HHS Awards – 2021 NL MVP

Hello, HHS friends!

Here’s our obligatory comment: I’ve been more-or-less totally MIA in 2021. I apologize for that. There’s no excuse, no fancy reasoning. Life is just hard. Hoping you did read my review of Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100. And now, with only lockout news to “comfort” us baseball fans, let’s try to keep things positive. It’s awards season! We need something to vote on before the COG elections in January, am I right?

In 2020, I did not run an awards post. The season was too short, things crept up too fast… it just didn’t happen. But I don’t want that to continue in 2021.

Look, I’m going to be the first to acknowledge: I think the vote-for-pitchers, don’t-vote-for-pitchers debate really muddied the waters in some of our last few discussions; I was thinking that, this year, we would switch from a mixed vote to separate awards for the pitchers and position players. But then, along came a player who screwed the whole thing up. So this year, my initial plan was to do separate awards for pitchers and hitters. Unfortunately, there’s one big reason we just can’t do that. So I’m not going to ask us to do so this year. Okay; without further ado, I believe we should start on the senior circuit this year, as well. So who are our candidates? (As always, description after the jump; rules at the bottom of the post.)

Through the end of July, it didn’t look like there’d be much debate. Fernando Tatis of the Padres was batting .292/.374/.657 and making highlight-reel plays daily for a Padres team that was – somehow, at the start of the day on July 30 – just two games back of the Dodgers and five back of the Giants. They were also 7 games ahead of the Reds for the first Wild Card, and 9.5 up on the Phillies for the second. It was, it seemed, impossible that the Padres would miss the postseason, and Tatis was the reason why. Sure, there had been splashy offseason additions to the roster. But Tatis was the story of the National League. Unfortunately, on the day in question, Tatis was injured. The team cratered in his absence and never fully recovered. That said, he did manage to hit .282/.364/.611, good for the second-best SLG in the NL, a mere .004 behind the leader. Again – still while playing fabulous shortstop. Do you know how many post-Integration SS have managed a .600 SLG? Artie Wilson (1948), Ernie Banks (1958), Nomar Garciaparra (1999), Alex Rodriguez (2000-2003), and Tatis. No Ripken, Jeter, or Yount. The list is short indeed (pun intended, and regretted). So was his shortened season (only 130 GP) something that needs to be overlooked? Or was it just too many games missed for the best player in the League?

More relevantly, if Tatis wasn’t the best of the NL, who was? Sans injuries, perhaps an argument could’ve been made for 23-year-old phenom Ronald Acuna, Jr. Instead, let’s focus on the Champs’ overlooked, perennial MVP-candidate. Did you know that, in the last four seasons, Freddie Freeman has only missed seven games total? It’s impressive. That kind of showing up is the thing that lets you lead the league in PAs, as Freeman did this year. Not ABs, though – Freeman walked a very respectable 85 times, leading to his Freeman-like .300/.393/.503 line. While the power is not what it once was (that SLG is his lowest since 2015), Freeman nonetheless scored more runs (120) than anyone in the NL, for the team that won it all!

Of course, while the Braves did eventually win it all, few would argue they were actually baseball’s best team this year. That honor would likely go to the team that won the most games: the San Francisco Giants. They were anchored by Brandon Crawford. Crawford’s .298/.373/.522 line was strong enough for the former two numbers to place in the top-10 in the league, and his 141 OPS+ was 8th.

But even within his own division, there was competition from Dodgers’ midseason acquisition and NL batting champ Trea Turner. I don’t have the wherewithal to look it up right now – but if anyone wants to figure out how many active players have 3+ seasons of a .325 average, I guarantee it’s not a big number. (I can think of Pujols and Cabrera off the top of my head… but I don’t know if there are others, beyond Turner.) The easy knock on Turner is that he’s a singles hitter (he did lead the league in them). But he also led the league in Total Bases. Not only that, his 146 OPS+ was good for 6th in the league. And – little-known fact – Turner was third in the NL with an 86.5% stolen base success rate!

