The top slot was clear. The rest was muddled.
Voting for MVP in 2020 took on a new form of grappling with the word “valuable.” The coronavirus pandemic changed everything for players on the field and everyone off of it. No fans in the stands, different travel, daily protocols disrupting daily routine.
In the end, the three finalists -- Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and Manny Machado -- were hard to quibble with. They played a lot, exceedingly well and for winning teams (which some voters treat as a factor).
The main question was what to do with Juan Soto. He dominated offensively but played just 47 games. He finished fifth overall.
Freeman won his first MVP award 11 years into a career filled with consistency and torturing the Nationals. Betts finished second following his first season in Los Angeles and Machado finished third thanks to a big season in San Diego. Fernando Tatis Jr. was fourth.
Every year I vote for MVP or the Cy Young, I try to point out two overarching ideas:
First, voters take this very seriously. You labor over it and worry that you are doing your best, most fair job. I’ve gone 20 categories deep to determine a position in the past.
Second, MVP voting will always be subjective to a degree. This is part of the information you are greeted with when going to fill out your ballot: “There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.”
With those things in mind, here’s my 2020 National League MVP ballot:
1. Freddie Freeman
2. Mookie Betts
3. Juan Soto
4. Manny Machado
5. Marcell Ozuna
6. Fernando Tatis Jr.
7. Mike Yastrzemski
8. Trevor Story
9. Trea Turner
10. Trevor Bauer
To me, Freeman was a clear winner. And that’s most important: who actually wins the award. They will forever be the MVP and it’s crucial to get that right.
From there, things immediately became trickier. The 2-4 spots are essentially interchangeable. Perhaps even 2-6. Soto’s enormous offensive season -- even in a reduced number of games -- narrowly made him a finalist for me. Machado’s position and ability to play 60 games closed that gap to a minimal width. However, I thought Soto’s offensive output was so stunning, it deserved to be recognized among the finalists. He just should not be the winner or ahead of someone so far in front of him defensively at an equivalent position.
Whether a player is on a winning team has no bearing on my votes. Soto can’t pitch, so why penalize him when a staff flounders? Baseball is an individual sport. The under-performance of teammates should not be used to demean the superior solo performance. In fact, an argument can be made it’s more difficult to maintain a superlative season -- not give away at-bats, stay up daily -- when the overall team is a mess.
So, I did not penalize Soto for the Nationals’ 2020 step off the cliff.
Ozuna’s poor defense is the largest counter to his candidacy. Tatis tailed off hard in September (.208 batting average, .311 OBP). Story’s numbers are always skewed by Coors Field (.958 OPS at home, .792 road).
At the back end, I thought Trea Turner deserved a piece of recognition since he became one of the hottest hitters in the major leagues for a month, which was half the season in 2020.
So, there you have it.