Power-Ranking Every NL MVP Season Since 2000

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2020

Power-Ranking Every NL MVP Season Since 2000

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    Every MVP award is special. Each player who earns one gets to call himself an MVP winner for the rest of his career and beyond.

    But not all MVP seasons are created equal.

    Sometimes, the vote is a no-doubt rubber stamp on an unimpeachably excellent season. Other times, the result is closer and/or more controversial. It's a subjective exercise based partially on stats but also the whims and biases of voters.

    Let's glance back at the last 20 National League MVP winners (you can read our American League rundown here) and rank them by how statistically dominant they were during the season in question.

    We used Baseball Reference's WAR calculation as a guide but not a be-all, end-all. We also considered how much each player helped his team win and added a dash of subjectivity.

    All of these guys were good—but some were better than others.

                     

    Note: Two players⁠—Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols⁠—have won seven MVPs combined since 2000, so the list contains 15 different names.

20. SS Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies, 2007

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    George Widman/Associated Press

    Stat line: .296/.344/.531, 30 HR, 41 SB, 6.1 WAR

    Vote points: 353

    Jimmy Rollins won this in a squeaker, garnering 16 first-place votes compared to 11 for Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday and five for Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder.

    Holliday's offensive numbers were better than Rollins' almost across the board, and the Rockies won 90 games and wound up charging to the World Series as a wild card.

    Lower down the voting chart, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (7.6 WAR), New York Mets third baseman David Wright (8.3 WAR) and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (8.7 WAR) were largely ignored, with zero first-place votes between them. 

    Ultimately, voters rewarded Rollins, who flashed speed and power at a premium position for the NL East-winning Philadelphia Phillies.

19. 1B Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006

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    RUSTY KENNEDY/Associated Press

    Stat line: .313/.425/.659, 58 HR, 149 RBI, 5.2 WAR

    Vote points: 388

    After winning National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2005, Ryan Howard powered his way to an NL MVP trophy with an MLB-leading 58 home runs for the Phillies in 2006.

    Pujols (8.5 WAR) swatted 49 homers and had a superior slash line (.331/.431/.671), and the Cardinals won the NL Central (albeit with a modest 83 wins), while the Phils missed the playoffs.

    Despite those factors, Howard's fence-clearing explosion was enough to sway voters.

18. 2B Jeff Kent, San Francisco Giants, 2000

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    Stat line: .334/.424/.596, 33 HR, 125 RBI, 7.2 WAR

    Vote points: 392

    Jeff Kent wasn't even the most valuable player on the San Francisco Giants in 2000. That title belonged to Bonds, who would go on to win the prize four straight times beginning in '01 (more on that later).

    Bonds' OPS was more than 100 points higher than Kent's (1.127 to 1.021), and he posted 7.7 WAR to Kent's 7.2.

    Still, the Giants second baseman enjoyed a stellar year en route to winning the only MVP award of his excellent career.

17. 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds, 2010

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Stat line: .324/.424/.600, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 7.0 WAR

    Vote points: 443

    Joey Votto was an on-base machine in 2010 for the Cincinnati Reds, pacing baseball with a .424 OBP to go with 37 home runs and 36 doubles for the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds.

    Votto also led the Senior Circuit in slugging percentage (.600) and OPS (1.024).

    He made his first All-Star team and was a near-unanimous MVP pick that year despite being edged in WAR by NL cohorts Pujols (7.5) and Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay (8.3).

16. LF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 2011

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Stat line: .332/.397/.597, 33 HR, 33 SB, 111 RBI, 7.7 WAR

    Vote points: 388

    Ryan Braun led the NL in slugging (.597) and OPS (.994) in 2011 while swatting 33 home runs and stealing 33 bases for the Milwaukee Brewers.

    He received 20 first-place votes compared to 10 for second-place MVP finisher Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite having a lower WAR than both Kemp (8.0) and Halladay (8.6).

