The dog days of August are about to give way to the pennant chases of September. As the playoff picture comes into focus, so do the postseason award races. Let’s take a look at the top contenders, starting with National League Most Valuable Player. I’ll rank them in ascending order of likelihood to win the award.
5. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt has probably been the second-best position player in the NL this year. He’s batting .326/.442/.567 with 26 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and good defense. He’s transitioning from a good player toiling in relative obscurity to one of the game’s great superstars. So why isn’t he higher on this list? Because one guy has a higher batting average, higher OBP, higher slugging percentage, more home runs, and plays on a team with a better record. He’ll collect a lot of second-place votes, but there’s just no avenue for Goldschmidt to ride to the award.
4. Buster Posey, Giants
Posey already owns an MVP, a Rookie of the Year Award, and three World Series rings. He’s batting .313/.371/.471 and playing well at the most important position on the diamond. The Giants are winning again and Posey is their face, at least on the offensive side of the ball. It would probably take a postseason push (which looks less likely after this weekend) and a fade from the guys ahead of him on this list, but Posey could be in line for some more hardware.
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
We talk a lot about Mike Trout having been the most valuable player, or close to it, each of the last four seasons. While his numbers are a little more earthbound, the same could be said of McCutchen, who won the award in 2013 and might have won it in in ’14 if the voters weren’t looking for a new angle. He’s a contender again in 2015, hitting .305/.406/.522 with 20 homers, seven stolen bases, and his typical solid work in center field. Perhaps most importantly, he’s the only one of the NL’s five 5-WAR position players (per fangraphs) whose team would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
2. Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Fielding-independent pitching metrics prefer another Dodgers pitcher, but run prevention says Greinke has been not only the best pitcher in the game, but the most valuable player in the National League (his 8.2 WAR per Baseball Reference top the next guy by .2 wins). The 14-3 won-loss record might not ring as loudly with today’s voters as it would have in years past, but a 1.61 ERA reverberates all over the country. Greinke’s 164 strikeouts and 31 walks are good for a 5.29-to-1 ratio, better than his 4.75 figure when he won the Al Cy Young in 2009, with a 2.16 ERA. The Dodgers are in first place as well, so if it feels like we’re watching the same movie we watched last year, we may be in for another predictable Hollywood ending.
1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
Before the Nationals decided they weren’t interested in winning the NL East, this seemed like a forgone conclusion. Even after falling off some in the second half, Harper’s .332/.458/.652 line far exceeds that of any contender in either league (Miguel Cabrera’s 188 wRC+ is the closest in either league to Harper’s 195, and no one else in the L is over 173). He’s clubbed 31 homers, he’s a good baserunner and a good defender, and he fills the narrative of breaking out after (somewhat ridiculously) being considered for the past few seasons. The only thing standing between Harper and his first MVP is his fading team.
Harper’s season feels a bit like Jacoby Ellsbury’s in 2011. He looks like the best position player in the league, and he continues to excel while his teammates crumble around him, so the pitcher with striking numbers starts to look better and better to the voters. His saving grace may be the absence of a Jose Bautista having arguably as good a season with the bat and splitting the votes from voters who would rather not give a pitcher both major awards.
Honorable Mentions: Clayton Kershaw, AJ Pollock, Joey Votto