132, but on the road, he's hitting .285/.350/.537 with a 124 wRC+. Arenado's bWAR of 5.9 is second-highest in the National League, but there is a wide disparity between that metric and his fWAR of 4.5, which is only 11th. Perhaps that is because Baseball Reference uses dWAR (defensive Wins Above Replacement) to calculate the defensive side of their WAR totals, and Arenado's 2.2 dWAR is tops in the big leagues. Fangraphs doesn't rate Arenado's defense quite as highly, though it's still good and defensive metrics can be wonky.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt has been here before. The Arizona Diamondbacks' outstanding first baseman has been one of the best all-around players in baseball for half a decade now, a perennial MVP candidate, and it has continued in 2017. He's second in fWAR and fourth in bWAR, putting him third in total WAR when you add those two numbers together. His .425 on-base percentage is tied for second among the players listed here, and his wRC+ of 152 is fifth. Goldy fills up a lot of columns, and his defense and baserunning (16 stolen bases this season, 32 last year) make him a truly special player. Goldschmidt is certainly right there with the two players ahead of him on this list, and it could help him with voters if the D-Backs managed to hold onto a playoff berth.
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
What a phenomenal season Anthony Rendon is having. He leads all NL players in fWAR and is fifth in bWAR, with a combination of offense and defense that few in baseball can match. He has been the best hitter on the Washington Nationals this season, which says a lot when Harper is your teammate. Rendon has actually walked (13.9%) in nearly as many plate appearances as he's struck out (14.5%), and his 10 Defensive Runs Saved ranks fourth in all of baseball among third basemen. He's as good of an MVP choice as anyone right now. Except maybe for one guy...
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
The season Joey Votto is having is almost impossible to comprehend. Votto has the highest bWAR in the NL (6.1) and is 5th in fWAR (5.0), giving him a combined WAR total of 11.1, more than any other National League player. His 165 wRC+ is tops in the league, as is his .431 wOBA and his OBP of .447. He's added 33 bombs to go along with those totals, and he has a higher walk rate (18.5%) than he does strikeout rate (11.8%) -- by a wide margin. It'll be interesting to see if voters will penalize him for playing for a bad team, as he's the only guy on this list not playing for a contender.
By the numbers, Votto is the guy right now, but any of these players -- particularly Rendon, Stanton or Goldschmidt -- could overtake him with a dazzling finish.