Ranking MLB's Top 10 AL and NL MVP Candidates for 2021 Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2021

Ranking MLB's Top 10 AL and NL MVP Candidates for 2021 Season

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    With less than a month to go in the 2021 MLB season, the American League and National League MVP races are starting to heat up.

    Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are the clear front-runners in the AL race, while Fernando Tatis Jr., Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Max Muncy and Trea Turner appear to be the leading candidates in a more wide-open NL race.

    That said, a lot can still change over the final weeks of the regular season.

    In an effort to mirror the 10-player ballots that will be submitted by the BBWAA when award voting begins, we've ranked our top 10 AL and NL MVP candidates as things stand today based on individual production and each player's role in his team's success.


AL MVP Candidates (Nos. 10-6)

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    Cedric Mullins
    Cedric MullinsRich Schultz/Getty Images

    10. 3B Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox

    Stats: 133 OPS+, 68 XBH (33 HR), 101 RBI, 86 R, 4 SB, 3.5 WAR

    There's an argument to be made for both Devers and teammate Xander Bogaerts in the 10th and final spot on the AL MVP ballot, along with a handful of other standout performers. Still just 24 years old, Devers leads a contending Boston team in OPS+, home runs and RBI.


    9. C Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

    Stats: 129 OPS+, 61 XBH (42 HR), 104 RBI, 73 R, 1 SB, 5.0 WAR

    Perez has already joined an exclusive group of catchers to hit 40 home runs in a season, smashing 21 long balls in 50 games since the All-Star break. The 31-year-old is also tied for fourth in defensive WAR among catchers, and he leads the American League with a 41 percent caught stealing rate behind the plate.


    8. 3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland

    Stats: 141 OPS+, 65 XBH (33 HR), 87 RBI, 92 R, 21 SB, 5.7 WAR

    Another year, another huge second-half performance from Ramirez to thrust him into the AL MVP conversation. He has a .945 OPS with 14 home runs and 35 RBI in 46 games since the All-Star break, and this year he's doing it without Francisco Lindor protecting him in the lineup.


    7. CF Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles

    Stats: 142 OPS+, 64 XBH (27 HR), 54 RBI, 82 R, 26 SB, 5.0 WAR

    A revelation this season for a last-place Orioles team, Mullins has a chance to be the second 30/30 player in franchise history. The 26-year-old was a .225/.290/.342 hitter in 418 plate appearances in the big leagues prior to this year, but he now looks like a long-term building block.


    6. 2B Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays

    Stats: 136 OPS+, 75 XBH (38 HR), 90 RBI, 99 R, 14 SB, 6.4 WAR

    In a bubble, Semien should probably rank higher based on his production this year. However, it's hard to move him any further up the list when he's not the best candidate on his own team. That's the price he pays for playing alongside Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but one that will quickly be forgotten when he cashes in as a free agent this winter.


    Others Receiving Consideration: 1B Jose Abreu (CWS), SS Xander Bogaerts (BOS), 2B Brandon Lowe (TB), 2B Jorge Polanco (MIN)

No. 5 AL MVP Candidate: SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The Houston Astros have a number of players putting up stellar numbers at the plate, from first baseman Yuli Gurriel to second baseman Jose Altuve to right fielder Kyle Tucker to designated hitter Yordan Alvarez.

    However, shortstop Carlos Correa is undoubtedly their top MVP candidate.

    The 26-year-old is hitting .280/.371/.486 with 31 doubles, 22 home runs, 74 RBI and 91 runs scored, and he leads all shortstops leaguewide with 6.2 WAR.

    Aside from his terrific offensive production, he has also been a standout in the field. The two-time All-Star has posted elite defensive metrics (15 DRS, 3.0 UZR/150) while also routinely showing off one of the strongest throwing arms in baseball.

    After struggling to stay healthy early in his career, he has played in 186 of 199 games since the start of the 2020 season, and a hefty payday awaits this offseason.

No. 4 AL MVP Candidate. 1B Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    First baseman Matt Olson has propped up the Oakland Athletics offense this season as one of the most productive middle-of-the-order sluggers in baseball.

    The 27-year-old is hitting .271/.368/.535 with 32 doubles, 32 home runs, 91 RBI and 89 runs scored this year, and his 150 OPS+ trails only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (171) and Shohei Ohtani (157) among qualified AL hitters.

    Olson has taken his offensive game to another level this year thanks in large part to trimming his strikeout rate to a career-low 16.4 percent, down from 26.1 percent for his career entering the 2021 season. He is also walking at a solid 12.4 percent clip.

    Throw in his stellar defense at first base, which has already earned him a pair of Gold Glove Awards, and he is worthy of a top-five spot on AL MVP ballots.

