For my AL MVP pick, I thought it really could’ve come down to one of three guys: Aaron Judge, Chris Sale or Corey Kluber. I wouldn’t quibble with any of those three, although I know for sure Jose Altuve was not the most valuable player in the AL this season.
The National League has even more competition for their MVP with a much deeper group of legitimate candidates. I counted 12 players that needed to be looked at closely to find a reason to eliminate them from contention. So as with the AL vote, whatever happens, it won’t be an egregious decision. It’s not going to be Maury Wills over Willie Mays in ’62 (I’ll pause while you re-read that for accuracy), Jimmy Rollins over name someone in ’07, or Ken Caminiti over Barry Bonds in ’96 – another one worth re-reading.
As with my AL process, I’ll work backwards, go elimination style and find reasons to exclude a player. And as with my AL picks, check out my “MLB MVPs Part I” blog for explanations of why I’m using the criteria I am.
To start, I eliminated every pitcher besides Max Scherzer, simply because there wasn’t a pitcher as valuable as he was this season. Despite some great seasons from other pitchers who we’ll look at for Cy Young conversation (remember, “most valuable” and “best” aren’t the same thing), Scherzer led all NL pitchers in both fWAR and bWAR.
I eliminated Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Turner, Nolan Arenado and Freddie Freeman based on other players at their position(s) having provided more value this season.
So the remaining contenders are:
Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto, Max Scherzer, Charlie Blackmon, Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant and someone named Tommy Pham.
Again, using bWAR, fWAR, OBP, SLG, and wRC+, let’s see who we can eliminate…
Pham is at or near the bottom among that group in most of those categories, in part to significantly fewer plate appearances. Unfortunate for him as he had a ridiculously good season, but it comes up short among this elite group.
Blackmon is 2nd in SLG in that group, but at or near the bottom in the other categories, so we can eliminate him. This saves me time as well, as I don’t need to figure out what Stanton’s SLG would be if he played in Denver 81 times per season.
Kris Bryant falls behind Votto and Stanton in all categories, so we can eliminate him as well. Although his season seems to have flown under the radar somehow – he was great in ’17. Speaking of which…
Anthony Rendon was the best 3rd baseman in the NL this year. Given the seasons that Turner and Arenado had, that’s no joke. Although having absurdly good numbers in both WARs, OBP, SLG and wRC+, plus being one of the best defenders in the game, he still falls short of what Votto and Stanton did.
That leaves us with Scherzer, Stanton and Votto.
A big factor here is Stanton and Votto are both minus fielders and base runners, so Scherzer legitimately belongs in this discussion. Scherzer faced 780 batters this season versus 707 plate appearances from Votto and 692 from Stanton. Without plus defense and base running, it can be argued Scherzer’s impact was greater simply because he was involved more often. The other factors a position player can bring – base running and defense – Votto and Stanton did not.
However, Stanton’s and Votto’s ability to generate runs was better than Scherzer’s ability to prevent them. They were clearly the best two offensive players, while Scherzer was 5th in the NL in xFIP. Again, great, great season – but not as impactful or valuable as Votto’s or Stanton’s.
That brings us down to two.
Stanton has a slight edge in the WARs (it’s pretty much a toss-up) and a big edge in SLG. Votto has a big edge in OBP and wRC+, which makes sense, as it weighs ability to get on base as the most important skill.
To me, Votto’s vastly superior ability to get on base outweighs Stanton’s not as vast edge in power. Runs still come down to OBP more than anything else – that and the gaps in performance in those categories tell me Joey Votto is the 2017 NL MVP.
I’ve been calling Votto “Ted Wiliams light” for a while, and to me, he doesn’t get anywhere near the recognition he deserves. Hopefully the voters will agree with me this time.
Stay tuned for my Cy Young announcements.
Thanks again to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for the stats.