No matter how the voting for the National League MVP Award turns out, it probably won’t be as disparate as the balloting for the American League MVP in 1977. As Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats and Information determined, the AL ’77 MVP Award generated the highest volume of candidates to receive first-place votes — 11, incredibly, including three Red Sox players and four Yankees. Think about that: At least one of the players who received a first-place vote wasn’t named on at least one ballot.
The Twins’ Rod Carew won the balloting in a landslide with 12 first-place votes after hitting .388. Perhaps that kind of consensus will develop sometime in the next 72 hours, when writers for the NL MVP must cast their ballots.
Or maybe not, because the field of candidates seems like a baseball Rorschach test: different folks can look at the same set of qualifications in the same players and see very different stuff.
The AL MVP vote is really a choice between the consistent excellence of Jose Altuve and the explosive impact of Aaron Judge. Corey Kluber is seemingly a safe front-runner in the AL Cy Young vote. The NL Cy Young vote looks like it might come down between the usual suspects: Max Scherzer vs. Clayton Kershaw.
Maybe more than in any year since that ’77 AL vote, the NL MVP choice will come down to what the individual voters value.
Why you could pick Giancarlo Stanton: In a record-setting year for home runs, he’s hit more than anybody else — 59 going into the Marlins’ game on Saturday. He is the Baseball-Reference.com NL leader in WAR, at 7.6, and No. 1 in Fangraphs’ version of WAR. He has 123 runs and a league-leading 131 RBIs. His defensive metrics suggest that he has been a pretty good right fielder.
Why you wouldn’t pick Stanton: He plays on team that has been irrelevant in the standings all year. The Marlins were 14-27 on May 19, and while they surged in the second half — fueled by Stanton’s power — they’ve struggled, and some voters will probably give Stanton demerits under the premise that he played a lot of meaningless games.
Why you could pick Anthony Rendon: He has the highest WAR rating of those NL players who will appear in the postseason this year, having played extremely well on both sides of the ball. Rendon is fourth among all third basemen in Defensive Runs Saved, and he has been a master of competitive at-bat, averaging 4.37 pitches per plate appearance. He has a .404 on-base percentage.
Why you wouldn’t pick Rendon: Some of his numbers that typically are girders of an MVP case are underwhelming. Rendon has scored 80 runs, tied for 66th in the big leagues, and has 24 homers; 71 players have more.
Why you would pick Joey Votto: If you believe the skill of reaching base is the backbone of offense, then Votto has been the NL’s best player, by far. He was hit by pitch Saturday, the 319th time he has been on base this year. He leads the NL in Fangraphs’ wRC+ — runs created — and by a decent margin. He has a .454 on-base percentage, 40 points better than the next-closest NL hitter. His OPS of 1.033 is the best in the league, and he’s second to Stanton in WAR. He has 36 homers, good enough for top eight in the NL. Like Rendon, he has been good on defense, as well: Votto is No. 1 among all first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved.
Why you wouldn’t pick Votto: The Reds stink and will pick fourth or fifth in next year’s draft. Votto’s standing in Defensive Runs Saved probably won’t pass the eye test for some voters, given the conventional wisdom that Anthony Rizzo and Eric Hosmer are probably among the best defenders at that spot and Paul Goldschmidt might be the right-handed first baseman.
Why you would pick Paul Goldschmidt: From the outset of the season, Goldschmidt has been at the heart of the Diamondbacks’ surprising drive to the playoffs, compiling big numbers in the good ol’-fashioned categories — 117 runs, 120 RBIs, 36 homers, and even 18 stolen bases. He is well-regarded as a defender, as a baserunner and as a team leader.
Why you wouldn’t pick Goldschmidt: His 2017 performance does not rate nearly as well as those of others in advanced metrics. He’s seventh in wRC+, 10th in WAR. His performance has declined in the second half, perhaps because of a lingering elbow ailment.
Why you would pick Charlie Blackmon: He has scored 137 runs, the most in the big leagues, with a staggering 86 extra-base hits among his MLB-leading 210 hits. The Rockies are in the playoffs, and that could not have happened without Blackmon’s performance.
Why you wouldn’t pick Blackmon: As with almost all Colorado players, the statistical difference in performance home vs. road is enormous — his OPS in Coors Field (1.240) is 456 points higher than when he plays elsewhere (.784). That’ll cost him with some voters.
Why you would pick Nolan Arenado: He has dominated a lot of traditional statistics, vying with Stanton for the MLB lead in RBI while racking up 87 extra-base hits and 100 runs. He has been the emotional leader of one of baseball’s surprise teams this year, and when there’s conversation about the best defensive third baseman in the big leagues, Arenado — a four-time Gold Glover — is always in the discussion.
Why you wouldn’t pick Arenado: Because he doesn’t take as many walks as other elite players, his on-base percentage is in the Mere Mortal range of .371. And the Colorado home/road split thing drags him down, as well — 1.035 at home this year, .886 on the road.
Why you would pick Kris Bryant: He won the MVP last year, and a lot of his stats are better this year — a .410 on-base percentage, an OPS of .949. He’s third in fWAR, behind Stanton and Rendon, and Bryant again ranks among the most efficient baserunners in the big leagues, which has helped him rack up 110 runs. He’s higher in wRC+ than Goldschmidt or Rendon. And the Cubs are headed back to the postseason for the third straight year.
Why you wouldn’t pick Bryant: RBI is an antiquated statistic and now mostly ignored, but some voters probably will want to see more RBIs from the NL MVP — and Bryant has 73, tied for 32nd in the NL. Some voters might feel that Bryant isn’t even the most valuable player on his own team.
