MLB

Sorting out the crowded NL MVP field: If Padres’ Fernando Tatís Jr. misses weeks, who becomes the frontrunner?

With less than two months left in the season, the American League MVP race looks like Shohei Ohtani with Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. closely following. In the National League, things are a bit murkier. To wit, Ronald Acuña, Jr. has already suffered a season-ending injury, Jacob deGrom only has made 15 starts and now Fernando Tatis, Jr. is on the shelf with a shoulder injury. If voting were held right now, my hunch is Tatís would win. But what if he’s out another four weeks? What if he misses the rest of the season? 

It’s now a crowded field, that’s what. Let’s take a look what I figure to be the top nine candidates moving forward. They are listed in no particular order but feel free to try and find hidden meaning while drawing your own conclusions nonetheless. 

[Note: fWAR is Fangraphs version of wins above replacement while bWAR is the baseball-reference version]

The door has been left open for Dodgers‘ slugger Max Muncy. Among position players, he’s fourth in fWAR (Acuña and Tatís are above him) and second to Tatís in bWAR. He’s third in on-base percentage and fifth in slugging. He’s likely to top 30 homers and 100 RBI is on the table. His ability to play second base in addition to first has helped the Dodgers deal with Corey Seager‘s injury and Gavin Lux‘s struggles. And the Dodgers are very likely a playoff team. Lots of boxes are checked here. 

It took the Home Run Derby to get Juan Soto‘s power stroke back, though he now hasn’t homered since July 27 after a quick post-break splurge. Still, Soto isn’t getting pitched to like others listed here. He leads the majors with 78 walks, 10 of those coming intentionally. He also leads the majors in on-base percentage. In the NL, he’s eighth in average, fourth in runs and trails only Tatís and Muncy in bWAR. Will the Nationals being a non-contender hurt him? Probably, if all things are equal. He’d have to establish he’s far and away the best player. 

The underrated — you heard me, legions of Bryce Haters — Bryce Harper is climbing toward the top. The Phillies have won five in a row and are just a half game back in the mediocre NL East. Harper, meanwhile, has been hot for a bit. In his last 31 games, he’s hitting .367/.474/.706 with 16 doubles, seven homers and 21 RBI. In the NL, he’s sixth in average, second in OBP, fourth in slugging and he’s first in OPS if we lop off the injured duo of Acuña and Tatís. He’s second to Tatís in OPS+ and sixth in fWAR. Keep an eye on this one. 

With his fellow left-side infielder in San Diego down, Manny Machado can step up. He’s fifth in bWAR and 10th in fWAR. A big run producer, he’s second in RBI and eighth in runs scored. He’s eighth in OPS+ and is the most valuable defensive player on this list. If the Padres can hang around in playoff position with Tatís continuing to miss time, Machado likely continues to make his move. 

What if the Reds run down the Padres for the second wild card spot? Joey Votto probably got too late a start to get into contention but Nick Castellanos, now back from injury, leads the NL in hitting. He’s also ninth in OBP and third (behind Acuña and Tatís) in slugging. Thanks in part to his 29 doubles (trailing only Ozzie Albies‘ 31), he’s tied for ninth in total bases despite the time missed with injury. He’d need a hot final two months, but it’s doable. Something to watch: He trails only Tatís in win probability added

If the Phillies make a move, it won’t be just Harper. J.T. Realmuto might get a look, but Zack Wheeler absolutely should. He’s the overall leader in both bWAR and fWAR thanks to his huge workload. He leads the majors with 147 innings pitched while pacing the NL with 170 strikeouts. Naysayers might note the Phillies are only 13-9 in his starts, but his work in saving the bullpen while providing so many quality outings can’t be measured that way. He’s gone at least seven innings 14 of his 22 starts. He’s gone more than seven innings seven times and at least eight three times. 

After July 6, Mookie Betts was hitting .246/.358/.447 and wouldn’t have merited inclusion here at all. Since then, he’s hit .444/.500/1.000 with seven homers, 12 RBI and 18 runs in 11 games (he was injured for a portion of the schedule). That goes to show just how quickly he can make a move. He’s up to ninth in bWAR and 12th in fWAR. He’s 10th in slugging and ninth in OPS. He’s ninth in runs, 10th in doubles and eighth in triples. 

The Giants have the best record in baseball, so we absolutely need to find a candidate here. It’s the 34-year-old Crawford. He’s having his career year at the plate while playing his customary smooth and excellent defense at the premium position of shortstop. He’s eighth in fWAR and sixth in bWAR. He’s also sixth in win probability added. 

If Trea Turner has a hot final two months with the Dodgers and they win the NL West, this is a fun candidacy. He’s seventh in bWAR and third to Tatís and Acuña in fWAR. He’s second in average and 10th in OBP. He’s second in hits and tied for fourth in total bases while also ranking third in steals behind Tatís and Starling Marte (who is now in the AL). To find a player traded midseason and then winning the MVP is a tall order, since it has never happened before. Could Turner be the first? Stay tuned. It’s going to be a fun race. 



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