By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
If the Major League Baseball season ended today, the voting for the Most Valuable Player in the American League would be easy. Houston’s Jose Altuve would be the runaway choice, based both on his stat sheet (he leads the AL in batting average, hits and eight other categories) and the good ol’ fashioned eyeball test. Altuve’s Houston Astros have owned the AL West from the outset of the season and he’s been a biggest reason why. He’d be a slam dunk.
But the season doesn’t end today, and a lot can happen in the final month. While it would be a monumental upset if Altuve doesn’t maintain his wide advantage and win the award, it could – and should – happen if he and his team slump down the stretch and someone else – like last season’s AL winner Mike Trout – steps in and leads his team into the post season. Stay tuned.
Which brings us to the much more complicated National League situation.
As September dawns, there’s no clear cut leader in the NL. And there should not be. There are too many candidates with too much to play for at this point for any voter to have already made up his or her mind.
There are four legitimate candidates for NL MVP entering September. How they – and just as importantly their teams – perform down the stretch should be the determining factor and decide who gets the necessary MVP votes.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have run away with the Western Division, but don’t really have an MVP candidate. Same goes for the East leading Washington Nationals. They have an insurmountable divisional lead as well, even with slugger Bryce Harper out with a leg injury (cancelling his MVP candidacy.) Forget Cincinnati’s Joey Votto. He’s having another great season, but his team is a doormat and won’t be playing any meaningful games in September. Remember – last season Colorado’s Nolan Arenado was eliminated from the MVP talk despite leading the league in home runs and RBI while winning another Gold Glove – because the Rockies were not in contention.
The four legit candidates still involved in this year’s MVP race are all on teams involved in the wild card chase. Given that the award is for most valuable player, team success has to be a big part of the equation. Rarely – just six times in 85 years of MVP voting – has a player from a losing team won the MVP award (including last season when the AL award went to Trout.) That’s for good reason. A big part of being most valuable is leading your team to heights they would not otherwise reach without you. Statistics are part of that, but just one part.
Given that criteria, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton could win this season’s award if his Marlins continue their recent surge and overtake Colorado and/or Arizona to earn a play-off berth. Stanton would be the biggest reason why. He’s taking aim at the hallowed 60-home run mark, and when he gets there, you can be sure there’s going to get a ton of MVP support from the east coast media.
However, if the Marlins do NOT make the play-offs, it would be a miscarriage of justice for Stanton to win the MVP over any the other three, because it’s likely in that scenario that either Arizona or Colorado – or Arizona – or both – will be in the post season.
If the Rockies steady their ship and make the play-offs, voters will have to decide if Charlie Blackmon or Arenado is this year’s best Rockies candidate for most valuable player. Both are having MVP caliber seasons. Arenado is again displaying wizardry with the glove at third base that few before him have shown. A fifth straight Gold Glove is a given, as is a second consecutive Silver Slugger. He will likely finish the season with a third straight RBI title, around 35 home runs and better than a .300 batting average.
However, you can make a case that Blackmon is the more valuable Rockie this season. He’s putting up historic numbers from the lead off position. A boatload of Arenado’s RBI are because Blackmon is a good bet to win the NL batting title. He’s doing so while driving a record-breaking 90 or more runs himself from the lead-off spot. His offensive numbers are astonishing and his defense has been well above average in spacious Coors Field.
Still, if the season ended today, the Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt would have the best case for the NL MVP. Without Goldschmidt’s 32 home runs (to this point) .315 batting average and 100+ rbi… The D-Backs would not be sniffing a play-off spot. He has been the essence of what most valuable should mean – a player that a play-off team absolutely could not do without and still be a play-off team. The D-backs were awful a season ago, and their rise to play-off team (if that happens) will be an incredible story.
The Sabermetrics crowd throw a ton of statistics at us, and its useful information. But the MVP should be about more than statistics – the old standards as well as the “advanced metrics.” There needs to be equal emphasis placed on a player’s all around contributions to the high level of success his team achieves. All four guys have checked the boxes so far…but there is more for them to do.
All MVP talk is conjecture at this point. The season does not end today. What happens in the last month could be very different from what we’re guessing will happen, and should have everything to do with who becomes the actual MVP when the season finally ends. Any voter who has already made up their mind – with the most important games of the season yet to be played – should have his or her voting privileges revoked immediately. Voters also have more work to do.