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This NL MVP Race Is An Analytic Nerd's Nightmare
This season the AL MVP race was won when the day the season started. Shohei Ohtani currently sits at 10 WAR even with all his injuries. That race is over.
The MLB community is buzzing about the NL MVP race, and frankly, I'm bewildered by the prevailing sentiment. Since the mid-2010s, Wins Above Replacement (WAR) has emerged as the go-to metric for not just the sabermetrics community, but also casual fans. Yet, in my recent Twitter polls concerning Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mookie Betts, the voting leans heavily in favor of Acuña, despite some compelling numbers on Betts' side.
First, let's acknowledge the resurgence of stolen bases, epitomized by Acuña's eye-popping tally of 65. As someone who could do nothing else than run the bases as a little leaguer, I couldn't be happier about this revival. Whether rule changes contributed to Acuña's stats is beside the point; I'm just thrilled it's back in vogue.
But here's where my consternation kicks in. The league and its analysts seem to be shifting their tunes about the importance of stolen bases. Acuña was essentially anointed MVP months ago, celebrated for his unique blend of power and speed. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts has been quietly outperforming him in a myriad of key metrics, all while being part of a slightly less successful team.
Betts bests Acuña in WAR, Slugging Percentage (SLG), On-base Plus Slugging (OPS), and OPS+, which are precisely the metrics that the analytics crowd has been championing for years. To illustrate this, I've compiled a list of MVP winners from the last ten years—excluding the anomalous 2020 season. A common thread runs through these selections, and I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
I'm not an analytics junkie, but I do believe in consistency. Secretly, I’m rooting for Acuña; his dynamism resonates with me. However, I think it's crucial to hold the analytics-focused analysts accountable. If WAR and advanced metrics have been their bread and butter, they should stick to their guns, even if that might crown Betts over Acuña as the NL MVP.
Past Ten MVP Races
2022-Paul Goldschmidt had the second highest war 7.8 behind teammate Nolan Arenado 7.9
2021- Bryce Harper 5.9 WAR, this was good for tenth in the NL that year. He did lead in SLG and OPS. This is probably the best comparison to this season although the highest WAR that year was Zach Wheeler at 7.7
2019- Cody Bellinger 8.6 WAR highest in the league.
2018- Christian Yelich 7.3 WAR, highest for a batter in the league.
2017- Giancarlo Stanton 7.9 WAR, second highest in the league. 0.2 behind the leader.
2016- Kris Bryant 7.3 WAR, highest in the league.
2015- Bryce Harper 9.7 WAR, highest in the league.
2014- Clayton Kershaw 8.2 WAR, highest in the league.
2013- Andrew McCutcheon 7.8 WAR, highest for a batter in the league.
2012- Buster Posey 7.6 WAR, highest in the league.
2022- Aaron Judge 10.6 WAR highest in the league.
2021- Shohei Ohtani 8.9 WAR highest in the league.
2019- Mike Trout 7.9 WAR, third highest in the league. 1.0 behind the leader.
2018- Mookie Betts 10.7 WAR, highest in the league.
2017- Jose Altuve 7.7 WAR, second highest in the league behind Aaron Judge at 8.0.
2016- Mike Trout 10.5 WAR, highest in the league.
2015- Josh Donaldson 7.1 WAR, tied for third highest in the league. 2.5 behind Mike Trout.
2014- Mike Trout 7.7 WAR, highest in the league for a hitter.
2013- Miguel Cabrera 7.5 WAR, second highest in the league. 1.4 behind Mike Trout.
2012- Miguel Cabrera 7.1 WAR, he won Triple Crown yeah, but was 3.4 WAR behind Trout.
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