Making the Case for Each Top 2017 MLB MVP Candidate

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2017

Making the Case for Each Top 2017 MLB MVP Candidate

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    There's not a runaway MVP front-runner in either league this season, and that should make for some spirited arguments in the weeks to come.

    Ahead, we've set out to make the case for each top 2017 MLB MVP candidate, highlighting five players from each league who have a legitimate shot at winning the award.

    We also singled out a few notable players who didn't quite make the cut and explained why they were not viewed as a serious contender to take home the hardware.

    Let the debate begin.

NL Honorable Mentions

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    Joey Votto
    Joey VottoGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

    A strong case can be made for each of these guys being team MVP for the Dodgers.

    That's a good thing from a team standpoint.

    Not so much when it comes to MVP voting.

    There's a good chance all three will finish in the top 10 or 12 in the balloting, but there will be enough splitting of votes that none of them is a serious threat to win the award.

              

    Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

    Max Scherzer is having the better overall season.

    Stephen Strasburg has been the better pitcher—and probably the best pitcher in the NL—over the past month or so.

    The result should be a compelling NL Cy Young conversation, but as far as the NL MVP voting is concerned, these two will likely wind up canceling each other out.

    Case in point: Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks finished behind Noah Syndergaard in NL MVP voting last season, despite the fact that they finished second and third in Cy Young voting to his eighth.

              

    Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

    Kris Bryant has posted a similar OPS (.934 vs. .939) and an improved on-base percentage (.405 vs. .385) compared to his NL MVP season a year ago.

    However, the Cubs are not the same juggernaut, and he doesn't have the same impressive counting numbers with 26 home runs and 65 RBI hitting primarily out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Right or wrong, the voters still like those gaudy run-production numbers.

    He's a safe bet to finish inside the top 10 in the balloting, and he's the best candidate from a first-place Cubs team. It doesn't look like we'll have a repeat NL MVP winner, though.

            

    Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

    Joey Votto is a stud.

    He also plays for a Reds team that's probably going to lose 90 games this year.

    There are simply too many candidates from contendersand a better one from a non-contender in Giancarlo Stantonfor Votto to have a realistic chance of winning the award.

NL MVP: Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    NL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.3321st
    OPS1.0044th
    H1961st
    XBH803rd
    HR34t-3rd
    RBI8913th
    R1291st
    WAR5.57th

          

    The Case for Charlie Blackmon

    Most would agree that Nolan Arenado is the best all-around player on the Colorado Rockies roster, but is he the most valuable player?

    Maybe not.

    Charlie Blackmon has put together one of the greatest seasons of all time from a leadoff hitter as he leads the NL in batting average (.332), hits (196) and runs scored (129) while serving as the catalyst for one of the league's most potent offenses.

    The home/road splits are always a topic of conversation for Rockies players, so let's add those to the conversation.

    • Home: .388 BA, 1.247 OPS, 22 HR
    • Road: .283 BA, .792 OPS, 12 HR

    It's fairly drastic, but he hasn't exactly been a non-factor on the road, and Craig Edwards of FanGraphs brings up a fair point:

    "As for Blackmon, if you do choose to penalize him further for playing in Colorado, you might want to appropriately credit him for the observed difficulty of hitting on the road after playing at Coors."

    To that point, OPS+ might be the best statistical measure when it comes to Rockies players since it takes into account park factors.

    Blackmon's 143 OPS+ trails only that of Giancarlo Stanton (165) and Paul Goldschmidt (149) among the five NL MVP candidates we've highlighted here.

NL MVP: Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    NL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.30115th
    OPS.93311th
    H14021st
    XBH61t-12th
    HR23t-29th
    RBI9211th
    R72t-34th
    WAR5.66th

          

    The Case for Anthony Rendon

    With Bryce Harper and Trea Turner both missing significant time this season, Anthony Rendon has been a steady performer in the middle of the Washington Nationals lineup.

    "He’s a great ballplayer, humble guy, plays hard every day and doesn’t complain," teammate Michael Taylor told Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post.

    But is he MVP-worthy?

    The 27-year-old returned from an injury-shortened 2015 season to win NL Comeback Player of the Year honors last year, and he's finally putting some distance between himself and the "injury-prone" label that plagued him early in his career.

