The fun part about the Most Valuable Player award is that it isn’t about trying to figure out who the best player . It’s about trying to figure out what crazy voters are going to do. Most of the inane arguments about the MVP award center around the word “valuable” and what the true essence of a valuable player is. One of the central beliefs of the voters is that a valuable player can’t possibly play on a losing team and if they were truly valuable they would play for a winning team. This ignores the fact that at any given moment during a baseball season there are 24 other men on that roster. The other big belief is that a pitcher can’t possibly be as valuable as a position player because they play far less games, even though they have a far greater impact on the games in which they do play.
The real debate for National League MVP this season should be between the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton. Kershaw has had one of the best seasons by any pitcher ever and is going to win his third Cy Young Award despite missing about a month of the season. Kershaw is 17-3 with a 1.70 ERA, 10.74 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.33 walks per nine innings. He might be having the best season for a pitcher since Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson roamed the major leagues. But neither of those pitchers won an MVP, even in their best seasons, and for many voters that is going to be enough reason not to vote for Kershaw.
Stanton is the other worthy candidate in the NL. His 5.9 fWAR is marginally less than Kershaw’s 6.0 fWAR and there is a very strong case to be made that fWAR doesn’t appreciate the true value of offense in the low run environment we’re currently in. Stanton’s slash line of .295/.402/.566 is far above the rest of the NL. His OPS is .042 points higher than that of last season’s MVP, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen. Stanton is the classic power hitter in an era where there aren’t classic power hitters. Stanton has hit 36 home runs on the season. Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo is second with 30 and then Atlanta’s Justin Upton and New York’s Lucas Duda are tied for third with 26. Stanton’s power is so far above the rest of the league it is ridiculous, and as evidenced by his stat line, he can hit for average and get on base.
In an era without offensive players Stanton is a maestro with the bat, but he happens to play for the Marlins. Unfortunately for Stanton, that means he plays on a losing team and the voters frown on that. Truly great players have the telepathic ability to transfer parts of their talent to their teammates while they are at bat and to keep the pitching from giving up too many runs so that their offense matters, or at least that’s what the voters believe. Baseball is a sport of individuals with a common goal, but Stanton can’t help Adeiny Hechavarria hit a curveball. He can’t go up to the plate with Donovan Solano and help him guide the bat through the zone and make solid contact with the baseball. Stanton can only bat for Stanton, and when he does that, he’s better than anyone else in the NL.
The Marlins factor is going to be too much of an anchor on Stanton and too many voters aren’t going to vote a pitcher for MVP. Which means the NL MVP is going to be someone else. Now one of the common definitions of valuable that voters gravitate toward is the best player on the best team. The Nationals currently have the best record in the NL and in most scenarios will finish the season with the best record in the NL. So now the debate is who is the best player on the Nationals.
If we’re young and hip and want to use advanced metrics,, then it is Anthony Rendon, who leads the Nationals in fWAR at 4.9, which is only marginally lower than the rest of the non-Stanton NL leaders (with Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy and San Francisco’s Hunter Pence tied for second at 5.4). Rendon has also been one of three in the Nationals’ usual starting eight field players to not go on the DL and the world perceives him as being the most consistent Nats player. And when it comes to the world of baseball fans, Rendon is on about the same level of star power as Lucroy and Pence.
Other candidates on the Nationals would include Jayson Werth, who leads the Nationals with an .839 OPS and also has somehow avoided the DL. But Werth is harmed by the fact that his defense has slipped to the point of being embarrassing in right field, and at least a small portion of the voters would take that into consideration. Denard Span seems to be the trendy pick for a player on the Nationals to win MVP. He is an excellent human being and had one of the hottest stretches of any baseball player this season.
While none of them would be the correct choice for NL MVP (that’s Stanton), Rendon is as good a choice as any of the other NL players that don’t happen to be pitchers and play for a winning team.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our regular roster of writers.