If you want to debate what actually constitutes a “Most Valuable Player”, then take your semantics-loving butt down the hall and to the right. Look for the “EXIT” sign, open the door, and heave yourself through it. I’m here to kick names, take butt, and make an overtly unremarkable case for some potential NL MVP candidates. That I intend to do so with poor logic and no spellchecking should come as no surprise.
Be forewarned: I’ve made the distinct choice to use bWAR instead of a full suite of metrics, because I’m lazy and bad at making words.
Here is my list in a very particular order.
5. Freddie Freeman – He’s quite literally the “big bat in the middle of the lineup”, and he’s likely a top 3 NL MVP candidate to many fans just by virtue of pushing and pulling a young Braves team into playoff contention. The problem with that common misconception is that he’s not a solo act, and the ensemble cast is more talented/productive than most. Sure, his 4.7 bWAR stacks up nicely, but that simply makes him the best player on a team full of really excellent players. Nick Markakis (3.4 bWAR) and Ozzie Albies (3.2 bWAR) give the Braves a legitimate Big 3, and that doesn’t even account for Johan Camargo and Ronald Acuna who have been in the big leagues for a combined 15 minutes and produced 2.3 and 1.5 bWAR respectively. Braves hitters have produced a cumulative 20.3 bWAR, so Freeman’s 23% “bWAR share” thingy which I just made up two minutes ago is impressive, but the depth of his supporting cast weakens his case.
4. Nolan Arenado – Sitting at 4.5 bWAR on a team with a cumulative 6.1 bWAR (batters only) should be a slam dunk, but it’s not the team’s offense that’s carrying them. It’s also not the defense either. Surprisingly (to me at least), it’s the pitching staff doing yeoman’s work in a division not lacking in great pitching. Also, Trevor Story is the “2” in the Rockies 1-2 offensive punch, and he’s been playing Arenado-level defense, so Arenado should be sharing the spotlight and credit with Story to a certain degree. That shouldn’t take much of the shine off of Arenado’s performance, but his 280-point OPS home/away split gap does. That’s not to say that 250/347/500 on the road is anything to scoff at, but that 358/438/689 line at home does trigger the “Larry Walker” clause for me.
3. Javier Baez – He’s exciting. He’s dynamic. He’s marketable. He’s probably good at Sudoku and would win a swimsuit competition in the NL Central. He’s also 4.6 bWAR on a team with 21.0 bWAR worth of batters. That’s a 22% bWAR share team thingy which kind of makes him Freddie Freeman with a deeper supporting cast. The Cubs are my slight favorite to win the division, and until every single player in the league is healthy, I consider them the most well-rounded team in the NL. They can pitch, hit, run, catch, and probably sing all your favorites from “Hamilton”. He’s the best player on a good team RIGHT NOW, but he doesn’t exactly have to shoulder the entire load.
2. Matt Carpenter – Carpenter’s 5.2 bWAR accounts for 32% of the net production the team’s hitters have generated. That makes him by far the best player on a mediocre team that is currently sitting within shouting distance of the fringe found relatively close to the wild card race. His supporting cast (except for Miles Mikolas) has underwhelmed, and the only thing taking focus off of Carpenter is his salsa. Then again, I’m biased and probably assigning far too lofty a spot to someone with the sprint speed of a lame turtle.
1. Max Scherzer – The 2018 NL Cy Young award winner (yet to be announced) deserves more consideration than he’s likely to get. Instead of supporting this ranking with statistics, I’ll instead challenge you to find another Nationals player worth half of what Scherzer is. I’ll wait, but I won’t hold my breath.
I’m usually against pitchers winning the MVP award, because starters only pitch every 5th game or so, but when the team is consistently great every 5th game (or so)….