    He's raised his walk rate from 10.0 to 13.4 percent to become an elite on-base threat, and he's hitting .373 with runners in scoring position while stepping into more of a run-production role.

    Add to that a career-high 23 home runs and his stellar defensive work at third base (9 DRS, 16.2 UZR/150), and you have a player who impacts the game in more ways than most.

    Teammate Bryce Harper will still receive some consideration despite the time he's missed, and co-aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg could receive some bottom-ballot consideration as well.

    However, if there's one player on the NL East champs with a chance of taking home the hardware, it's Rendon.

NL MVP: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

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    Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

    NL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.30610th
    OPS.9538th
    H1715th
    XBH822nd
    HR33t-6th
    RBI1231st
    R9010th
    WAR6.33rd

          

    The Case for Nolan Arenado

    We've already made the case for Charlie Blackmon.

    Now let's talk about his teammate and perennial NL MVP contender Nolan Arenado.

    The 26-year-old has finished eighth and fifth in the voting the past two seasons while leading the NL in home runs and RBI both years, and he should climb in the balloting once again this year.

    His current .306/.369/.584 triple-slash line represents career highs across the board, and he's once again pacing the NL in RBI (123) as well as doubles (42).

    On top of that, his home/road splits are not nearly as drastic as Blackmon's:

    • Home: .326 BA, 1.009 OPS, 16 HR
    • Road: .289 BA, .902 OPS, 17 HR

    The thing that really sets him apart is his defense.

    He's won Gold Glove honors four years running, and he's a safe bet to take home the hardware once again this year as he leads all third basemen in DRS (19) and ranks fourth in UZR/150 (7.0).

    There's not a more impactful two-way player in the game today, and those fairly even home/road splits could be enough to convince the usual Coors Field detractors to send their votes his way.

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    NL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.27930th
    OPS1.0113rd
    H14911th
    XBH831st
    HR541st
    RBI113t-2nd
    R1112nd
    WAR6.81st

          

    The Case for Giancarlo Stanton

    Home runs have been devalued in recent seasons, and that was never more evident than this past offseason's free-agent market.

    That being said, Giancarlo Stanton is simply on another level this season.

    The mammoth slugger has already launched 54 home runs—a whopping 13 more than any other player in the majors—and he's been more than an all-or-nothing slugger.

    His 6.8 WAR leads the NL, and he's made notable strides in both his walk (10.6 to 12.4 percent) and strikeout (29.8 to 23.7 percent) rates to become a more well-rounded offensive player.

    He's also having a standout season defensively (10 DRS, 4.9 UZR/150), and he's finally managed to stay healthy after missing significant time to injury the past two seasons.

    Then there's his ridiculous month of August (.349 BA, 1.332 OPS, 18 HR) that briefly helped the Miami Marlins climb back in the NL wild-card picture, though they've since fallen off again.

    And therein lies the problem.

    There's no rule stating the MVP has to come from a playoff team, and it didn't stop Mike Trout from winning AL MVP just last season, but the voters still tend to err on the side of postseason-bound players.

    Will they make an exception in the case of Stanton's unmatched production this season?

NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    NL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.3098th
    OPS1.0035th
    H157t-9th
    XBH704th
    HR34t-3rd
    RBI113t-2nd
    R1063rd
    WAR6.04th

          

    The Case for Paul Goldschmidt

    It's easy to forget the Arizona Diamondbacks lost 93 games last season.

    A vastly improved pitching staff led by Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley and Taijuan Walker has been the biggest reason for the dramatic turnaround.

    However, there's little question the MVP in the desert is Paul Goldschmidt.

    The 30-year-old already has a pair of second-place finishes in NL MVP voting on his resume from 2013 and 2015, and this could finally be the year he gets over the hump.

    He's top 10 in the league in nearly every offensive category, he's once again been a threat on the bases with 17 stolen bases, and he could add a third Gold Glove to his trophy case thanks to another strong defensive season (11 DRS, 5.2 UZR/150).

    He also has the intangible qualities to be the leader of a contending team.

