That’s a provocative headline, isn’t it?
"Most Valuable Player" has had many meanings over the 80-plus years of its existence in its present form (there were earlier "MVP" awards, but the current voting system dates to the 1930s). Many BBWAA voters chose their MVP due to perceived "value" to a postseason team; some voted against players just because they didn’t like them (Ted Williams won two MVPs and finished second or third six other times; it can be argued that writers’ dislike of him cost him several wins.)
I’m here to promote Kris Bryant for National League MVP this year. Going into Saturday’s game, he’s hitting .299/.393/.563 with 96 runs, 30 home runs and 258 total bases. The latter three numbers all lead the league; he ranks sixth in OBP, fourth in SLG and third in OPS. The OPS figure is just three points behind his teammate Anthony Rizzo, also a legitimate MVP candidate, and 34 points behind the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy, who’s surprised almost everyone by actually being worth the contract the Nats lavished on him last offseason.
If you’re looking at player value numbers, Bryant leads all N.L. position players in WAR, whether you compute it via baseball-reference (6.0) or Fangraphs (6.4). He’s played well at three positions this year (third base, left field and right field) and dabbled in two others (first base and shortstop, the latter for an inning May 31 against the Dodgers).
Who are Bryant’s rivals for this award? Bryant finished 11th in MVP voting in 2015.
Rizzo, who finished fourth in MVP voting a year ago, is another candidate, with numbers very similar to Bryant’s: .292/.395/.564 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 36 doubles. Those who say having two candidates from one team will "split" the vote are, I think, simply misreading how writers vote for this award. It’s done on the basis of performance, not the team. Bryant and Rizzo will both get votes, but I believe, this year at least, Bryant is the better player. In addition to the numbers above, Bryant will likely equal or surpass his 2015 walk total of 77, while cutting way down on his team-record 199 strikeouts, possibly by as much as 25 percent; he’s on pace for about 150 Ks, a significant improvement.
I mentioned Murphy above, and he is having a year that’s more or less a continuation of the performance he had in last year’s postseason. Murphy is hitting .344/.386/.604, the first and last of those numbers leading the league, with 22 home runs. His 4.5 fWAR (3.7 bWAR) reflect the fact that he is not a good defensive player, worth negative WAR by both accountings.
The Dodgers’ Corey Seager, just 22 years old, is having a magnificent rookie season: .313/.368/.531 with 21 home runs. He also provides positive value with his defense. Even though the Dodgers are, like the Cubs and Nats, a likely playoff team (yes, I know, I said the Dodgers were "done" earlier this year. Hey, I was wrong. Been wrong before), I think the writers will be content with voting Seager as (probably unanimous) Rookie of the Year, and leave the MVP to more veteran players.
Beyond those four, there isn’t much in the N.L. Joey Votto is having a fine year, but it’s not quite the season of Bryant, Rizzo, Murphy or Seager, and he is, of course, buried in last place. There aren’t really any pitchers who qualify this year; Clayton Kershaw might have, had he not been injured.
The remainder of the top 10 in fWAR in the National League are: Brandon Crawford (most of his value from his defense), Justin Turner, Wil Myers, Freddie Freeman, Wilson Ramos and Paul Goldschmidt. (Votto, for his part, ranks 21st in the league in fWAR). bWAR has these other players in its top 10: Starling Marte, Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado.
All of those are fine players, and will likely get downballot votes, but I think the MVP title’s between Bryant, Rizzo and Murphy, and Bryant would get my first-place vote.
What say you? Vote in the poll.