    In 2013, after playing just 61 games, Braun was suspended for the remainder of the season under MLB's performance-enhancing drug policy, casting his MVP season under a cloud of suspicion.

15. CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2013

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Stat line: .317/.404/.508, 21 HR, 27 SB, 7.8 WAR

    Vote points: 409

    Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt bested Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen in home runs (36 to 21), RBI (125 to 84) and OPS (.952 to .911) in 2013.

    But McCutchen flashed a plus combination of speed and power at a premium position as the Bucs won 94 games and grabbed the top NL wild-card slot, while Goldschmidt's D-backs finished a ho-hum 81-81 and missed the playoffs.

    McCutchen got all but two first-place votes, with those going to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.

14. 3B/OF Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs, 2016

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Stat line: .292/.385/.554, 39 HR, 102 RBI, 7.3 WAR

    Vote points: 415

    To say Kris Bryant had a good year in 2016 is like saying the Chicago Cubs had a brief interlude between championships.

    After winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, Bryant grabbed a near-unanimous NL MVP (Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy got the one stray first-place vote) and helped the Cubbies bust their infamous 108-year World Series drought.

    He also capably played both third base and the outfield, adding defensive versatility to his impressive resume.

13. OF Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers, 2018

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Stat line: .326/.402/.598, 36 HR, 110 RBI, 22 SB, 7.3 WAR

    Vote points: 415

    After an offseason trade sent him from the Marlins to the Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich made the jump from good player to elite star.

    He won the NL batting title with a .326 average, led the Senior Circuit in slugging percentage (.598) and OPS (1.000), swatted 36 home runs and flashed plus speed with 22 stolen bases.

    Yelich improved on many of those numbers in 2019, though a late-season knee injury and an exemplary season by the Los Angeles Dodgers' Cody Bellinger cost him a second consecutive MVP.

12. C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, 2012

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    Brad Mangin/Getty Images

    Stat line: .336/.408/.549, 24 HR, 103 RBI, 7.6 WAR

    Vote points: 422

    After suffering a horrific, season-ending knee injury on a home-plate collision in 2011, catcher Buster Posey rebounded big time in 2012.

    The Giants backstop won the NL batting title with a .336 average and set career bests in home runs (24) and RBI (103) while guiding San Francisco to the postseason and, ultimately, the franchise's second of three even-year titles.

    Braun got three first-place votes and Molina got two, but this was an obvious choice.

11. RF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Stat line: .281/.376/.631, 59 HR, 132 RBI, 8.0 WAR

    Vote points: 302

    In the closest MVP race of the decade, this one was a virtual dead heat between the Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton and the Reds' Votto.

    Votto bested Stanton in average (.320 to .281), on-base percentage (.454 to .376) and OPS (1.032 to 1.007). Both the Reds and Marlins finished under .500 and well out of the postseason, so that factor was off the table.

    Each player received 10 first-place votes, but Stanton won narrowly with 302 total points to Votto's 300.

    Either way, Stanton flexed his enormous power with 59 home runs and put together easily the best season of his career.

10. LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2014

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Stat line: 198.1 IP, 239 SO, 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 8.2 WAR

    Vote points: 355

    In 2014, Clayton Kershaw became the first pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968 to win NL MVP honors.

    He did it by dominating over 27 starts, pacing baseball in ERA (1.77), WHIP (0.86) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.8).

    Stanton got eight first-place votes and McCutchen got four. But unless you're fundamentally opposed to a hurler ever taking home an MVP, Kershaw deserved all 18 first-place votes he received and then some.  

9. 1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2005

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Stat line: .330/.430/.609, 41 HR, 117 RBI, 8.4 WAR

    Vote points: 378

    The first of Albert Pujols' three MVPs came in 2005, when he hit .330 with a 1.039 OPS and an NL-leading 129 runs scored for the St. Louis Cardinals.

