Ronald Acuna being a MVP candidate isn’t exactly a new concept. Had he not lost some 15 games because of injury from last season, he most-likely would have been a finalist for the award alongside teammate Freddie Freeman. This year, he has been arguably the most exciting player in the sport. Acuna was on-fire to start the season and has slightly tapered off average-wise, but has otherwise maintained his torrid pace. But where does he stack up next to some of the other MVP candidates in the National League? There are three major candidates for this prestigious award, and all of them are deserving of the award.
While Acuna has been a walking highlight reel for the South’s favorite team, Fernando Tatis Jr.
has been a playmaker on the west coast. And up in the north east, Jacob DeGrom has been putting up pitching numbers not seen since the deadball era a century ago. So which of these great players have made the strongest case for MVP? Let’s take a look!
Ronald Acuna Jr. – OF – Atlanta Braves
Inarguably the greatest offensive force at the leadoff spot in the NL, Acuna Jr. leads the league in runs and stolen bases despite having the physical profile of a slugging cleanup hitter. He slashes .285/.390/.597 and has a BAbip (batting average on balls in play) of .308, which means Acuna Jr.’s batting average is hardly a fluke. He is striking out at a career-low rate (22.7 percent) but is also walking less than last year (but still at a higher rate than his career 11.7 at 13.6).
The right fielder leads the team in RBI’s despite batting leadoff, in home runs, and OBP. Defensively, Acuna Jr. is somewhere between average and slightly-below average according to statistics on Fangraphs and Baseball Savant. If there is one thing MVP voters have shown in the past with the great Mike Trout, it is that they will overlook non-superstar level defense if a player puts up stats with his bat. And when it comes to offensive production, Acuna Jr. has few peers. While the Braves are floundering at 30-34 heading into the midway point of the season, Ronald Acuna Jr. is the last reason for their losing record.
If there is one hole voters can poke in his candidacy, it is the potency of his teammates. Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies are arguably the best first and second basemen in the league, and Austin Riley has played like an all-star at third base after frustrating Atlanta fans for the last two years. Teams don’t exactly have a good reason to pitch around Acuna Jr when that collection of bats lies behind him.
Fernando Tatis Jr. – SS – San Diego Padres
If social media were the sole judge of who were to win the MVP, Acuna Jr. and Tatis Jr. would be the only two candidates in the running for the award. Tatis Jr. rivals Acuna Jr. in offensive prowess despite missing ten more games than Atlanta’s hero. He slashes .273/.346/.647 on the season and leads the league in slugging. On top of this, his 13 stolen bases is tied with Acuna Jr. for most in the NL, and his 20 home runs is tops in the league. The 22 year old signed a 300 million contract before the season that will run until 2034, and it's already looking like a bargain.
Tatis gives the Padres a bonafide superstar for the first time since the late Tony Gwynn slapped the ball around the ballpark in the 1990s. With the bat and on the basepaths, there is nothing Tatis Jr. can’t do. The major criticism voters will have of Tatis Jr. is his downright shoddy fielding. He has committed the most errors in the major leagues with 15, and is an awful fielder by almost any metric. While this wouldn’t be an issue if he was playing a position like first base or leftfield, Tatis Jr. mans the shortstop position, which is the most critical spot in the infield and possibly the entire defense aside from catcher.
Of course, there is a good chance this weakness won’t even matter if the Padres end up winning the West. The Padres (38-31) are in a dogfight with the Dodgers (41-26) and the surprising Giants (42-25), and all three teams have a case for being the best team in the league. If Tatis Jr. is the catalyst for a Padres division title against those two titans, it’s going to be difficult to give the award to anyone else.
Jacob deGrom – SP – New York Mets
‘Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball’ is a true statement in the same way that saying ‘water is wet’ and ‘the earth is round’ are true statements. Only delusional people question whether or not it is true. His baseball reference page looks like what would happen if a full time gamer played “MLB the Show" on the easiest difficulty with the sliders set completely in his favor. It is a testament to the Mets’ offensive ineptitude that he even has two losses and a couple of no-decisions in ten starts.
The two-time Cy Young winner has a 0.56 ERA, and an ERA+ of 687. This statistic paints an average pitcher as having an ERA+ of 100, and an ERA+ of 150 means a pitcher is 50 percent better than the average pitcher in the league. To put into perspective just how insane DeGrom’s season has been so far, Bob Gibson’s historic 1968 season (1.12 ERA) saw him hold an ERA+ of 258. And that’s just one statistic that illustrates his dominance. deGrom also strikes out 13 batters for every walk he issues, and has allowed 26 hits in 64 innings.
And just for good measure, deGrom has a slash line of .400/.400/.440 and five RBIs in 25 plate appearances. Outside of pitching every day, there is nothing more the future hall of famer can do to help his team win. The Mets lead the NL East with a 34-25 record, which can only help his candidacy.
All three players would be a deserving MVP in my mind. Who do you think is the most deserving of the award 70 games into the season? You can let me know at Joseph.A.Dycus@gmail.com or on Twitter at @joseph_dycus.