It was only a couple of years ago when Cubs manager Joe Maddon chuckled at a question about a Saturday being “just a day off” for Javy Baez.
Maddon’s chuckle was based on his belief that Baez had not earned everyday playing time.
Nobody is chuckling anymore.
Baez has gone from a super-utility player with vast potential to an everyday dynamo who is hearing chants of “MVP, MVP” from Cubs fans at Wrigley Field and on the road.
Along with those chants, is there a chance Baez can win the MVP Award in the National League this season?
Yes, there is.
This year’s MVP field is wide open, with four candidates having strong chances to win and a few more lurking on the outskirts.
The MVP is an award of the Baseball Writers Association of America, with two voters covering each of the 15 NL teams casting votes. Ballots are turned in before the start of postseason play.
Here is a look at the top contenders as I see them, in no particular order of preference:
Javy Baez, Cubs
Baez has a hitting line of .298/.331/.585 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 88 RBIs entering Thursday. Baez’s OPS (on-base plus slugging) is .916.
Baez has an OPS+ (with 100 being league average and taking ballpark effects and league into consideration) of 135. If you prefer the similar figure of weighted runs created plus (wRC+), it’s 138. The wins above replacement (WAR) for Baez is 4.4, third in the NL.
If there’s one thing that could sway voters against Baez, it’s his on-base percentage of .331.
But Maddon also likes Baez’s defense, which is spectacular at times.
And if you place emphasis on the word “valuable” in Most Valuable Player (rather than “best player”), Baez’s value to the Cubs has been immense.
“Try to evaluate the entire game,” Maddon said. “Don’t get locked into a number just because you’re prejudiced in that regard.
“It’s a complete game. We are where we’re at over the last several years because we play more of a complete game. When [Kris Bryant] won it [in 2016], KB played a pretty total game himself. It’s easy to fall in love with certain things, but I’m hoping that real baseball players are recognized more. I want to believe we’re getting back to that, as opposed to just being this math equation that doesn’t necessarily win games.”
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
The Cardinals are fighting for a playoff spot, and if they make it, Carpenter’s value to them will be as important as Baez’s value to the Cubs.
Carpenter is at .281/.393/.598 with 31 homers and 63 RBIs. His OPS+ is 166 with the wRC+ at 161. Carpenter’s 4.9 WAR led the NL entering Thursday.
His slugging percentage (.598) and OPS (.991) led the league.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Arenado has the advantage of playing half of his home games at hitter-friendly Coors Field, and that may work against him in the voting.
His line entering Thursday night’s game against the Dodgers was .304/.388/.584 with 29 homers and 81 RBIs. His OPS+ and wRC+ both were 142, and his WAR of 4.7 was second in the league.
Arenado’s batting average at Coors Field entering Thursday was .352. It’s .259 on the road.
Freddie Freeman, Braves
Freeman is another player with whom the word “valuable” may mean something if the Braves make the postseason.
Entering Thursday, Freeman was at .314/.395/.517 with 18 homers and 70 RBIs. His OPS+ was 148 with his wRC+ at 143. Freeman’s WAR of 4.3 had him right behind Baez.
MVP voters must name 10 players on their ballot. Pitchers always appear on most ballots, and this year Washington’s Max Scherzer will get MVP and Cy Young Award votes. The Mets’ Jacob deGrom also may receive votes.
The Brewers are chasing the Cubs in the NL Central. Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich likely will figure into the MVP mix. Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt is a perennial candidate.
So how do writers prepare a ballot and vote? Each has his or her own method. For me, I create a “matrix” of traditional and advanced stats and compare players using those.
I also take into consideration the word “valuable” in terms of how much value the player had to his team, especially if his performance was instrumental in the team making the postseason. At this point, the favorites have established themselves, but my MVP ballot still is a blank slate.
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