Rounding out the dominant NL West, let’s move to the Central, where we can find a few candidates. The Reds have a few. Zack Wheeler led the league in bWAR, but you’ll get a fuller write-up of him (and the other pitcher candidates, like Walker Buehler, Corbin Burnes, and Max Scherzer) in the Cy Young post. Of course you can – and are encouraged to – vote for any of them here, too! But Wheeler had a couple of teammates worthy of a look.

Former 1st-round pick Nick Castellanos really broke through this year. .309/.362/.576 (good for a 136 OPS+) is good. 100 RBI and 95 runs with 38 doubles and 34 homers means that it’s not just rates, but volume, too. But lest we not forget teammate Joey Votto. Votto has been counted out by many as a useful player. Deeply disappointing seasons in ’19 and ’20 have led some to write off Votto’s career for dead. However, he hit .266/.375/.563 – that SLG is higher than all but one season of Votto’s since 2012 (that one season being 2017, when we named Votto our NL MVP, disagreeing with the BBWAA). Fun fact: since 2010, Votto has had an OBP at least .096 higher than his AVG every single year! While Votto failed to appear in 130 G, his season certainly merits some down-ballot consideration, particularly given the Reds’ improvement as a team, finishing above .500 in a full season for the first time since 2013.

But the perhaps the best candidates are two players out East. A couple of years ago, the Washington Nationals felt they couldn’t pay everybody. So just prior to their winning the World Series, the decided to bet on age. They bet on Juan Soto. Soto cashed in his fourth-straight season with over a .400 OBP. He’s taken over for the aforementioned Votto as the assumed league leader in the category at this point. Soto walked 145 times this season. Not only is that more than he struck out (only 93 times, increasingly rare among even “contact” hitters, much less ones as powerful as Soto), but this was a truly special number. It ranks 23rd all-time in Major League history. If Soto can ever do this a second time, he’d join just Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth. I’m pretty sure that being on a list with only those three guys is pretty much everyone’s goal as a baseball player. But it’s not just the OBP and walks that are impressive. Soto finished second in the batting race, as well. His overall line of .313/.465/.534 was good for second in the league in both OPS (.999) and OPS+ (175). It also made him one of only two players to finish in the top-ten in all three triple slash categories.

The other guy? Why, that’s the one the Nationals, in essence, let go in favor of Soto: Bryce Harper. Harper batted .309/.429/.615, the latter number leading the league, with the other two ranking third and second, respectively. The 1.044 OPS and 179 OPS+ were the league-leaders, as were his 42 doubles. Harper lacked the help of teammates on base to get him to 100 RBI (he had only 84), but he was still one of the most formidable hitters in the league, particularly late in the season. On June 30, Harper began an absolute tear. For the rest of the season, he hit .336/.458/.706 and kept the Phillies alive in a race no one gave them a chance in. Entering that morning, they were 37-40. As Harper heated up, so did the team, going 45-40 the rest of the way, and falling just short. They were only 1.5 back of the World Champs as late as September 25. But a classic Phillies late-season collapse doomed the team. Still, the BBWAA just awarded him the MVP. The question remains: will we do the same?

So make your choice, folks! Rules are below. We’ll keep this post open for… let’s say a week. We’ll see if that’s too fast or too slow of a pace. Anyway, I think we’ll do both Cy Youngs as a single post, all the miscellaneous awards as one post, and the AL MVP as its own. That should give us a good four weeks of voting, and keep us in baseball-mode all December… before we get to COG voting in January! So please make your selections below, and I look forward to reading what you have to say, not just about your choices, but in fact whatever discussion you may have to sway others!

Vote by making a comment below and numbering your choices with 1 being the MOST preferred candidate, and 10 being your LEAST preferred candidate of your ten choices. Your ballots will be EXACTLY ten place, just as the BBWAA does. You must vote for 10 players. Scoring will be 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, just as the BBWAA does. You are not required to vote in all elections; only vote in the ones you would like to vote in. You may make vote changes, if the discussion so moves you. If you change your vote, please do so in a new comment, not as a reply to your original comment (it’s a lot easier to find new comments than replies to old ones). Please don’t vote strategically; we’re trying to get the best result, not to manipulate the vote totals based on what others have done. Voting will remain open about one week. When players are tied, tiebreakers go as follows: first tiebreaker is number of ballots on which players were named; second tiebreaker is highest placement on a ballot; third tiebreaker is the first player to be named (as this usually only happens when a bunch of players are tied for last). Results will be posted in a comment at the bottom of the post when balloting closes.

