Making a case for the 3 NL MVP finalists

USA Today

Sometimes, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) has an easy task. Both Rookie of the Year Award winners this season were obvious choices, and the unanimous votes in each league showed as much. But often, the field for a major award is crowded with deserving candidates, making declaring a winner more tricky.

The 2017 National League MVP Award is one of those cases. The NL was packed full of MVP-worthy players this season, to the extent that the league’s batting champ (Charlie Blackmon) and his 37-homer, 130-RBI teammate (Nolan Arenado) weren’t even in the top three. The player with the second-best batting average (Justin Turner) and his 39-homer rookie teammate (Cody Bellinger) weren’t considered. Not one of the sluggers on the Nationals or Cubs are on the list.

Even with all those omissions, we’re looking at a very tight three-horse race among equally deserving candidates. There’s the home run king, Giancarlo Stanton, who fell one tater shy of reaching 60. There is Joey Votto, arguably the most well-rounded hitter in baseball this season. Perennial candidate Paul Goldschmidt posted another excellent season en route to leading his Diamondbacks to a 24-win turnaround and a playoff appearance.

So, who takes home the hardware tonight?

  • Giancarlo Stanton – Miami Marlins (RF)

What Stanton did, especially down the stretch, was Ruthian. At one point, he hit 11 homers in 12 games, and 30 in 48. Though he wasn’t able to finish his powerful season by reaching the round number of 60, he still became just the sixth player in baseball history to reach 59 homers, behind Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa (twice each), Roger Maris, Babe Ruth and, of course, Barry Bonds.

Even in a year dominated by the long ball, Stanton had plenty of other pretty stats to ogle. He ended the season hitting .281 with a 1.007 OPS and 165 OPS+. According to Baseball-Reference.com’s version of WAR, Stanton was worth a whopping 7.6 wins in 2017. Yet, the Marlins went 77-85 and never contended for the playoffs. Even if the award shouldn’t necessarily celebrate players only on playoff teams, it usually leans that way.

Will that unwritten rule affect Stanton? Similarly, will it affect our next candidate?

Oct 1, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) singles in a run in the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

  • Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds (1B)

For all the amazing things Stanton did with a bat this season, Votto was an even better hitter. Sure, Stanton smashed 59, but Votto’s 36 is nothing to scoff at. Votto did a lot of less flashy things a lot better than Stanton, or anyone else in the league for that matter: Votto led the NL in walks (134 — versus just 83 strikeouts, by the way), on-base percentage (.454), OPS (1.032) and OPS+ (168). Yes, Votto had a higher OPS and OPS+ than a guy who out-homered him by 23.

Amazingly enough, save for the strikeout total, none of Votto’s 2017 numbers were career-bests. That’s a testament more to Votto’s incredible career than anything else, but this season stands out as extra impressive. He did all this without the offensive supporting cast of Stanton or Goldschmidt and also vastly improved his defense, becoming a Gold Glove finalist in his best defensive season ever. All around, Votto was probably the best player in the league in 2017.

Unfortunately, Votto’s team also struggled. The Reds won just 68 games and finished dead last in the NL Central. Though that’s no fault of Votto’s, it may affect his chances.

Our last candidate did make an appearance in the playoffs.

  • Paul Goldschmidt – Arizona Diamondbacks (1B)

Since Goldschmidt broke into the league full-time in 2012, he’s been one of the most consistent all-around players in baseball. Despite his size and position, Goldschmidt adds a surprising side of speed to plentiful power and dazzling defense. He just won his third Gold Glove Award (for as wrong as the Gold Gloves can be, he was a very deserving winner) and posted his fourth season with at least 18 steals.

Goldschmidt hit .297 with a .966 OPS and a 140 OPS+, and equaled a career-high with 36 homers. By most metrics, he was one of the top base runners and defenders at his position in the league, and he led the Diamondbacks from a 69-win season in 2016 to a 93-win, wild card-winning campaign in 2017. By numbers alone, Goldschmidt has had a slightly lesser season than in years past, when he did not win the MVP (he finished twice in both 2013 and 2015). A win this season would be more of a lifetime achievement award for him than anything.

It was probably a difficult decision to choose among the three NL MVP finalists this season. Stanton powered his way into the conversation, but did not impress in all aspects of the game as much as the others. Votto was the most complete player on the ballot, but played for the worst team. Goldschmidt, though posting less flashy numbers, has been a consistent star for years and led his team to the postseason.

The BBWAA can’t really go wrong in this category, but it’s still incredibly difficult. If it wants to honor the most impressive power hitter in the most impressive power season since 2001, that’s okay. If it wants to reward the best player in the league who actually led his team to the playoffs, that’s also okay.

But, if the writers want to truly reward the best and most valuable player in the entire league, Votto should be adding his second MVP Award to a trophy case that may eventually lead to a Hall of Fame plaque.

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