Though neither was a serious candidate for National League MVP, it was always going to be interesting (and telling) where Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon ranked on the ballot. Would Scherzer improve on his previous 10th-place finishes? Would Rendon crack the top five for the second time in his career?
Tonight we got our answers. While Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich ran away with the MVP Award, Scherzer finished 10th for the third straight year and Rendon finished right behind his teammate in 11th place.
Yelich was atop 29 of the 30 ballots submitted by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (two per NL city). Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom received the other first-place vote, but finished fifth overall.
For Scherzer, this was a familiar result. He finished in 10th place after winning the Cy Young Award in 2016. He finished in 10th place after winning the Cy Young Award in 2017. And though he finished runner-up to deGrom in this year’s Cy Young race, he once again finished 10th on the MVP ballot. Scherzer was listed on 13 of the 30 ballots this season and rated as high as third place on two ballots.
Rendon, meanwhile, came in 11th this season after appearing on 10 ballots, including one sixth-place vote. He finished sixth in 2017 and fifth in 2014.
An MVP race that had been wide open for much of the summer crystalized down the stretch thanks to Yelich’s remarkable performance to help lead the Brewers to the NL Central title. The 26-year-old outfielder hit .388 with 16 homers, 48 RBIs, a .500 on-base percentage and 1.368 OPS over his final 35 games, separating himself from the rest of the pack.
Yelich ended the season batting .326 with 36 homers, 110 RBIs, a .402 on-base percentage and 1.000 OPS. That was more than enough to top Cubs infielder Javier Báez, who finished as MVP runner-up after hitting .290 with 34 homers, 111 RBIs, a .326 on-base percentage and .881 OPS.
Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado finished third, moving up one spot in MVP voting for the third straight year.
Your humble beat writer was one of the two members of the BBWAA’s Baltimore-Washington chapter (along with MLB.com’s Jamal Collier) to have an NL MVP vote this season. While the name atop my ballot became clear over the final weeks of September, the nine other slots proved challenging as always.
I tried to make sure I used a combination of traditional offensive stats (homers, batting average, on-base percentage, OPS) and advanced offensive stats (OPS+, WRC+, WPA, both Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com WAR), while also accounting for defense and baserunning. And, yes, on top of all that, I also look at the overall context of the player’s season, what kind of contributions he made to his team’s success. This isn’t just a straight-up ranking of players’ stats; there is an intangible element to the whole process.
So with that, here’s my 10-man ballot, which was submitted prior to the start of the postseason:
1. Christian Yelich - Separated himself from the pack with an epic September to lead the Brewers to the NL’s best record
2. Javier Baez - Did everything the Cubs asked of him, playing multiple positions at an elite level while slugging .554.
3. Freddie Freeman - Led the league in hits and doubles, was the anchor of the top of a Braves lineup that carried that team to the NL East crown.
4. Paul Goldschmidt - Had very similar offensive numbers as Freeman, just a notch below defensively at first base.
5. Jacob deGrom - In a year of great pitching performances, his 1.70 ERA and 23 consecutive quality starts made him the best at his position.
6. Max Scherzer - Bested deGrom in innings, strikeouts and WHIP - and he was a force at the plate, too! - but the difference in ERA (and consistency) was the difference.
7. Nolan Arenado - What doesn’t he do well? Elite at the plate and in the field. The only knock on him was the Coors Field effect: road OPS was .333 points lower than home!
8. Anthony Rendon - Every bit Arenado’s equal, both as a hitter and defender. Just doesn’t get the same amount of attention as his fellow third baseman.
9. Lorenzo Cain - The metrics say he was the best defensive player in the NL by a longshot. And he hit .308 with a .395 OBP on top of that to make a huge difference for the Brewers.
10. Aaron Nola - Though he wasn’t quite on par with deGrom and Scherzer, the Phillies ace was right behind those two and deserved a spot on the ballot.