For the players, Spring Training is the time of year to get back into playing shape and get their reps in before the season starts. For management, it’s the time of year to decide who stays in the Bigs and who’s sent down to the minor leagues. For the fans, it’s the time of year when we all draft our free agent teams – minus the keepers, of course. For me, in this series of articles, Spring Training is the time of year where I make my predictions regarding the 2019 season.
This article will take a look at who I believe are the strongest candidates to win the 2019 National League Most Valuable Player Award. Yes, one of the top five is a pitcher so if you’re someone who adamantly opposes pitchers winning the MVP, I look forward to reading your comments.
1. Jacob deGrom – New York Mets
Before you say, “Of course you picked a Met, you’re a Mets fan,” allow me to remind you just how good Jacob deGrom was last season.
DeGrom, 30, went 10-9 with a 1.70 ERA, 1.99 FIP, 0.912 WHIP, 269 strikeouts, and only 46 walks in 217.0 innings. He became only the 11th qualified starting pitcher in the last 100 years to finish a season with an ERA of 1.70 or below, and the first pitcher all time to start 20 or more games with an ERA of 1.70 or below and record 10 wins or fewer in a season.
He set a new single-season record with 29-straight starts allowing three runs or fewer, a streak that is still going — With one more on Opening Day, and he would pass Jake Arrieta (2015-16) for a record of 30 straight starts overall. Additionally, his last 24 starts were all quality starts (also a single-season record), and is only two behind Bob Gibson‘s 26-straight quality starts from 1967-68.
He’s the only pitcher in MLB’s modern era (since 1900) with a sub-2.00 ERA, 260 or more strikeouts, 50 or fewer walks and 10 or fewer home runs allowed in a season. It’s not like this season came out of nowhere either, as he sported a career 2.98 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 680.2 innings from 2014-17, of course winning Rookie of the Year in 2014.
Only 21 pitchers have won MVP since the award’s inception in 1931. In fact, before Clayton Kershaw won the award in 2014, the last National League pitcher to win the award was Bob Gibson back in 1968. It’s unlikely that deGrom, as a pitcher, would win the award, but with a 9.1 fWAR last season and still room to improve, it would be silly not to include him high up on this list. He did, after all, finish fifth in MVP voting last season, receiving one first place vote.
If you’re a WAR guy or girl, it’s probably worth mentioning that he led the National League with a 9.1 fWAR in 2018, a substantial margin ahead of second-place Max Scherzer‘s 8.0 mark and 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich‘s 7.6.
2. Christian Yelich – Milwaukee Brewers
Speaking of Yelich – After being traded from the Miami Marlins to the Milwaukee Brewers prior to last season, he made the most of a great situation, earning himself NL MVP honors in 2018.
Slashing .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs, 110 RBIs, 118 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, 166 wRC+, and a 7.6 fWAR last season, Yelich winning MVP was no surprise. He received 29 first place votes, the only other going to deGrom, but won the award handily with 415 points with Javier Baez a distant second with 250.
His .326 batting average earned him the NL batting title, and his 1.000 OPS and 343 total bases were also tops in the NL. He also found a new home in right field, where he posted five DRS and a 3.8 UZR (9.2 UZR/150) across 557.1 innings. This was the first time he’s played right field in his career, but he took to it brilliantly.
The 27-year-old had been a great player in Miami, but now playing in a more hitter-friendly ballpark with much more protection in the line-up, it’s hard to see this season as a fluke.
3. Bryce Harper – Philadelphia Phillies
Having just signed a monster contract with the Phillies, Bryce Harper’s home is now one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the game. Coming off a “down” year in which he slashed .249/.393/.496 with 34 home runs, 100 RBIs, and a 135 wRC+, he’ll try and get back to the elite level of offense that won him the NL MVP in 2015 at the age of 22.
In 2015, he slashed .330/.460/.649 (1.109 OPS) with 42 home runs, 99 RBIs, 124 walks, a 9.3 fWAR, and a 197 wRC+. He is certainly capable of putting up monster numbers, and he hasn’t put up better numbers anywhere than he has at Citizen’s Bank Park. In 50 games in his career, he’s slashed .268/.365/.564 with 14 home runs and 32 RBIs.
At just 26 years-old, he’ll almost surely win another MVP or two before his career is over. With all the protection he’ll enjoy in the Phillies line-up at the hitter’s paradise in Philly, there’s a very good chance it will happen this season.
4. Nolan Arenado – Colorado Rockies
In 2015, he finished eighth in MVP voting. In 2016, he finished fifth. In 2017, he finished fourth. In 2018, he finished third. In 2019, he’s bound to finish either second or first, and that’s irrefutable logic.
