Nationals

What are Juan Soto’s chances of winning NL MVP?

Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Davey Martinez kicked up his campaigning on Thursday by saying Juan Soto and Trea Turner deserve a hefty amount of National League MVP votes.

His comments are (mostly) right and expected. Soto and Turner kept his team offensively afloat this season. Soto, frighteningly, appears to be improving at the plate. Turner had the kind of breakout season his broad skill set suggested was possible. So, what are their National League MVP chances? Let’s look at the contenders (with numbers coming into Friday):

Juan Soto

.351 batting average (1st in NL) .487 OBP (1) .703 slugging percentage (1) 1.189 OPS (1) 214 OPS-plus (1) bWAR: 2.0 (12) fWAR: 2.2 (10)

Overview: Soto leads the National League in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS-plus. He also leads Major League Baseball in the latter three categories. There is one distinct number working against Soto’s candidacy: 44. That is the number of games he played this season because of a coronavirus test outcome he believes was a false-positive. The test will likely cost him the MVP award because it’s the sole reason for lost time.

“I can’t change it, so I can’t be mad about it,” Soto said. “I’ve just got to be the same guy. I don’t mind the time I lost, I just tried to do my job whenever I came back. If it happens, it’s because God wants [it] to, so I can’t complain on that.”

The lack of games played pushes Soto to outside the top 10 in bWAR (though he leads in offensive bWAR) and to 10th in fWAR. Both formulas have heavily penalized his defense this season.

 

He does lead the league in wOBA (weighted on base average) and wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), two of the primary offensive stats used in advanced analytics.

One other thing that may end up working against Soto, but should not, is he played on a last-place team. Penalizing an individual hitter for his team’s inability to pitch, rampant injuries or his teammates’ lack of hitting is an archaic trope. What matters is what each individual can control. There is also an argument that it is more difficult for a player on a losing team to have a good season because human nature would allow easier disengagement in that setting.

So, don’t expect Soto to win despite dominating numbers. But do expect him as a finalist.

Freddie Freeman

.338 batting average (2) .456 OBP (2) .628 slugging percentage (3) 1.084 OPS (2) 181 OPS-plus (2) bWAR: 2.6 (6) fWAR: 3.1 (1)

Overview: The jovial Freeman is again putting together another superb season, and, again, much of it is coming at the Nationals’ expense. Freeman finished the season with a 1.379 OPS against Washington, his highest against any opponent by almost 200 points. His consistency remains his hallmark. This year, his ability with runners in scoring position is a positive blip on top of his standard production. Freeman has a 1.451 OPS in those situations.

Mookie Betts

.293 batting average (16) .363 OBP (21) .567 slugging percentage (10) .930 OPS (12) 150 OPS-plus bWAR: 3.2 (1) fWAR: 2.8 (2)

Overview: Betts’ candidacy is anchored in his WAR numbers, which are bolstered by his excellent defense. Otherwise, his offense is among the upper-tier in the league without being at the elite level of Soto, Freeman and others.

And, if team wins matter to a voter, Betts is an integral part of the league’s best team.

Fernando Tatís Jr.

.278 batting average (27) .369 OBP (20) .561 slugging percentage (12) .930 OPS (14) 154 OPS-plus (11) bWAR: 2.4 (6) fWAR: 2.8 (3)

Overview: If fun-to-watch was a voting influence, Tatís Jr.’s candidacy would be more of a factor.

Like Betts, his WAR numbers received a large boost from his defense. Shortstops will always crush outfielders in this metric. However, the formula for defensive WAR remains much more in question than the offensive number. And, Tatís has tailed off of late (.650 OPS in September).

Manny Machado

.312 batting average (10) .377 OBP (14) .600 slugging percentage (7) .977 OPS (7) 166 OPS-plus (6) bWAR: 2.9 (2) fWAR: 2.7 (4)

Overview: Most of the chatter in San Diego surrounded Tatís Jr. for much of the season. But the old man -- Machado is now 28 years old -- is having the better season.

Machado has finished ninth, fifth and fourth in MVP voting in his career. All those seasons were with Baltimore. Here, he could finish among the top three and be a finalist for the first time.

Trea Turner

.335 batting average (3) .394 OBP (9) .575 slugging percentage (9) .969 OPS (8) 156 OPS-plus (T10) bWAR: 2.1 (9) fWAR: 2.4 (6)

Overview: Turner’s August rampage (1.164 OPS) pushed him into this conversation. He cooled in September and now finds himself in a space of likely finishing in the top 5 of MVP voting for the first time in his career.