No. 3 AL MVP Candidate. RF Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    In another season where the New York Yankees have dealt with myriad injuries to the starting lineup, Aaron Judge has been a consistent force in the middle of the order.

    The 29-year-old is hitting .294/.380/.530 for a 149 OPS+ with 30 home runs and 75 RBI, and he's batting an impressive .337/.443/.531 with runners in scoring position. He leads the Yankees in OPS+, home runs and RBI.

    While the Yankees posted a 21-8 record in August and clawed their way back into the postseason picture, Judge led the way with a 1.057 OPS, eight home runs and 26 RBI.

    Free agency is looming for the towering slugger after the 2022 season, and as long as he continues to stay healthy and productive, he's setting himself up for a massive contract.

No. 2 AL MVP Candidate. 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    In almost any other year, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be a slam dunk MVP choice.

    The 22-year-old leads the American League in batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.409), OPS (1.016), OPS+ (171), total bases (314), hits (165) and runs scored (107), and he has already tallied 42 home runs and 100 RBI.

    All while he's still younger than 25 players on the current MLB.com Top 100 prospect list.

    Beyond his surface-level numbers, Guerrero's batted-ball data is also extremely impressive. He ranks among the MLB leaders in barrel rate (15.0%, second), average exit velocity (94.9 mph, third) and hard-hit rate (55.5%, fourth).

    The AL Triple Crown is also still within reach.

    He trails Shohei Ohtani by one home run and Salvador Perez and Jose Abreu both by four RBI, and he's been absolutely raking in September with a .412/.459/.676 line and three home runs in eight games.

No. 1 AL MVP Candidate. DH/SP Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    On offensive production alone, Shohei Ohtani would be a clear-cut AL MVP candidate.

    The 27-year-old leads the American League in slugging (.608) and home runs (43), and he has added 23 steals, 93 RBI and 89 runs scored with a 157 OPS+ and 4.3 WAR from his role as the Los Angeles Angels primary designated hitter.

    It's his contributions on the mound that make him a unicorn in today's game and a slam-dunk pick for AL MVP.

    In 20 starts, he's gone 9-1 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 135 strikeouts in 112 innings. He is limiting opposing hitters to a .198 batting average and has six quality starts in seven appearances since he earned the starting nod on the mound in the All-Star Game.

    Major League Baseball has not seen a season like this in a century, and even with the Los Angeles Angels poised to be watching from home in October, Ohtani is a no-brainer for AL MVP honors.

NL MVP Candidates (Nos. 10-6)

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    Willy Adames
    Willy AdamesJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    10. RF Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds

    Stats: 139 OPS+, 63 XBH (27 HR), 79 RBI, 82 R, 2 SB, 3.1 WAR

    Castellanos and teammate Jesse Winker have both missed time this season, otherwise they might both slot even higher in these MVP rankings. The 29-year-old Castellanos had a .969 OPS with 18 home runs before the All-Star break, and he looks poised to exercise his opt-out clause this winter.


    9. CF Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Stats: 141 OPS+, 57 XBH (22 HR), 81 RBI, 78 R, 5 SB, 5.0 WAR

    It's been another long season for the Pirates, but Reynolds is a clear bright spot with 31 doubles, 22 home runs and a 141 OPS+ that is tied for sixth among qualified NL hitters. The 26-year-old has also played a solid center field, and with club control through the 2025 season, he's the new face of the franchise in Pittsburgh.


    8. C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

    Stats: 144 OPS+, 34 XBH (17 HR), 45 RBI, 60 R, 0 SB, 3.0 WAR

    The first-place San Francisco Giants do not have a slam-dunk MVP candidate, but there's no ignoring what Posey has done in his return from opting out of the 2020 season. Almost a decade removed from winning NL MVP honors in 2012, he's hitting .304/.394/.511 in 378 plate appearances while splitting catching duties with Curt Casali to stay fresh.


    7. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

    Stats: 133 OPS+, 51 XBH (29 HR), 74 RBI, 105 R, 8 SB, 3.8 WAR

    The reigning NL MVP is hitting .326/.400/.532 with 10 home runs in 50 games since the All-Star break, stepping up big with Ronald Acuna Jr. sidelined with a torn right ACL. He could wind up splitting votes with teammate Austin Riley among voters who decide to only put one Atlanta Braves player on their ballot, but another top-five balloting finish is possible with a strong September.


    6. SS Willy Adames, Milwaukee Brewers

    Stats: 140 OPS+, 42 XBH (17 HR), 51 RBI, 52 R, 4 SB, 3.2 WAR (since trade from TB)

    The Milwaukee Brewers were a sub-.500 squad when shortstop Willy Adames played his first game with the team on May 22 following a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. They have since gone 65-32 to storm to the top of the NL Central standings, with Adames making an impact similar to Yoenis Cespedes with the New York Mets in 2015.