    He got some competition from Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones, who hit 51 home runs that year and got 13 first-place votes to Pujols' 18.

    At age 25, Pujols had already established himself as a perennial All-Star and one of the game's elite hitters, but the best was yet to come.

8. 1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Stat line: .357/.462/.653, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 9.2 WAR

    Vote points: 369

    Pujols' second MVP came in 2008, when he led baseball in slugging percentage (.653), OPS (1.114) and total bases (342).

    Howard hit 48 home runs and tallied 146 RBI that year and managed to get 12 first-place votes to Pujols' 18, despite having an OPS (.881) that was more than 230 points lower.

    That aside, this was peak Pujols—though he wasn't done yet.

7. 1B/OF Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2019

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Stat line: .305/.406/.629, 47 HR, 115 RBI, 9.1 WAR

    Vote points: 362

    After winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2017 and putting in a solid sophomore campaign, Bellinger elevated his game in 2019, his age-23 season.

    Bellinger smacked 47 homers, posted a 1.035 OPS, led the Senior Circuit with 351 total bases and won a Gold Glove for his play in right field while also logging innings in center field and at first base.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers didn't hoist their first Commissioner's Trophy since 1988, but they certainly confirmed they had their next superstar.

6. RF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Stat line: .330/.460/.649, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 9.7 WAR

    Vote points: 420

    Bryce Harper went supernova in his fourth big league season with the Washington Nationals. At age 22, he led baseball with a .460 on-base percentage, .649 slugging percentage and a 1.109 OPS.

    Harper also paced the NL with 42 homers and 118 runs scored and appeared poised to unlock the next level of superstardom.

    He's never matched those colossal numbers since, though considering he's still only 27 years old, there's time for an encore.

5. 1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2009

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Stat line: .327/.443/.658, 47 HR, 135 RBI, 9.7 WAR

    Vote points: 448

    This was Pujols at the apex of his powers and the only time he garnered (deservedly) every first-place vote.

    In his age-29 season, he led baseball in runs (124), home runs (47), slugging percentage (.658), OPS (1.101) and total bases (374) and was easily the most feared hitter in either league.

    He'd enjoy two more excellent seasons with St. Louis before signing a megadeal with the Angels and tumbling toward a late-career decline. Here, he was on the mountaintop.

4-1. LF Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001-04

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    JOHN G. MABANGLO/Getty Images

    Stat lines: 

    • 2001 (.328/.515/.863, 73 HR, 137 RBI, 11.9 WAR)
    • 2002 (.370/.582/.799, 46 HR, 110 RBI, 11.7 WAR)
    • 2003 (.341/.529/.749, 45 HR, 90 RBI, 9.2 WAR)
    • 2004 (.362/.609/.812, 45 HR, 101 RBI, 10.6 WAR)

    Vote points: 

    • 2001 (438)
    • 2002 (448)
    • 2003 (426)
    • 2004 (407)

    First, let's get this out of the way: All of Bonds' records and career accomplishments are tainted by performance-enhancing drug accusations. He wasn't the only player connected to PEDs, but no one shattered as many records or put up as many otherworldly stats as the San Francisco Giants left fielder.

    If we simply look at the numbers, though, Bonds' run from 2001 to 2004, when he won four straight NL MVPs, is jaw-dropping.

    In '01, he broke the single-season record with 73 home runs and led baseball with a 1.379 OPS—and that might not have been his best campaign of the four.

    Consider 2002, when he won a batting title with a .370 average, hit 46 home runs and posted a .582 on-base percentage. Or 2004, when he put up an absurd .609 OBP and hit 45 home runs despite being walked 232 times, 120 of them intentionally.

    If we're ranking Bonds' post-2000 MVP seasons, it goes:

    4. 2003

    3. 2004

    2. 2001

    1. 2002

    Really, though, they have to be taken together. They also had to be seen to be believed. And even then, it was all pretty unbelievable.

                           

    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.