Analysis

N.L. MVP Race: Paul Goldschmidt and Who Else?

As the calendar turns to September, it is the perfect time to start looking at who could be taking home hardware this fall. The National League Most Valuable Player Award discussion is an interesting one. While everyone is talking about Cardinals’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, there are some other players who deserve consideration and could make a push for the award as the season winds down.

MVP Criteria:

Wins above replacement (WAR), offensive statistics, fielding (DRS and OAA), base running (BsR), how a player effects his team’s run scoring (RE24), and how he effect’s his team’s probability to win (WPA) all help us evaluate the value of a player. Since these statistics assess all of the things a baseball player does, they are the ones to look at when discussing MVP candidates.

WAR is a great place to start when looking at players and seeing who is in the MVP race. WAR should only be used to group players into the MVP category and non-MVP category, and that is all.

Let’s use the frontrunner, Paul Goldschmidt, as an example of what an MVP candidate’s statistics look like.

Goldschmidt is 2nd the N.L. in fWAR (6.8), 1st in wRC+ (190), 1st in wOBA (.440), 1st in SLG (.617), 2nd in HR (33), 2nd in WPA (4.61), and 1st in RE24 (66.60). He has also been okay defensively (0 DRS and -5 OAA), and has been good as a baserunner (2.4 BsR) this season.

With Goldschmidt getting most of the attention for N.L. MVP so far, who are the other candidates that could be named finalists along with the 34 year-old first baseman?

Nolan Arenado:

Nolan Arenado’s name is called every fall when awards are being handed out. He’s won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards numerous times before, but never the MVP. This could be the year he finally wins that prestigious award.

Arenado currently sits atop the N.L. fWAR (7.1) leaderboard. He is having a great year for St. Louis alongside Goldschmidt and is still one of the N.L.’s best hitters. His SLG (.571), wRC+ (163), and wOBA, (.400), are all 2nd in the N.L. behind Goldschmidt. Arenado is also 7th in the N.L. in HR (28) and tied for 3rd in 2B (36).

Arenado’s glove has been really good this year. His OAA (16) is 1st in the N.L. and his DRS (16) is 2nd. He has not been a good baserunner this season (-1.5 BsR), but his WPA and RE24 are both towards the top in the N.L. Arenado is tied for 11th in WPA (2.09) and 6th in RE24 (31.84).

Overall, Arenado fields very well and produces offensively. His only knock is that he costs his team runs on the base paths, but let’s be honest, base running isn’t the reason someone does or doesn’t win MVP.

Mookie Betts:

Betts is a very good candidate to be one of the finalists for N.L. MVP this season. Even though a team’s success, or lack thereof, shouldn’t determine a player’s ability to win MVP, it would make sense for the N.L. MVP to come from arguably the best team in the entire league.

Betts ranks 3rd in fWAR (6.3) in the N.L. this season and ranks highly in many offensive categories. He’s 4th in wRC+ (155), tied for 3rd in wOBA (.391), 3rd in SLG (.565), and 3rd in HR (32). He also fields as good as he hits. His DRS (14) is 1st among outfielders in the N.L. and his OAA (5) is tied for 2nd among N.L. outfielders.

Betts is also one of the N.L.’s better baserunners this season. He ranks 13th in BsR (3.4). Not only is he running the bases well this year, he effects his team’s run scoring and probability to win games massively. Betts’ WPA (4.38) is 3rd in the N.L., while his RE24 (38.00) is 4th.

Mookie Betts is one of the game’s best players. He hits for power, provides gold glove defense, and has a great impact on his team’s overall success. If Betts were to be named N.L. MVP, he would join Frank Robinson as the only players to win the MVP in both the American and National League.

Manny Machado:

Manny Machado was the very early favorite to be the N.L. MVP in 2022. He has been great for the Padres this season, which the team has needed with the absence of their young star Fernando Tatis Jr.. Machado has not won the award before, but this could be his year.

He currently ranks 4th in the N.L. in fWAR (6.1), is tied for 4th in wRC+ (154), and is tied for 6th in wOBA (.387). Machado is tied for 6th in 2B (33), is 12th in HR (24), and 5th in SLG (.536). He is still one of the better offense players in the league.

His defensive numbers are on opposite ends of each other. Machado’s DRS (-5) is one of the worst in the N.L., while his OAA (5) is 15th. While his glove has been solid at best, he has been running the bases well this season (3.0 BsR).

Machado has helped out the Padres when it comes to winning. His WPA (4.62) is 1st in the N.L. right ahead of Paul Goldschmidt. He is also helping the offense score runs. Machado’s RE24 (41.46) is 3rd in the N.L..

Manny Machado is putting together the kind of year the Padres were looking to get when they signed him to a long term contract prior to the 2019 season. While he is not the favorite to win the award, with a little more than a month to go, anything is possible.

Freddie Freeman:

The final name on this list is Freddie Freeman. The former Brave-turned-Dodger has been one of the most under-appreciated players during his tenure in the big leagues. He won the award back in 2020, and this year, he could be an interesting player to be a finalist for N.L. MVP.

Freeman is 5th in the N.L. in fWAR (5.8) and is having a great season on the base paths, as he ranks 3rd in the N.L. in BsR (5.7). Offensively, he’s having the usual .300/.400/.500 Freddie Freeman slash line, and is tied for 4th in wRC+ (154), 5th in wOBA (.390), 6th in SLG (.513), and 1st in doubles (43).

While his WPA (1.77) ranks 18th among players in the N.L., his RE24 (49.00) is 2nd behind Paul Goldschmidt. Defensively, Freeman has been around league average (-1 DRS and 3 OAA).

Freeman winning the N.L. MVP the year after he left Atlanta would be an interesting story. He is one of the game’s best players and should certainly be in the MVP conversation.

Final Thoughts:

As the season winds down, the race for N.L. MVP is going to heat up. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are both having great years and should be the consensus top choices for the award. Mookie Betts would probably be the third finalist if the season ended today, while Manny Machado and Freddie Freeman are both having great seasons, and if either of them heat up, things could get interesting.

Paul Goldschmidt does have company in the N.L. MVP race, but if the season ended today, he would most likely win the award. A month is a long time to be left in the season, and since baseball is the crazy sport that it is, do not count out any of the other players mentioned above.

*All statistics used throughout the article are from September 1st before games began.

Featured Photo: Twitter / @MLBNetwork

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