Why you would pick Anthony Rizzo: He has 32 homers and 109 RBIs, with 99 runs, and has been remarkably consistent this year.
Why you wouldn’t pick Rizzo: He’s 19th in WAR in the NL.
Why you could pick J.D. Martinez: You could make a case that the Diamondbacks would’ve struggled to reach the postseason without the addition of the slugger, who has been the most impactful player through August and September — 29 homers in 60 games for Arizona, with an OPS of 1.128. I don’t think he’s got a shot to win the NL MVP Award, but it probably wouldn’t be a shocker if a writer bent his ballot in Martinez’s favor.
Why you wouldn’t pick Martinez: Martinez wasn’t in the NL in April. Or May. Or June. Or most of July.
Why you could pick Max Scherzer: If a voter felt unsure about picking one guy from the large field of NL position players, he or she could go off the board and choose the pitcher with the greatest compilation of production: Scherzer, who leads NL pitchers in WAR. He has 263 strikeouts in 197 1/3 innings.
The pick from here: I’d pick Votto. (For the record, I haven’t cast a ballot for a BBWAA award since 1996.) He has been the NL’s best player, and voters have seemingly been moving away from the old formula of picking the best player from the best teams. Last year, Mike Trout was far and away the best player in the AL, and he won the MVP despite playing for a noncontender, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. That recent precedent helps to make Votto’s case.
But if you prefer Stanton, that would be perfectly reasonable. If you favor Rendon or Goldschmidt or a handful of other guys, I couldn’t say your choice is wrong. It might turn out to be one of the most intriguing results we’ve ever seen.
More MVP notes from Sarah Langs
There have been two years of MVP voting in which 10 different players received first-place votes — in the NL in 1947, won by the Boston Braves’ Bob Elliott, and in 2003, when Alex Rodriguez won the AL voting.
The voting in which the most players received multiple first-place votes: the 1944 NL MVP, when six different players garnered at least two votes. Marty Marion of the Cardinals won the balloting. In 12 different MVP votes, five players have gotten at least two votes (most recently in the 2011 AL MVP voting, won by Justin Verlander).
In 1958, Mickey Mantle finished in fifth place in the AL MVP voting. Years later, after the WAR statistic was invented and defined, it was determined that Mantle scored an 8.7 WAR — far and away the best in the AL. Jackie Jensen won the MVP Award; his WAR was 4.9.
Jeter’s surprising moves in Miami
Pat Gillick was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, and among recent generations of general managers, he is regarded as the model, in the way that Willie Mays might be recalled as the perfect baseball player. Gillick is hypercompetitive and precise in his player evaluation, sure, but when he ran the baseball operations departments in Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia — with great success — he was renowned for the way he engendered loyalty and passion from those who worked for him.
When he moved from team to team and took over a front office, he did not affect mass firings; rather, he would bring along one or two evaluators he knew and then work to make those already in place better than they were before. After building the Blue Jays and winning championships in 1992 and 1993, he went to Baltimore and immediately made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, then was in charge of the Mariners when they reached the postseason in 2000 and won 116 games in 2001. Gillick moved to the Phillies, who went on to win the World Series in 2008 and lost to the Yankees in 2009
Gillick’s example is just one reason why the decision of the incoming Marlins ownership to fire a bunch of Miami employees surprising. It might be that Derek Jeter and those around him are jettisoning front-office talent without at least getting to know it first-hand. It would seem to behoove Jeter to at least get a feel for himself about the strengths and weaknesses of staffers before dumping them — particularly those who will be paid by the Marlins in the weeks and months ahead.
For example: Miami VP Jeff McAvoy was canned despite the fact that he has three years remaining on his current deal. He has a reputation of being a pretty good player evaluator: McAvoy was the guy who identified the players landed by the Rays in their Matt Garza deal with the Cubs — most notably, a young pitcher named Chris Archer.
Given that McAvoy is being paid by the Marlins, what’s the downside of keeping him around? For Jeter, it’s like a free period of evaluation. Titles are largely irrelevant; Jeter could use him any way he wants, drawing out what he could use and ignoring what he doesn’t want.
To simply fire people without an understanding of their particular strengths and weaknesses would be like taking over a baseball team with a bad record and getting rid of all the players without ascertaining whether some could be of use. Jeter would never unload the 25-man roster without first extracting those who have value.
Baseball Tonight Podcast
Friday: Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto on the planning for 2018; Braves GM John Coppolella on the team’s young pitching; Jessica Mendoza on Tim Tebow’s baseball plans, and a rundown of all award picks; Karl Ravech and Paul Hembekides on the future of Giancarlo Stanton.
Thursday: Keith Law on the playoff matches and MVP races; Jim Kaat on what it takes to pitch in the postseason, and the incredible surge in homers; Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York on the Yankees.
Wednesday: Angels GM Billy Eppler on the team’s offseason focus and the plans for Albert Pujols; Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic on the Diamondbacks; Tim Kurkjian on the ejection of a fan behind home plate at Yankee Stadium.
Tuesday: Boog Sciambi on Aaron Judge’s dominant season; Twins play-by-play man Dick Bremer and St. Paul Pioneer Press beat writer Mike Berardino on Minnesota’s run to the postseason; Sarah Langs plays The Numbers Game.
Monday: A conversation with the Astros’ Carlos Correa; Jerry Crasnick on the return of Bryce Harper, and the regression of Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols; Todd Radom’s uniform and logo quiz, and the No. 1 logo of all time.
And today will be better than yesterday.