This season, the National League has as much parity as it has in years, with the Brewers, Cardinals, Rockies, Braves, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Phillies all within 9.5 games of the league-leading Cubs; compare that to the American League, where thanks to the Red Sox dominance, only the Yankees and Astros are within 9.5 games of home field advantage, and they are exactly 9.5 games out each. As a result, there is no standout candidate in the National League MVP race, but rather a variety of solid candidates from contending teams all of whom are expected to get votes, including but not limited to. (All WAR totals below courtesy of Baseball-Reference)
Lorenzo Cain, Brewers, 6.2 WAR, 10 HR, 35 RBI, 76 R, 143 H, 24 2B, 26 SB, 65 BB, .309/.402/.434
Javier Baez, Cubs, 5.4 WAR, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 88 R, 155 H, 35 2B, 21 SB, 21 BB, .295/.326/.569
Freddie Freeman, Braves, 5.3 WAR, 21 HR, 83 RBI, 87 R, 165 H, 37 2B, 8 SB, 68 BB, .306/.387/.506
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks, 5.3 WAR, 32 HR, 81 RBI, 87 R, 156 H, 30 2B, 5 SB, 81 BB, .298/.398/.553
Christian Yelich, Brewers, 5.2 WAR, 27 HR, 85 RBI, 96 R, 158 H, 29 2B, 16 SB, 48 BB, .216/.380/.556
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals, 5.1 WAR, 35 HR, 76 RBI, 93 R, 133 H, 39 2B, 3 SB, 91 BB, .273/.389/.568
Nolan Arenado, Rockies 4.7 WAR, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 88 R, 148 H, 29 2B, 2 SB, 66 BB, .297/.379/.550
With the candidates above, it really depends on what narrative you’re looking for in an MVP winner. If you want strong all-around play with speed and defense, Cain and his league-leading WAR is your guy, but if you want a consistent run producer who brings a little bit of everything to the table, then his teammate Yelich should interest you. For someone flashy with power and highlight real glove work, Baez should get your vote, but if you want the best third baseman in baseball both offensively and defensively, then Arenado is for you. If you are a believer in the leader of a somewhat surprising playoff team getting MVP love, then look straight towards Freeman. And if you are a fan of redemption, then Carpenter or Goldschmidt should receive your support, with each hitter hitting .229/.341/.434 and .209/.236/.393 respectively heading into the month of June.
Heck, in a year with so much parity, even pitchers have been discussed in the MVP vote, with Max Scherzer pitching for a third straight (and fourth overall) Cy Young Award, Aaron Nola developing into an ace before our very eyes for the Phillies, and Jacob DeGrom leading the league with a microscopic 1.68 ERA despite an 8-8 record with the Mets. Below are each pitcher’s numbers, which should give you an idea of the dominance that has led them into the MVP discussion.
Max Scherzer, Nationals: 9.1 WAR, 16-6, 29 G, 193.2 IP, 2.28 ERA, 0.878 WHIP, 260 K, 186 ERA+, 5.65 K:BB
Aaron Nola, Phillies: 8.9 WAR, 28 G, 181.2 IP, 2.23 ERA, 0.974 WHIP, 188 K, 188 ERA+, 3.84 K:BB
Jacob deGrom, Mets: 8.6 WAR, 8-8, 28 G, 188.0 IP, 1.68 ERA, 0.963 WHIP, 230 K, 219 ERA+, 5.48 K:BB
With the pitchers factored in, there are ten legitimate MVP candidates in the National League that people have been talking about, but based on the numbers, there has been one glaring omission, which is Rockies shortstop Trevor Story.
Remember Story, the shortstop who as a rookie in 2016 hit two home runs in his first game, one in his second and third, and then another two in his fourth en route to ten home runs and a .696 SLG in his first full month in the bigs? If you forgot him, that makes sense, as last season, he struggled, hitting .239/.308/.457 with a league-worst 191 strikeouts, 86 OPS+ (100 is average), and 81 WRC+ (100). Plus, with teammates such as Arenado and Charlie Blackmon finishing 4-5 in the MVP vote last season, winning Silver Slugger Awards and making the All-Star team each of the past two seasons in the process, it’s easy to see how Story can get lost in the shuffle.
If you need an example of how Story’s approach has changed this season, Google the highlights from the September 5th Rockies-Giants game, where Story set the Statcast record with a 505 foot home run, and added home runs of 459 feet (on one knee) and 416 feet to top it off, totaling 1,380 feet, or as Rockies fans pointed out, over a quarter of a mile. To say Story has been a different hitter this season is an understatement, as per Fangraphs, he has dropped his strikeout percentage 8.9% from last season, the eighth-best change (out of 7.219 players) from one year to the next in baseball history amongst players with 500 plate appearances in consecutive seasons. This is illustrated in the graphic below courtesy of Fangraphs.
Story’s improvement can be seen in his counting stats, as he has improved in every significant offensive category this season, setting career highs almost across the board thanks to a career-high 77.5% contact rate and .358 BABIP.
2017: 145 G, 68 R, 120 H, 32 2B, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 7 SB, 49 BB, 191 K, .239/.308/.457, 86 OPS+, 81 WRC +
2018: 138 G, 77 R, 158 H, 39 2B, 31 HR, 95 RBI, 25 SB, 42 BB, 148 K, .298/.354/.566, 129 OPS+, 128 WRC+
What is most surprising about Story this season has to be his 25 steals after having a combined 15 in his first two seasons. With his power, ability to hit for average, speed, and a solid glove at shortstop (0.7 dWAR) Story should be a household name, but instead is at best the third most well-known player on his own team. Digging deeper into the numbers, Story is leading the NL with 300 total bases and 75 extra base hits, is 2nd in Offensive WAR (5.1) and 7th in WAR overall, and ranks in the top ten in the league in doubles (2nd) RBI (3rd) SLG (3rd) hits (4th) HR (4th) SB (5th) OPS (6th) and AVG (10th). Other than OBP, he ranks in the top ten of every major offensive counting statistic in the National League, providing elite numbers from a traditionally defensive-minded position.
Even if he doesn’t come home with the hardware, the case clear that even if he isn’t yet a household name, Trevor’s Story should end with some serious contention for the NL MVP Award.