In many ways, handicapping the Cy Young awards (and Rookie of the Year) is infinitely easier than handicapping the MVP award. All we have to do is determine who the best pitcher or best rookie is. The MVP award comes with its own caveats because of the disagreement over the meaning of the word “value.” For some, it is merely a mathematical term meant to determine who is responsible for helping his team win the most games. That would be the best player definition. For others, it is a more esoteric question of which player on a winning team could that team ill afford to live without.
The idea there is that while Mike Trout might be the best player in the game, the Angels aren’t a winning team, so he is not particularly “valuable.” As you might suspect, I find this argument not to be all that persuasive, but since we are handicapping this deal we have to look at what the voters will likely think. Some of them won’t vote for Trout because his team isn’t going to the playoffs. We will introduce a number of numbers here and none of them will be WAR. We will include the player’s slash lines, their run production (HR, Runs, RBI), their defensive runs saved, baserunning runs (according to billjamesonline.com), and their total runs. Total runs is a Bill James statistic that combines runs created, defensive runs saved, and baserunning runs to come up with one number. The site also includes a positional adjustment we will remove. All statistics are accurate coming into Saturday’s action.
The Favorite: Cody Bellinger–Los Angeles Dodgers
Total Runs: 139
I like total runs. It’s somewhat easy to interpret WAR, but sometimes it’s difficult to trust the results. When you don’t know the ingredients that go into the meal it can be hard to swallow. Total runs is more transparent and when you look at Bellinger you see a guy that is nearly a win better than Mike Trout. The difference is the defense. He is an elite level right fielder and when you add that to the awesome offensive production you get something that is other worldly. The fact that he also plays an above average first base and center field just adds to the value.
The problem for Bellinger is that the Dodgers are so good and are in front by so much that you could see the “value” guys building an argument that the Dodgers would be first with or without him. Yes, that is technically true but he has been the best player in the National League this season. It’s hard to imagine Christian Yelich or any other contender making up the ground in one month of action.
Primary Challenger: Christian Yelich–Milwaukee Brewers
Total Runs: 124
You could definitely argue that Yelich is a better hitter than Bellinger. His percentange numbers are definitely superior across the board. The trouble is that we aren’t talking about the offensive player of the year. We are talking about the most valuable player and defense is a part of the grade. Yelich is not a bad defender and he has played both left and right field, but he is not a gifted defender like Bellinger.
It also appears that the Brewers will end up being on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. If that changes then Yelich’s fate may also change. I suppose it is also possible he could get on a hot streak and get to a clean .700 slugging percentage. That seems unlikely at this point, but the story has yet to be written. These awards are often won with a September run.
Other Contenders: Trevor Story–Colorado Rockies
Total Runs: 120
I’m supposed to be handicapping the candidates that likely will get votes, but occasionally I take the opportunity to plug for someone that deserves support. Nolan Arenado would appear to be the guy from the Rockies that deserves mentions. He’s a good third baseman and he already has over 100 RBI. Story is a better defender at a more demanding position and a good baserunner on top of that. So, even though his numbers look more pedestrian, he brings more value because he is the total package.
The cold hard reality is that even though Story ranks third in total runs he isn’t likely to finish in the top five because he lags in RBI. If he can finish with an overwhelming September and somehow get to 100 RBI then he could sneak into the top five. Part of that is recency bias and part of that is that the voters love round numbers. In the grand scheme of things, 97 RBI isn’t that different from 101, but we all know 100 looks better.
Ketel Marte–Arizona Diamondbacks
Total Runs: 119
See Trevor Story. Like Story, Marte might seem to trail his teammate Eduardo Escobar given the flashy offensive numbers, but Marte is a better overall player because of defense and baserunning. Like Story, Marte will struggle to get support as a candidate unless he gets to 100 runs and 100 RBI. Like Story, the fact that neither team is in the playoff hunt also hurts.
A strong finish would go a long way to solidifying even a top ten finish for Marte. Realistically, that is the best he can hope for at this point. It’s similar to all-star voting in that recognition is often delayed by a year. You need to get on everyone’s radar before you can take the next step. Hopefully, both Story and Marte will get on everyone’s radar with their performances this season.
Ronald Acuna–Atlanta Braves
Total Runs: 116
There are subtle differences between fantasy success and real success. Acuna also has 31 stolen bases and while that’s awesome in fantasy baseball, in real baseball that’s not a big deal. He is a positive impact fielder and baserunner, so he isn’t a one trick pony. He’s just not quite as valuable as those other guys even though he has numbers that may look very similar.
That being said, he is the best player on the best team in the NL East. He will have the nice round numbers to go along with finishing 35/35 for the season. Those numbers will be flashy enough to get him some votes, so he will likely finish in the top five and maybe the top three. As a young player destined to grow, it will be exciting to see if he takes the next step.