    "He’s just a remarkable human being. That’s where I’ll start," manager Torey Lovullo told reporters. "You walk down the hall, security people, ushers, they feel the same way about him. You walk in the clubhouse, his teammates feel the same way about him."

    It could boil down to the gaudy power numbers of Stanton versus the all-around contributions of Goldschmidt on a playoff-bound D-backs team for 2017 NL MVP honors.

AL Honorable Mentions

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    Chris Sale
    Chris SaleMichael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles

    Manny Machado is hitting .320/.355/.566 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI since the beginning of July, and he's had his fair share of memorable walk-off heroics during that stretch.

    Will that be enough for voters to forget about a brutal .216/.289/.423 line over the first three months of the season and the fact that teammate Jonathan Schoop will probably finish with better overall numbers?

    My guess is no.

    As for Schoop, he's having a huge breakout season with a .302/.346/.531 line that includes 33 doubles, 32 home runs and 104 RBI. The O's are fading fast in the wild-card race, though, and there are others on contending teams with better numbers.

          

    Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

    A few months ago, Chris Sale had far and away the best case of any pitcher for MVP honors.

    Now he doesn't even look like the front-runner to win the AL Cy Young.

    He's posted a 3.99 ERA in his last eight starts, and during that same span, Corey Kluber has gone 7-1 with a 1.92 ERA and a ridiculous 0.67 WHIP.

    Kluber now has a healthy lead in both ERA (2.44 to 2.76) and WHIP (0.87 to 0.95), and he looks like the clear favorite to win Cy Young and to receive any MVP consideration that might go to a pitcher.

           

    Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels

    How many people are aware of the fact that Andrelton Simmons ranks fourth in the American League with a 6.6 WAR—trailing only Jose Altuve (7.7), Corey Kluber (7.3) and Aaron Judge (6.7)?

    Aside from his usual stellar defensive work at shortstop, he's also posted a career-best 104 OPS+, and prior to the Justin Upton trade, he had been the most consistent offensive threat not named Mike Trout on a contending Angels team.

    However, Trout will be among the players he's battling for votes, and Simmons is simply not going to win that battle.

AL MVP: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    AL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.27729th
    OPS1.0021st
    H137t-42nd
    XBH65t-7th
    HR431st
    RBI96t-5th
    R1121st
    WAR6.72nd

          

    The Case for Aaron Judge

    There's no ignoring the second-half slump that has befallen rookie phenom Aaron Judge.

    The 25-year-old was the clear front-runner for AL MVP honors at the All-Star break as he sported a .329 average, 1.139 OPS, 30 home runs and 66 RBI in 84 games.

    However, he's hit just .197/.359/.430 with 13 home runs and a 34.3 percent strikeout rate in the second half.

    Still, there's simply no denying that his production this season has completely changed the New York Yankees outlook in 2017.

    "I think he’s had a really good year," manager Joe Girardi told reporters. "When you look at his numbers, he’s walked 100 times, he’s scored 100 runs, and there’s a really good chance that he’s going to get to 100 RBI. You would’ve signed up for that [at the beginning of the year]."

    Amid all the strikeouts, he's indeed racked up a rookie-record 110 walks and a .412 on-base percentage to continue making a positive impact offensively.

    He's also picked things back up of late with a 1.146 OPS and six home runs in September.

    A strong finish over the final few weeks could further boost his candidacy, but he's a long shot given his swoon.

AL MVP: Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

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    Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    AL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    QS202nd
    W16t-1st
    ERA2.441st
    WHIP0.871st
    K2432nd
    IP184.26th
    BAA.1911st
    WAR7.31st

          

    The Case for Corey Kluber

    You better believe the MVP voters have taken notice of the Cleveland Indians' recent winning streak.

    The team's leading candidate to take home MVP honors might be infielder Jose Ramirez—and we'll get to him in just a bit—but there's no ignoring ace Corey Kluber.

    There's little question he's the front-runner for Cy Young honors as the AL leader in ERA (2.44), WHIP (0.87) and opponents' batting average (.191) as he's surpassed Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale.

    But has his performance on the mound been on that elite level that is worthy of MVP consideration?

    His 7.3 WAR is significantly higher than any other AL pitcher's (Sale, 5.7) and trails only Jose Altuve's (7.7) among all players in both leagues.

