Paul Goldschmidt is good. Really good. But us D'backs fans already knew that. It's a matter of making sure everyone else knows it, too.
But could this year be different? Goldy might be having the (arguably) best season of his career. The Dbacks are likely playoff bound for the first time since 2011 despite being afterthoughts in the preseason. How does Goldy compare with the rest of the NL?
Let's Start With WAR
I know that some people still have their hangups with WAR, but when it comes to looking at a player's overall, relative value, it's a pretty convenient starting place. Let's look at the NL leaderboards, on both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference. Here is a ranking of the NL top-10 in average fWAR and bWAR [(fWAR + bWAR)/2]:
NL WAR Leaderboards
Goldy ranks right up there at the top, sandwiched between two Nationals. And I think this gives us a pretty conclusive list of the potential MVP candidates as of right now. In my mind, we can eliminate Kershaw (Injury), Turner (injury), and Blackmon (too far away) from the MVP candidate list. But with everyone else on the list, you can make a pretty compelling argument for their MVP candidacy. Let's take a look at Goldy and how he matches up with the rest of the pack.
Past NL MVP Winners
First, let's see how the voters have been voting:
NL MVPs, 2010-2016
Note: the WAR and dWAR figures are both taken from Baseball-Reference.com for simplicity.
I cut the table off at 2010 because the trends don't change. There are four takeaways from the MVP vote:
- Pitchers don't win the award unless the circumstances are truly extreme (Kershaw was first pitcher to win NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968).
- Offense is, by far, the main factor in MVP voting (the last NL MVP with a dWAR higher than 1.0 was Jimmy Rollins in 2007)
- You pretty much need to make the playoffs
- The story matters
Sorry Max Scherzer, you're having a great season, but there are too many good position players and you're not having a truly "special" pitching season (though, still amazing), so you're probably not winning the NL MVP this season. I'm taking you off the list. The list, now:
- Paul Goldschmidt
- Anthony Rendon
- Corey Seager
- Brycer Harper
- Joey Votto
- Nolan Arenado
Good! We're making some headway. Let's now look at the third takeaway: You need to make the playoffs. Bryce Harper won the NL MVP in 2015 despite the Nationals not making the playoffs; however, he also had a monster 198 OPS. When compared to the offensive seasons of the recent NL MVPs, Harper's 2015 really stands out.
Unfortunately for Joey Votto, the Reds poor play this year will doom him from his second career MVP award. He is having a great offensive season - his 168 OPS+ leads the NL - but it's not by enough to overcome the playoff deficit. Sorry Joey.
This now leaves us with 5 likely candidates: Goldy, Rendon, Seager, Harper, and Arenado. Let's take a deeper dive.
The voters love themselves some homers and RBIs, but they are not the defining element for MVP selection, at least in this millennium. I'm gonna take a broad look at the offensive ranks for these 5 players in OPS+ and the counting stats: batting average, R, HR, and RBI. I determined each player's rank in the relative stats and then took the average of their ranks (lower, in this case, is better):
NL Batting Leaders
|Player||OPS+ Rank||BA Rank||R Rank||HR Rank||RBI Rank||Avg|
|Player||OPS+ Rank||BA Rank||R Rank||HR Rank||RBI Rank||Avg|
Please do note that this ranking system is very arbitrary and I'm using it as mostly a point of comparison. But I think it allows us to draw a pretty simple conclusion: offensively speaking, Paul Goldschmidt and Bryce Harper are having better offensive seasons than the other three. Keep in mind that Arenado also has the "Coors effect" which will further dilute his numbers. Don't get me wrong, Arenado, Rendon, and Seager are all having fantastic seasons, but when it comes to offense and the numbers that voters tend to like, they are quite a ways behind Goldy and Harper.
Now he's the last part of the MVP puzzle and of course, the hardest to quantify. All five of my remaining candidates are very likely to be playoff bound. But what about their story or narrative?
Let's go back to the prior MVP list to see if I can craft some recognizable narratives:
- 2011: Braun helps lead the Brewers to first ever NL Central title
- 2012: Posey returns from freak leg injury and becomes first catcher to win NL batting title in 70 years
- 2013: McCutchen leads the Pirates to 94-68 record - their first winning season since 1992 - ending the Pirates streak of 20 straight losing seasons, the longest stretch in North American professional sports history
- 2014: Kershaw has an exceptional year with his 21-3 record. The Dodgers went 21-4 in games Kershaw started and 70-67 in all other games.
- 2015: Bryce Harper posts monster offensive season (198 OPS+) and becomes youngest unanimous MVP at age 23
- 2016: Kris Bryant and something about the Cubs having the best record in baseball
Now, keep in mind, some stories are better than others. McCutchen's in 2013 was a HUGE deal. Posey in 2012, at the time, was a pretty big story, too. Inversely, the stories for Kris Bryant and Ryan Braun are a bit less compelling, though still a "good story" (other than no one likes the Brewers or Braun).
So where does that leave us, story-wise this year? Well, I can come up with two:
Diamondbacks and/or Rockies defy preseason expectations and make playoffs
This is a pretty good story for Goldy and Nolan Arenado. Both the Diamondbacks and Rockies had pretty much non-existent playoff odds coming into the season and now both teams are strong favorites to make the Wild Card. I would consider this to be a very large factor in voting for Goldy and Arenado.
Dodgers tie/break all-time wins record
This is the story that we, as Goldy fans, need to be concerned with. If the Dodgers continue this insane streak of theirs, I think this MVP discussion is going to swing back around to the Dodgers. Seager finished third in NL MVP voting last year and he'll certainly draw his fair share of votes this year. Setting a new MLB record (as a team) would really heighten his case. I think that even Kershaw could sneak back in here, even if he misses 4-6 weeks.
As for the Nationals, I can't really find a good story for them. Record-wise, they're not much better than AZ/COL. They play in a terrible division and have several stars on their team. I think this really hurts the stories for Rendon and Scherzer, though Bryce Harper still has the name recognition, hype, and offensive numbers to still possibly swing the MVP.
So Who is the MVP?
I need to make one caveat: there is still about a month and a half of baseball left and things can change. I am making this observation as I see them right now.
This might be the most subjective post I'll ever write, but I really wanted to talk about Paul Goldschmidt. The quality of the season he's having, in addition to the turnaround success of the Dbacks, is still flying under-the-radar and I want him to be appreciated more.
If I had to pick, right now, I think that the NL MVP would be between Goldy and Harper. They both are among the offensive leaders across the board in the NL, including the stats voters love. Goldy has a good story attached to his season while Harper has the name recognition and bigger market. At this point, I think I would give Goldy the edge.
Things can and will change over the last 50 or so games. I think Arenado is a good dark horse for MVP, especially if he runs away with the RBI title and the Rockies finish strong. Scherzer and Seager could have amazing stretch runs that edge the story in their favor.
But right now, I think it is Goldy's to lose. Goldy needs to have a strong finish and the Dbacks HAVE to make the playoffs if Goldy is going to have any shot at the MVP. In the past, Goldy has struggled, relatively, in August (130 wRC+) and September (133 wRC+). Right now, Goldy has a 245 wRC+ in August. Is this the year that he bucks the trend and takes home the NL MVP?