2015 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2015: The NL MVP Race

We are getting to the end of the regular season for fantasy baseball. A number of leagues have already begun their playoffs or will begin their playoffs within the next week or so. Some may think it is a bit too early to look at the awards because most teams have a month of action still to go, but I think we can take a look at the MVP and Cy Young races. We can whittle the candidates down to three or four in each race. Here are the NL MVP candidates.

Nolan Arenado— Colorado Rockies

Key Stats: .288/.323/.580, 36 HR, 105 RBI

The biggest statistic for Arenado is the one that isn’t here. He leads all four candidates with 2.4 dWAR and leads all third basemen with +20 defensive runs saved through Saturday’s action. Normally, the fact that the Rockies are below average overall would hurt him, but none of the four candidates are likely to play for a playoff team this season.

What does he need to do to win?

Honestly, there isn’t much that Arenado can do at this point. He leads the league in home runs and RBI, but he has the Coors Field perception to fight. Larry Walker and Todd Helton put up bigger seasons in Coors Field only to lose the MVP to someone else. If he can somehow get his average above .300 that might help some, but he will have to stand as a darkhorse candidate.

Where should he finish?

This is a separate question from where he will finish. Arenado will run a distant third in the voting in all likelihood, and I suppose there is something to be said for that. His 5.6 WAR stands well behind the leaders to date. His counting numbers are inflated by Coors Field, but he has been remarkably consistent this season with both the bat and the glove. If I were filling out my ballot, I would probably vote him fourth.

Paul Goldschmidt— Arizona Diamondbacks

Key Stats: .324/.427/.562, 27 HR, 85 Runs, 97 RBI, 21 SB

The D’backs are going nowhere, and they’ve been going there since April. In spite of that, Goldschmidt has become a superstar in the real sense and a revelation in the fantasy sense. Not since Jeff Bagwell has there been a first baseman this versatile through the five main categories. In addition to all of his counting numbers, he also has 100 walks. That kicks up his value big time in six-category leagues and also provides some separation from Arenado.

What does he need to do to win?

Goldschmidt has slowed down some in the past month. In his last 30 games, he has a .263/.366/.465 slash line with only five home runs and 20 RBI. Granted, most players will kill for those kinds of numbers over 30 games, but for Goldschmidt that represents a step down. He ranks in the top five in every major category but does not lead the league in anything but plate appearances. That will probably need to change for him to get the nod.

Where should he finish?

If the season were to end today, Goldschmidt would likely be the runner up for the award. He’s taken his game to the next level and should be lauded for that, but it just hasn’t been good enough. Still, a hot September could change that. Like Arenado, he leads his position in defensive runs saved (+15). It’s just a part of the Goldschmidt lore that has him rated as one of the best all-around players in the game. Still, he doesn’t have the top-end offensive numbers to make a go of it at this point.

Bryce Harper— Washington Nationals

Key Numbers: .337/.469/.647, 33 HR, 100 Runs, 82 RBI, 106 BB

Harper leads the National League in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and runs scored. He is the odds on favorite to win the MVP award. When you think about it, it has been a unique season in the National League as none of the playoff contenders have MVP candidates. The Nationals should have been the best team in the NL East but have disappointed this season. There is no way anyone can put that on Harper.

What does he need to do to win?

Stay the course. When you are the league leader in the three primary percentage statistics, then you have a leg up on your competition. For the mathematically impaired, that means he also leads the league in OPS and OPS+. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he leads in runs created and wRC+ as well. When you’re the best, all you need to do is continue being the best.

Where should he finish?

This is one area where the pundits and I will agree. Bryce Harper is the best player in baseball right now and that is saying something considering that Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout are dominating the other league. This is where people thought Harper would get to eventually. The only thing getting in his way is the perception that the MVP must come from a winning team. With all of their pitching and Harper, it is hard to believe that the Nationals are not higher up in the standings.

Joey Votto— Cincinnati Reds

Key Stats: .317/.459/.565, 27 HR, 118 BB

The inclusion of Votto was simply an indulgence on my part. He isn’t a viable candidate for much of the baseball media, but he should be. When we throw out the fact that none of the major candidates play for a playoff contender, the fact that the Reds are in last shouldn’t be a consideration. In his last 30 games he has a robust .351/.545/.702 slash line with eight home runs, 25 runs, and 19 RBI. Keep in mind that the .545 mark is his on base percentage. For most players, they would be ecstatic if that were their slugging percentage.

What does he need to do to win?

If he plays the last 28 games like he has the last 30, then he will likely overtake the league lead in on base percentage. He’s led the league in on base percentage in five out of the last six seasons because he leads the world in walks. Walks aren’t sexy and they don’t get you on Sportscenter, but they do help you score runs. At this pace, he’ll add another 25 walks before the end of the season. It might help for him to go on a home run binge or even an RBI binge. Knowing Votto though, that’s not likely to happen.

Where should he finish?

When Theo Epstein was the general manager of the Red Sox, an expression was catching on where he did a riff on an old hip hop song “Down with OPP.” Instead, Epstein supposedly said, “I’m down with OBP (yeah you know me).” Such a moniker would probably describe my baseball world view. Votto has always been one of my favorite players because he draws the free pass. I would personally vote him third behind Harper and Goldschmidt, but he might even slip into second in my book with another hot month.

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