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Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago

Doom,
Thanks for the write-up. Kind of off the beaten path regarding Artie Wilson and ‘post-integration”, I don’t believe the Negro American League was integrated in 1948 (hahahahaha) and, with the Birmingham Black Barons playing 67 games and Artie securing a mere 136 plate appearances, how does he even get credit for a “qualified” season – including black ink for BA and OBP – without the requisite 207 PA’s (3.1 x 67g)?

Doug
Doug
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul E

In support of the official mantra that “Negro Leagues are Major Leagues”, B-R record pages now sport some unfamiliar names as record holders in many rate stats. For example, according to B-R, the all-time record for season BA no longer belongs to Hugh Duffy; instead Tetelo Vargas gets the nod for his .471 BA in 30 games and 121 AB for the New York Cubans in 1943 (it was the last Negro league season for the 37 year-old Vargas, though he played Puerto Rican ball until age 49). How many players in the “other” major leagues have done as well?… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Doug
Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug

I understand the math; not the logic. I’ll be the first to tell anyone that it’s very likely that Satchel Paige, as a “talent”, was the equal of Feller and Grove; Gibson the equal or superior to Foxx, Gehrig – maybe even Williams and Ruth. However, if 75% of the best talent was in the American and National Leagues, it’s pretty hard to argue the logic of the revised “records” – particularly in light of limited PA’s and IP’s. The extreme talents like Charleston, Gibson, and Paige were literally playing with and against a lot of AAA talents. Yes, they… Read more »

Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Doom, If 75% of the talent was in MLB up till 1947, I imagine 25% was in the minors and the Negro Leagues. At its peak in the early-mid 1970’s, MLB had about 22% African-American participation. It took about 25 years to get to that level…and then it leveled off. If African-Americans represent 13% of the American population, that 25% is, I believe, a more than fair number. To say that 5 African-Americans would make a 20-man roster in the twenties and thirties is reasonable. Also, how many of those talents were not even tied to a team or a… Read more »

no statistician but
no statistician but
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul E

Banks 1958

Doug
Doug
1 month ago

Tatis’ .328 ISO is the best ever by a shortstop in a qualified season. Crawford is just the 9th shortstop (3rd in the expansion era) with a 6 WAR season aged 34 or older. Of that group, he is the first to have had no previous 6 WAR seasons (Eddie Joost was previously the oldest shortstop to record a first 6 WAR season, at age 33; Joost added another at age 35) Active players with qualified .325 BA seasons. 8 – Pujols 6 – Cabrera 3 – LeMahieu, Altuve 2 – Yelich, T. Turner (his third came in 324 PA… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Doug
Scary Tuna
Scary Tuna
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug

Found Altuve and LeMahieu so far and… I can stop looking now.

Joey Votto has two qualified .324 BA seasons.

Scary Tuna
Scary Tuna
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug

Charlie Blackmon also has two qualified seasons with at least a .324 BA, and Mike Trout has two at .323. While Robinson Cano has no .325 BA seasons, he was remarkably consistent with five qualified seasons between .313 and .320 in a six year stretch. He also hit .316 in 2020 but was four plate appearances shy of qualifying.

Last edited 1 month ago by Scary Tuna
no statistician but
no statistician but
1 month ago

Banks 1958

Scary Tuna
Scary Tuna
1 month ago

1. Tatis
2. Soto
3. Crawford
4. Harper
5. Riley
6. Turner
7. Freeman
8. Goldschmidt
9. Albers
10. Posey

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
1 month ago
Reply to  Scary Tuna

Tuna,

I’m assuming that vote at #9 is for Ozzie Albies, not Andrew Albers of the Twins, correct? