Who Is the Leading Contender for National League MVP?
Last year, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw won the National League MVP award. He did so because he had an amazing season, one of the best for a starting pitcher in the last 25 years. But it was also because none of the position players competing with him for the award had a particularly outstanding season.
Things are different this year. Right now there are probably seven position player candidates who have a realistic shot at winning the MVP in the National League. And you know the voters would always prefer to give that award to a guy who plays every day as opposed to a starting pitcher who only takes the field every fifth day.
So with a little less than six weeks left in the regular season, here are the leading contenders for National League MVP in 2015 based on their stats.
7. A.J. Pollock - Arizona Diamondbacks
No one is talking about A.J. Pollock, but they should be. According to Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement, his bWAR of 5.7 is tied for fourth-best in the National League, as is his Fangraphs WAR of 5.2. Top-of-the-lineup hitters and lead-off hitters rarely get the press that the big mashers do. The last leadoff hitter to win an MVP was Jimmy Rollins in 2007, and that streak is unlikely to end this year. But make no mistake, Pollock has been one of the best run-producers in baseball this season and is also one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.
His weighted runs created (wRC+) of 131 means he creates 31% more runs than a league average player, and his nERD of 2.82, meaning a lineup full of Pollocks would score 2.82 runs a game more than an average player, is tied for fifth-best in the NL. He's hitting .316/.370/.481 with 12 homers, 83 runs scored, 53 RBI and 30 stolen bases.
He's overshadowed by his more famous teammate Paul Goldschmidt, but Pollock has also become one of the National League's best players.
6. Anthony Rizzo - Chicago Cubs
In his second season, Anthony Rizzo is having a breakout campaign for the upstart Cubbies, hitting .291/.402/.538 with 24 homers, 73 RBI, 67 runs scored and 15 stolen bases. His nERD of 3.84 is fourth-best in the NL, Baseball Reference's WAR (bWAR) has him at 5.7, tied for fourth-best in the league, while his Fangraphs WAR (fWAR) has him a bit lower, at 4.8, sixth-best in the NL.
His fWAR suffers because of his defense at first base, which the advanced analytics see as below average. But as a run producer, his weighted runs created (wRC+) of 158 is fourth-best in the NL, and his OPS of .940 is fourth-best as well.
It also doesn't hurt that his team is steaming toward the playoffs, something many voters like to take into consideration.
5. Andrew McCutchen - Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen got off to a brutally slow start to the season, hitting just .193/.302/.333 through the first month. However, he's picked it up ever since, batting .313/.411/.537 since May 1, with 16 homers and 65 RBI. Overall this season he's hitting .293/.395/.502 with 18 long balls, 63 runs scored, 78 RBI and a wRC+ of 149 that is fifth in the NL. His nERD of 2.82 is sixth in the National League, and his OPS of .897 is fifth.
However, some poor defensive metrics have hurt McCutchen in the WAR standings, with an fWAR of 4.6 that is tied for seventh and a bWAR of 3.8 that is outside the top 10. And while voters are going to look at more than WAR when they cast their votes, there's no question those low Wins Above Replacement numbers are going to hurt him, unless voters want to reward him for being the best player on what many believe is the second-best team in baseball.
4. Joey Votto - Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto is having a fantastic season for the Reds, perhaps even good enough for Marty Brenneman! His weighted runs created (wRC+) of 167 is second in the National League, as is his nERD of 4.41. He's hitting .306/.436/.538 with 22 home runs, 59 RBI, 67 runs scored and an OPS of .974, which is third-best in the NL.
What will hurt Votto's chances with many MVP voters is that the team he plays for is absolutely awful. Like Rizzo, his two WAR numbers place him in different positions in the NL race, with his 5.3 fWAR ranking him third in the National League, and his bWAR of 5.2 is seventh-best.
In order for him to win this award, he'll need to finish with better numbers than all of the players ahead of him, something he might not be able to pull off.
3. Buster Posey - San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey is so consistently awesome that people tend not to notice anymore. But here the Giants are, once again fighting for another trip to the postseason led by their amazing catcher, who is hitting .321/.380/.484 for an OPS of .864 (ninth-best in the NL), with 16 home runs, 78 RBI, 58 runs scored and a wRC+ of 144 that is sixth in the NL. His nERD of 2.24 is well below some of the players above him, but the fact he plays a premium position like catcher makes his already-excellent offensive numbers even better.
It's also why Posey ranks right near the top in both WAR metrics, with his fWAR of 4.9 fifth and his bWAR of 5.6 sixth-best. Not only is he asked to anchor the middle of San Francisco's lineup, but also he's also asked to lead a pitching staff and call games in the most bruising defensive position on the field.
2. Paul Goldschmidt - Arizona Diamondbacks
When it comes down to it, this really has become a two-horse race. The man running in second right now, Paul Goldschmidt, still has a great chance to win the award, given his play so far this year. His fWAR of 5.7 is second in the NL, as is his bWAR of 6.8. His nERD of 4.05 is third among all National Leaguers, and he's putting up Triple Crown-type numbers, batting .329/.443/.557 with 22 homers, 75 runs, 89 RBI, and an eye-opening 19 stolen bases.
He's one of only two National League players with an OPS of quadruple digits (his 1.000 is second in the NL), and his wRC+ of 164 is third. What could really hurt Goldschmidt is that Arizona is not going to make the playoffs this year, although that team is one that could be on the rise, as I wrote about last week.
Still, he's in second mainly because of the mind-blowing season that the man atop this list is having.
1. Bryce Harper - Washington Nationals
What Bryce Harper is doing this year is simply incredible. Here is where he ranks among NL players in all the key categories.
Need I go on?