5 Under-the-Radar National League MVP Candidates
We all know who the best players in the National League are.
Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, Buster Posey, Clayton Kershaw, all of whom are perennial MVP candidates. Certainly, if you had to choose a National League MVP right now, chances are you'd land on one of those guys and feel pretty good about your pick.
But that's no fun. And besides, every year there are one or two players who put together a career season or suddenly make "the leap" from pretty good player to "superstar." Last year it was Anthony Rendon and Jonathan Lucroy. The year before it was Carlos Gomez and Goldschmidt, and in 2012, Chase Headley and McCutchen emerged as the surprising new young studs.
The five players listed below all have the potential to make that move, and none were among the top 25 vote-getters in MVP voting last season. This year, that could change.
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Perhaps picking Harper to be an "under-the-radar" MVP candidate isn't so "under-the-radar," especially because we've seen him do stuff like this on numerous occasions over the first three years of his career.
As Ben Bruno put it, it's easy to forget that Harper is still just 22 years old and has been playing in the Majors since he was 19. It's also easy to forget that he put up a Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) of 4.6 in that age-19 season, the most in his young career. He followed that up with a 4.0 fWAR in '13. Not bad for a guy so young.
But injuries have sabotaged his progress. Last year he managed just 395 plate appearances, resulting in a paltry fWAR of 1.4.
No one argues that Harper has MVP-level talent. And you also have to consider that at no point in his career has Harper been older than any of the pitchers he's had to face. We project Harper to stay healthy this season, hitting .281/.368/.487 with 25 home runs and 77 RBI in 618 plate appearances. Given his defensive abilities, if he can hit like that and perhaps exceed those projections, he's a surefire MVP candidate in 2015.
Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres
Some of you will point to Kemp's complete and utter inability to play defense as a reason he cannot win the MVP award in 2015. And if he were still playing center field, you would be correct. That -26.5 Fangraphs Def rating last year was pretty brutal.
However, this year Kemp will be playing right field for the Padres, where his defensive limitations shouldn't be as drastic. When you combine that with what I believe is going to be a terrific offensive season for the 30-year-old Padre, you get a player who could be in the conversation for NL MVP by year's end.
Last year Kemp was terrific at the plate when he hit .287/.346/.506 with 25 home runs and 89 RBI in 599 plate appearances. We project those numbers to come down slightly to .282/.356/.485 with 22 homers and 76 RBI in 562 plate appearances. One encouraging sign, however, is his outstanding spring in which he's batting .391, with 10 of his 18 hits going for extra bases heading into Tuesday.
Corey Dickerson, Colorado Rockies
A few weeks ago I wrote about the Colorado outfield and just how good it could be. Perhaps the best player in that outfield is Dickerson, who emerged last year to hit .312/.364/.567 with 24 homers, a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .399, and a weighted runs created (wRC+) tally of 140. That .399 wOBA was fifth among all outfielders with at least 400 plate appearances, and his wRC+ was tied for ninth.
His defense was considered below average, however, which resulted in an fWAR of 2.6. Our projections for 2015 expect him to continue to rake to the tune of .292/.353/.531 with a wOBA of .368 and 24 home runs in 2015. And while that's not quite at the level he produced last year, it would still make him one of the better offensive outfielders in the National League.
And no matter how poorly the Rockies fare this year, it could make him an MVP candidate, especially if he improves his defense a little.
Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
Is this too obvious a candidate? Last year Frazier put up an fWAR of 4.8 after hitting .273/.336/.459 with 29 home runs and 80 RBI with a .350 wOBA and a wRC+ of 122, all at a premium position: third base.
However, despite those glowing numbers, Frazier was not among the top-25 players in NL MVP voting last season, even though he played above average defense and also stole 20 bases. He does everything well, and even though Cincinnati is not expected to contend in a very competitive National League Central, he could be among the NL's best players by year's end.
We project Frazier to hit .256/.323/.455 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI with 14 stolen bases and a wOBA of .334. He'll need his numbers to look more like last year's than those projections, and I see no reason why he can't duplicate what he did in 2014, and perhaps even surpass it.
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Right now, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are all the rage in Chicago. But the man who is the most established young player on the 25-man roster is first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit .286/.386/.527 with 32 home runs, 78 RBIs, and a wRC+ of 153.
He also did this the other day.
Our projections see Rizzo hitting .279/.378/.525 with 30 homers, 84 RBI, and a wOBA of .375, all of which should once again make him a five- or six-win player, just like he was last year. And with an improving Cubs team around him, should also put him on the radar of more fans and national media as well.
Of all the players listed here, Rizzo is the one I feel most confident about being a top-five MVP pick in 2015.