Okay, maybe not. But what is irrefutable is saying that Nolan Arenado is a darn good baseball player and is an annual threat to take home NL MVP honors. Having played at least 156 games every season for the last four years, he is as consistent as they come on both sides of the ball. While his offensive numbers are almost surely inflated by playing half his games at Coors Field, his defensive play has cemented him as the best overall third baseman in the game.
Arenado, who will turn 28 in April, slashed .297/.374/.561 with an NL-leading 38 home runs, 110 RBIs, 132 wRC+, and a 5.7 fWAR in 2018, winning his sixth-consecutive Gold Glove award. He has averaged 40 home runs and 126 RBIs over the last four seasons, slashing .297/.358/.573 in that span. He is consistently elite and can be counted on to give other MVP candidates a run for their money each and every season.
5. Paul Goldschmidt – St. Louis Cardinals
One of the best hitters in the game, Paul Goldschmidt stays under the radar better than a Klingon Bird of Prey with their cloaking device engaged. Since 2013, Goldy has been a stalwart in the Diamondbacks’ lineup. Now that he’s in St. Louis, he’ll enjoy a lineup with more protection at a hitter-friendly ballpark.
On June 3rd, Goldschmidt was hitting .208/.325/.396 with eight home runs and 20 RBIs through 58 games. He turned it around over the next 100 games, as almost everyone expected him to do, finishing the season with a slash line of .290/.389/.533 with 33 home runs, 83 RBIs, a 143 wRC+, and a 5.1 fWAR. He was able to scratch and claw up to 6th place in NL MVP voting, and he’s no stranger to getting MVP votes, finishing second in 2013 and 2015, and third in 2017.
The Cardinals are not going to be the best offensive team in the game this season, but he will have ample protection in the lineup with names like Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, and Paul DeJong around him. He will also be a free agent after the 2019 season, and we have all seen how playing in a walk year has a positive effect on a player’s numbers.
- J.T. Realmuto – Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP for the Marlins in 2017 – And then Derek Jeter traded him for almost nothing. Then the Marlins traded Christian Yelich, and he won the MVP in 2018. The trend seems to point to the All Star backstop Realmuto, now on the Phillies, winning the award in 2019. While that might not be the most logical argument, or logical at all, he is a pretty darn good baseball player and is certainly capable of putting up MVP-caliber numbers.
- Javier Baez – Though he finished second in MVP voting last season, many thought that he did not deserve to finish that high. His .881 OPS would be disproportionately low for someone who is only a slightly-above-average defender to take home the award. His 131 wRC+ and 5.3 fWAR marks are impressive, but are they MVP caliber?
- Max Scherzer – The second best pitcher in the National League, Scherzer has pitched at least 200 innings in a season every year since 2013. During that span, he’s won three Cy Young awards and hasn’t finished lower than 5th in voting. He struck out 300 batters in 2018 which is hard to ignore, and so are his 2.53 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 0.911 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, and 18 wins.
- Freddie Freeman – He’s a really really good baseball player, and should not be left out of this conversation. He slashed .309/.388/.505 with 23 home runs and 98 RBIs last season, leading the NL with 162 games played, 191 hits, and 44 doubles. His career .875 OPS is nothing to scoff at, and after finishing 4th in MVP voting last season, the 29-year-old is only getting better.
- Joey Votto – Is he old? Yes. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how good this guy still is. Don’t look now, but the Reds have a really good offense, and Votto will be right at the center of it. With plenty of protection, the career .311/.427/.419 hitter will have plenty of opportunities to make an impact. Yes, he hit only 12 home runs in 2018, but as he hit 36 in 2017, it is not time to panic yet. He still led the NL with a .417 on-base percentage, the seventh time in his career he’s led that category. Never ever sleep on this guy.
- Manny Machado – Yeah, he’s in the National League now. Say what you want about him, but he’s a pretty darn good hitter, and now he’s playing at Petco Park which is one of the best for hitters. He doesn’t have much protection in the lineup, with only Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers the other big names, but that didn’t stop Machado from putting up big numbers in Baltimore.
- Kris Bryant – Remember him? He had a down year plagued by injuries, but he’s just 27 years-old and already has an MVP trophy on his mantle.
- Daniel Murphy – I can’t resist putting him on the list now that he’s playing half his games at Coors Field. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits .375 and I’m only exaggerating a little.
- Ronald Acuna Jr. – The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year finished 12th in MVP voting in his debut. With a year under his belt, will he suffer a sophomore slump, or will he follow Kris Bryant’s model and win MVP?
- Michael Conforto – Just in case…