We are now into the dog days of summer. The trade deadline has passed and we're still a few weeks away from the pennant races really heating up down the stretch in September. The day in, day out grind of baseball never feels quite as much of a, well, as much of a grind as it does in August.
These next few weeks will not only decide division and postseason races. They'll also decide the major awards races. Some of those, the two Rookies of the Year in particular, have pretty clear favorites. Many races do not. So, in the weeks ahead, we'll provide a snapshot of the various awards races. In this post we'll tackle the NL MVP.
Some housekeeping: Our awards watch posts do not reflect how we would vote on our hypothetical ballots. These are essentially a prediction of how the voting will shake out given the history of the BBWAA voting bodies. Everyone has their own voting system, though there are definitely some easy-to-identify trends. Let's get to NL MVP race. The players are listed alphabetically within each tier.
Rockies megastar Nolan Arenado finished eighth and fifth in the NL MVP voting the last two years, and he did that even though this team was a combined 22 games under .500. This year the Rockies have a nice lead on a wild card spot and it's looking more and more likely the team will reach the postseason for the first time since 2009. Arenado has been excellent yet again, leading the league in doubles (34) and RBI (97), and posting a career high OPS+ (130). Don't forget about that defense either.
Last Thursday's performance was the essence of an MVP caliber player taking over a game. Paul Goldschmidt swatted three home runs against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, including the game-winning blast off Wade Davis in the ninth inning. Like Arenado's Rockies, Goldschmidt's Diamondbacks have a nice lead on a wild card spot and are a good bet to play October baseball. The race isn't over yet, but they're sitting pretty. Goldy has been arguably the best player in the league and inarguably the best player on a team that not many expected to contend this season. That's going to earn him a ton of MVP votes, as it should.
Bryce Harper has not been quite as dominant as he was during his NL MVP campaign in 2015, though he's been outrageously good by 24-year-old baseball player standards. I feel like Harper is in danger of falling into the same trap as Mike Trout with the AL MVP and Clayton Kershaw with the NL Cy Young. They're so good and so deserving each year that people naturally look for reasons to vote for someone else, because voting for the same player year after year is boring. The Nationals have the NL East title locked up and Harper has been a driving force.
As good as Harper has been, Anthony Rendon has been the Nationals best position player this season, at least by WAR. His top shelf offense combined with very good (though not quite Arenado-ian) defense at third base makes him a two-way threat. Rendon has been, quite simply, one of the best all-around players in baseball this season. He might not have the name recognition of Harper or Arenado or Goldschmidt, but he has been every bit as good on the field this season.
Also in the mix
Corey Seager won NL Rookie of the Year unanimously and finished third in the NL MVP voting last year, and he's been even better so far this season. The problem with Seager's MVP case? The Dodgers are too good. They're so good and have so many players having great seasons that they're going to take MVP votes away from each other. Harper and Rendon have that problem as well, though not to the same extent as the Dodgers, who have three players in NL top ten in WAR.
Fun fact: Max Scherzer, not Arenado or Goldschmidt or Harper or anyone else, leads the NL in WAR. With Kershaw on the disabled list, Scherzer has been far and away the best pitcher in the so-called Senior Circuit, and he's the only hurler with a realistic chance to receive top ballot MVP votes. I don't think he's having the kind of year it takes for a pitcher to win MVP, but he certainly deserves serious consideration.
The league leader in batting average and on-base percentage lags behind the other top MVP candidates in power numbers, though Justin Turner makes up for it with very good defense. Two issues with Turner's MVP candidacy. One, he has the same "there are too many good Dodgers" problem as Seager. And two, Turner missed time with an injury earlier this season, so he's roughly 140 plate appearances behind the other top MVP candidates
Down ballot candidates
What a ballplayer Charlie Blackmon is. He's got power, as those 25 homers show, and he has speed as well. His 13 triples lead the league. Blackmon is the prototypical "new breed" of leadoff hitter. He gets on base and can run, but he can also hit for extra bases and give his team a quick 1-0 lead with a leadoff homer.
Last year's NL MVP is having a merely great season and not a true MVP caliber season. He's been the Cubs' best player and he'll still receive plenty of MVP support because he has been one of the 10 best position players in the league, though Kris Bryant isn't the overwhelming MVP candidate he was last season, when he was the best player on the best team in baseball.
D-Backs third baseman Jake Lamb is a good old school MVP candidate. His 82 RBI are third in the league behind Arenado and Goldschmidt, plus he's likely to sock 30 home runs as well. These days though, voters understand Lamb's home run and RBI totals come with struggles against left-handed pitchers and average at best defense, which hurts his MVP case.
The Giants have been unfathomably awful this season -- they're in danger of posting their worst record since moving to San Francisco in 1958 -- and that means Buster Posey has no chance to win NL MVP this year. Voters have shown they prefer players from contending teams, fair or not. That shouldn't take away from Posey's latest incredible season. He's a brilliant two-way catcher who is well on his way to Cooperstown.
Has there been a more lopsided trade in baseball the last few years than the Brewers getting Travis Shaw (and more!) from the Red Sox for Tyler Thornburg? I don't think so. Even if Thornburg were healthy and effective, this one would still look pretty lopsided. Shaw has been Milwaukee's best and most consistent hitter since Opening Day, and he's also playing a fine third base. If the Brewers manage to hold off the Cubs in the NL Central, Shaw's MVP case is going to improve big time.
This very well might be the best season of Giancarlo Stanton's career. He's leading MLB in home runs and playing a fine right field, plus his 23.6 percent strikeout rate is a career low. Stanton is still only 27 too. He's just getting into his prime years. It's too bad the Marlins are out of the race, otherwise Giancarlo's MVP case would be stronger.
One of the may reasons the Dodgers are lapping the field this season is the out-of-nowhere performance of Chris Taylor. He came into the season with one home run and +0.7 WAR in 120 career games, and now he's a dynamic threat who has played every position other than pitcher, catcher, first base, and right field. As good as Taylor has been, he is still only the third best MVP candidate on his own team.
Ho hum, another masterful season from arguably the greatest offense force of his generation. Reds first baseman Joey Votto is having yet another dominant season at the plate, one that would land him top three MVP votes in a world were team record doesn't matter. But it does, at least to the voters, and Cincinnati's place in the standings (i.e. the bottom) means only down ballot support for Votto this year.
Ryan Zimmerman has cooled off a bit since his insane start, though he's been excellent overall, and will surely get plenty of MVP love. Harper, Rendon, and Zimmerman (and Scherzer) might all take votes away from each other because they've all been great. That's good news for Arenado and Goldschmidt.