Nationals

Soto, Tatis Jr. headlining NL MVP race

Nationals
USA Today Sports Images

In a 60-game season (if all teams even get there), it is never too early to analyze data and that includes the MVP conversation. Though the 2020 MLB season opened less than one month ago, most teams have already played more than a third of their games. By next weekend, it will be the halfway point. So, it's not too early.

And already, when it comes to National League MVP, a few players have separated themselves. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto, both just 21, are proving the future of the game is in good hands.

Here is a look at the early NL MVP favorites...

Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres 24 G, .305/.383/.726, 11 HR, 28 RBI, 22 R, 5 SB, 11 BB, 31 SO, 1.6 WAR

Tatis has been the on-field story of the MLB season so far. He is a 6-foot-3 shortstop with five tools, in the mold of guys like Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Correa. And he has so far delivered on the hype that preceded him as a super prospect. He leads the majors in home runs and RBI (by five).

If Tatis were to keep this up, he could become the youngest MVP in baseball history. That distinction belongs to Vida Blue, who won the award at Age 22 while playing for the Athletics in 1971. Baseball is trending younger and younger, and Tatis winning MVP would be a coronation of the youth movement.

Juan Soto, LF, Nationals 12 G, .409/.490/.955, 7 HR, 15 RBI, 14 R, SB, 6 BB, 5 SO, 0.9 WAR

 

Soto has some catching up to do in terms of his power numbers, due to the fact he started the season late because of a positive coronavirus test, but he is well on his way. With seven homers, 15 RBI and 14 R in only 12 games, he has quickly vaulted himself into the discussion. Soto was already one of the best players in baseball, but appears to be making another leap with key metrics like strikeout rate, which he's cut in half from last year, and isolated power, which he has doubled, suggesting he has improved.

What could help Soto's cause is his outsized value to the Nationals. There is no question who their best player is, not unlike the 2015 season when Bryce Harper took home MVP with the Nats. And with injuries piling up, like to Stephen Strasburg, the Nats need Soto's production more than ever.

Charlie Blackmon, RF, Rockies 22 G, .437/.479/.644, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 19 R, 0 SB, 8 BB, 13 SO, 1.3 WAR

Blackmon is getting a lot of hype early this season due to his batting average, which has him situated as the most likely player to potentially carry a .400 batting average over the course of the truncated season. If he, or anyone else, bats .400 it will set forth a lifetime of debates over whether it was legitimate or not. The last .400 hitter was Ted Williams in 1941. He hit .406.

It would be interesting, though, to see if batting .400 would be enough to lock up the MVP award. At this point, it looks like he could be trailing in power numbers, most notably home runs of which he only has three. Maybe he can fix that playing at Coors Field.

Mookie Betts, RF, Dodgers 23 G, .319/.374/.681, 9 HR, 21 RBI, 19 R, 2 SB, 7 BB, 14 SO, 2.0 WAR

Betts and the Dodgers have so far proven to be a great fit. He is thriving both at the plate and on defense, currently leading the majors in wins above replacement. He is hitting for power, for average and is doling out highlight reel plays with his arm in right field. 

Working in Betts' favor is the Dodgers' lineup, which will boost his runs and runs batted in numbers. He is also likely to get plenty of national attention playing on arguably baseball's best team. And he already has an MVP trophy on his mantle, having won in 2018. If the season ended today, Betts would probably get his second one.

J.T. Realmuto, C, Phillies 16 G, .300/.354/.717, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 13 R, 0 SB, 5 BB, 17 SO, 1.0 WAR

It is generally very difficult for catchers to win MVP. In the AL, Joe Mauer (2009) is the only catcher to win the award in the last 20 years. In the NL, Buster Posey (2012) is the only MVP backstop since Johnny Bench in 1972. They usually don't play enough games and when they do they get beat up, to the point where defense and calling games are often prioritized over offense.

In a short season, though, the workload concerns might not be as prevalent. Everyone is benefitting from a small sample size. And so far, Realmuto is playing like an MVP with a 1.071 OPS and power numbers that rank among the best in the league.

 

Nick Castellanos, RF, Reds 20 G, .267/.353/.680, 8 HR, 19 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB, 8 BB, 25 SO, 0.6 WAR

A free agent signing in the offseason, Castellanos is off to a torrid start, especially in home runs where he ranks third in the National League. His current pace may be relatively sustainable, too. Consider the fact that last year after getting traded to the Cubs, he slugged 16 homers in 51 games to close the season. Castellanos is no stranger to being an outlier in small sample sizes.

What will determine Castellanos' MVP fate if the current course continues is his average and strikeouts. He's batting .267, which is lower than any position player MVP-winner since Marty Marion in 1944, who took the crown despite also batting .267.