Anthony Rizzo, first base, Chicago Cubs
Most experts have the National League MVP going to a Chicago Cubs player – only we don’t quite know which one yet.
Right now, in most polls taken, fans of the MLB have Kris Bryant ahead of his first baseman Anthony Rizzo about 70-30, but despite Bryant’s strong favouritism, Rizzo’s case is hardly a lame duck.
Kris Bryant leads Anthony Rizzo in what we might expect, stats such as OPS and WAR. But interestingly enough, hitting as Bryant’s protection one spot behind him, Rizzo has the higher obp (.389), strikeout to walk ratio (.135) and has surpassed him in RBIs (93).
Although Anthony Rizzo’s batting average is topped by Kris Bryant’s, in “late” and “close” games, Rizzo’s average rockets up to an astonishing .319, as does his obp, up dramatically to .524. These two numbers dwarf Bryant’s in the same situation.
Although Kris Bryant may be able to hit for power better than Anthony Rizzo, and has for long stretches carried the Cubs’ offence, it is not until the numbers are gone over with a fine tooth comb that we begin to realise the importance of Rizzo to the best team in the Majors.
Nolan Arenado, third base, Colorado Rockies
In terms of improvement, Nolan Arenado likely has that category covered over the other three on this list.
Arenado has improved out of sight over the past few years, and apart from leading the NL in home runs alongside Bryant, he has managed to improve one of his biggest weaknesses, a five per cent walk rate, into a strength at now around 10%.
Nolan Arenado burst onto the scene as a defensive freak a few years ago now, but his hitting has been where the real improvement has come.
Once a free-swinging, Coors Field native, Arenado is now a far more measured, patient and mature batter, who has improved particularly against off-speed pitches, low and outside the zone.
Apart from home runs, Nolan Arenado leads the NL in RBIs also, and it’s not even close (19 in front of second place Kris Bryant). He also features at third in WAR.
Is improvement a fair metric to add into MVP calculations? If so, here’s your man.
Daniel Murphy, second base, Washington Nationals
Right now, the Washington Nationals are sitting pretty in first place in the NL East, 9.5 games ahead of the second placed New York Mets.
In a cruel twist of irony for New York, it is new National and Met of last year Daniel Murphy, now a fully-fledged MVP candidate, who has sprung Washington to this gargantuan lead.
Most notable to Murphy’s case is his batting average of .340 (second in the NL) and his RBI total of 98 (second in the NL to the ridiculous total of Arenado).
Interestingly, Daniel Murphy has been arguably the only NL hitter to have not gone through any sort of “slump” this season. Of the five men to have an .890+ OPS percentage each month, Murphy is the only NL representative.
Although most would’ve expected Bryce Harper to represent the Nats in this conversation at the start of the year, Murphy’s play this year has be perfectly welcome at Nationals Park.
Similar to how he stepped up for the Metropolitans in the 2015 postseason, Washington will require him to do the same at the back end of this year.
Kris Bryant, third base, Chicago Cubs
Bryant leads the NL in WAR, is equal first in home runs, is second in OPS and fifth in RBIs. In a year without Kyle Schwarber in the Cubbies’ lineup, Kris Bryant’s power hitting has been vitally important to the historic year the club is enjoying.
While the eternally biased commentary of Ken Harrelson, Chicago White Sox caller, has Bryant compared to White Sox’s third baseman Todd Frazier, most around the league have loftier comparisons for Bryant, with some comparing the sophomore to Derek Jeter.
Will he help the North Siders to their first World Series victory in 108 years? Who knows? Probably during some time in his career. But by almost any metric you use to measure it, Kris Bryant is leading the NL MVP race.