    As long as he finishes strong, that figure should stack up favorably with the last three starting pitchers to win MVP honorsRoger Clemens (1986, 8.9), Justin Verlander (2011, 8.4) and Clayton Kershaw (2014, 7.5).

    Potentially splitting votes with Ramirez and some voter's unwavering stance of not voting for a pitcher will be big obstacles to overcome, but Kluber has been good enough that he belongs in this conversation.

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    AL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.317*4th
    OPS1.095*1st
    H111t-71st
    XBH54t-26th
    HR28t-20th
    RBI63t-57th
    R83t-18th
    WAR6.04th

    *Trout has not tallied the requisite number of at-bats to qualify for the batting title, so this is where he would rank if he did.

         

    The Case for Mike Trout

    Mike Trout missed 39 games earlier this season with a torn ligament in his thumb, and he's played just 99 games and tallied 444 plate appearances as a result.

    However, as Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight titled his recent article: "Mike Trout Doesn't Need a Full Season to Put Up MVP Numbers"

    The two-time MVP winner has picked up right where he left off since returning from his first career DL stint on July 14. He's on pace for career bests in on-base percentage (.455), slugging percentage (.640) and OPS (1.095) while recording more walks (84) than strikeouts (81).

    Despite a pitching staff that ranks 13th in the majors with a 4.50 starters' ERA and a patchwork bullpen, the Angels are still hanging around in the AL wild-card race.

    There's no chance they sniff contention without Trout.

    Though his counting numbers don't stack up to the other candidates', he's still the unquestioned best player in the game, and that has to count for something.

AL MVP: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    AL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.3144th
    OPS.9413rd
    H170t-5th
    XBH821st
    HR26t-23rd
    RBI73t-38th
    R974th
    WAR5.8t-5th

          

    The Case for Jose Ramirez

    Jose Ramirez came out of nowhere last season to post an .825 OPS with 60 extra-base hits and a 3.9 WAR, earning a 17th-place finish in AL MVP voting and helping lead the Cleveland Indians to the World Series in the process.

    Amid questions of whether that breakout performance was repeatable, he's taken his game to yet another level and emerged as a bonafide superstar.

    The 24-year-old became just the eighth player in Indians history to tally 80 extra-base hits this season.

    He leads the AL with 50 doubles and has more than doubled his home run total from 11 to 26 while raising his OPS over 100 points from .825 to .941.

    "Ramirez is the readiest example of an unheralded player who deserves greater recognition, but it’s hard to find an Indians contributor who is properly appreciated," wrote Gabriel Baumgaertner of Sports Illustrated.

    The Indians' record-setting winning streak is helping bring some overdue attention on the national stage, and that will help Ramirez when it comes to time for the voting.

    Will he wind up splitting votes with Corey Kluber and Francisco Lindor, though? 

AL MVP: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    AL Stat Comparison

     Stats 
    BA.3481st
    OPS.9672nd
    H1901st
    XBH65t-7th
    HR23t-36th
    RBI76t-33rd
    R1002nd
    WAR7.71st

          

    The Case for Jose Altuve

    Jose Altuve was third in AL MVP voting a year ago when he led the AL in hits (216) and won his second AL batting title (.338) while posting a career-best 7.6 WAR.

    The 27-year-old has been even better this season, and as it stands, he has to be considered the front-runner to claim MVP honors in 2017.

    "Everything Altuve is about makes an MVP," manager A.J. Hinch told reporters. "His strength, his consistency, his dominance in a lot of aspects of the game. He really embodies what an MVP is. So I think our guy should win it. … His season has been second-to-none in the American League."

    He's well on his way to a third batting title with a career-high .348 average that gives him a comfortable cushion over Avisail Garcia (.333) and Eric Hosmer (.325).

    He also leads the AL in hits (190)—something he's done each of the past three seasons—and he's on his way to new career bests in home runs (23), on-base percentage (.409), slugging percentage (.559) and OPS (.967).

    For good measure, Altuve has also swiped 31 bases and played a solid second base (3 DRS) for an Astros team that has been in firm control of the AL West all season.

           

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Thursday's games.