Ketel Marte: The Dark Horse for MVP

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Since the beginning of the year, two names have dominated in the NL: Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. The two young sluggers are capable of just about anything, even being featured in an All Star Game commercial competing in a baseball version of horse. A quick look at their stats for the year show that both are completely deserving of the recognition:

Their numbers are nearly identical across the board, though Yelich as an edge in stolen bases and power, while Bellinger has better defensive metrics.

Whatever the nuances, these are both excellent players that we’ve had the misfortune of going up against, and one doesn’t need to look hard to find articles on this epic MVP race. They dominate so well that another candidate should be starting to get serious attention, but barely has. For the past couple months, Ketel Marte’s steady success has been turning heads, particularly with his surprise nomination to start at second for the All Star Game. Now he’s on his way to another surprise win: NL MVP.

Ok, that escalated quickly, but then again, Ketel is escalating quickly. He’s currently at third place in NL WAR, and fifth in the majors (FG and BR position players). Now, I’m not saying he’s earned the honor yet. If you look at the stats, these other two are the better players in a number of ways:

He’s a far inferior slugger, walks less, and steals even less than Bellinger, but Marte has a few things going for him that could potentially lead to Arizona’s first MVP.

One of his bigger clear advantages is that he leads the NL in hits, and while he doesn’t match their slugging, he’s great at everything. Twenty one homers is nothing to shrug at, and he’s got them beat on doubles and triples. Unsurprisingly, given that he just set the Dbacks franchise record for consecutive multi-hit games, he leads the Majors in multi-hit games with 42.

As a switch hitter, he’s remarkably consistent: .322 average against lefties and righties, with better slugging from the left, and better on-base capability from the right. Bellinger is definitely a threat from both sides (.341 vs right, .317 vs left), but Yelich is a far more tame .271 against lefties, compared to his monster .372 against righties.

More than consistent though, he’s been improving. After an ok April (.263/.318/.515) and a great May (.309/.369/.582) he’s had a phenomenal June and July. How phenomanel is phennominal (finomanel is difficult to spell)?

Practically unstoppable.

Prefer the WAR view?

That’s our boy sandwiched between a perennial MVP, the reigning MVP, a random letter generator, and the reigning rookie of the year.

His big stand out weakness here is his walks, but look at that K%: in the month of July he has only struck out 5 times. Take that Mike Trout. You suck. (I’m kidding Mike, you genuinely seem like a great human being).

Actually, to keep ragging on Mike Trout, look at Ketel’s defense: 3.4 vs Mike Trout’s 0.7. How long have you been playing center field, Mike? Oh, YOU’RE ENTIRE LIFE? Ketel picked it up overnight. We all know the story, so I won’t get into how incredible that is, but it’s something that should not be taken lightly when voting comes around: he learned his position this season, and even though he alternates frequently with second base, he is still the third highest rated center fielder in baseball.

Now, I may not have convinced anyone except myself he has a chance at this. Christian has been having at least as good a summer as Ketel, and given the history of players not being voted in unless their team makes it to the playoffs, the Dbacks have a long way to go to help him out. But there is one final point that might make a huge difference.

Cody Bellinger started his year as well as anyone has in the last 50 years (according to this ESPN article it was the best April ever). From the article: "He's hitting .427/.500/.913 with 36 RBIs and joins the exclusive club of players with 14 home runs before May 1." There’s no question that he was on pace for a great year. And yet...well, look at his monthly slash lines.

  • April: .416/.505/.843
  • May: .319/.413/.585
  • June: .272/.391/.576
  • July: .259/.388/.667

It’s like Ketel has been stealing Cody’s stats while everyone was looking the other way. That’s still not a player I’m thrilled to have in the batter’s box, but it looks like he’s returning to his rookie year, when he was dangerous but manageable. He’ll make you pay for mistakes, as shown by his still massive slugging percentage, but for now he’s a boom-or-bust player. It’s very possible that he can turn this around and become the MVP, especially if he ends up with more home runs than Christian, but if I was a betting man (I’m all), current trajectories suggest that by the end of the year Christian will be the man to beat, and Ketel will have replaced Cody as his primary contender.