    Others Receiving Consideration: RF Mookie Betts (LAD), 3B/OF Kris Bryant (CHC/SF), SS Brandon Crawford (SF), LF Tyler O'Neill (STL), 3B Austin Riley (ATL), 3B Justin Turner (LAD), 1B Joey Votto (CIN), LF Jesse Winker (CIN)

No. 5 NL MVP Candidate: 2B/SS Trea Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    With top-of-the-scale speed and elite bat-to-ball skills, Trea Turner is the quintessential leadoff hitter, and he has also seen an uptick in his power production the past two years.

    The 28-year-old is hitting .321/.366/.513 for a 138 OPS+, and he has tallied 29 doubles, a career-high 21 home runs, and an NL-leading 26 steals in 30 attempts. He holds a narrow lead over Nick Castellanos (.317) for the NL batting race, and his 164 hits put him atop the NL leaderboard.

    He also hasn't missed a beat since joining the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline and shifting to second base defensively.

    Since the trade, he's hitting .317/.358/.488 with 15 extra-base hits, five steals and 1.2 WAR in 31 games.

    With a strong finish, he could walk away with the NL batting title and a top-five finish in NL MVP balloting while helping the Dodgers battle for an NL West title.

No. 4 NL MVP Candidate: RF Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    The 2021 season has been an unmitigated disaster for the Washington Nationals, but Juan Soto has quietly continued his rise as one of the game's true superstars.

    He leads all hitters in walks (116) and on-base percentage (.452) by a wide margin, and he's been putting up otherworldly numbers during the second half of the season.

    The 22-year-old is hitting .342/.521/.652 with 14 home runs, 40 RBI and more than twice as many walks (58) as strikeouts (28) in 219 plate appearances since the All-Star break. On the year, he has a 168 OPS+ with 16 doubles, 25 home runs, 82 RBI and 94 runs scored in a 5.6-WAR season.

    He has also handled the shift from left field to right field smoothly, tallying 3 DRS in right field this year after logging minus-8 DRS in left field during the shortened 2020 campaign.

    It could be a long rebuild for Soto and the Nationals, but he is undoubtedly one of the game's elite players.

No. 3 NL MVP Candidate: 1B Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    On a Los Angeles Dodgers roster filled with stars, Max Muncy has been the team's best hitter this season and a sleeper candidate in the NL MVP race.

    The 31-year-old is hitting .257/.381/.538 with 22 doubles and 31 home runs, and with a 14.7 percent walk rate and a 19.6 percent strikeout rate he shown an elite approach at the plate and terrific contact skills to go along with his 30-homer power.

    Muncy has also provided the Dodgers with valuable positional flexibility, lining up at second base (39 games) and third base (seven games) aside from his significant time at first base.

    With a .365/.507/.712 line with runners in scoring position, he has been one of baseball's most clutch hitters, and his 5.4 WAR is already a career-high through 123 games.

    His three-year, $26 million contract is one of the best bargains in baseball.

No. 2 NL MVP Candidate: RF Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Bryce Harper is having his best season since he took home NL MVP honors in 2015, and slowly but surely he's silencing the critics who love to slam the overrated label on his career.

    In the third season of his 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, he is one of just three qualified hitters with a .300/.400/.500 batting line, joining Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Juan Soto.

    He has slugged 30 home runs for his fourth 30-homer season, and his 15.4 percent walk rate trails only Soto (21.1 percent) and Joey Gallo (19.2 percent).

    All of that adds up to an MLB-leading 176 OPS+ in 505 plate appearances for a Phillies team that is clinging to life in the NL wild-card race.

    Still think he's overrated?

No. 1 NL MVP Candidate: SS Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

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    Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

    "He's made 20 errors!"

    There's not a lazier take from fans this year than writing off Fernando Tatis Jr. because of his error total, especially when you consider that 10 of his errors came in the month of April.

    Javy Baez has made the same number of errors and most still consider him an elite defender. Bo Bichette leads the majors with 22 errors and no one is calling for him to be held in less regard as a result of that total. In truth, errors are an archaic way to judge a player's defensive ability.

    Even with those 20 errors, Tatis has been a 5.9-WAR player this year, which speaks to just how impressive he has been offensively.

    He has a 172 OPS+ with an NL-leading 36 home runs in 107 games, and he's also swiped 24 bases in 27 attempts while tallying 86 RBI and 90 runs scored.

    The Padres have moved him to the outfield to protect his injured shoulder, and after their second-half swoon, he'll be instrumental in the team securing a playoff spot down the stretch. If the Padres get a wild-card berth, it should cement Tatis as NL MVP.


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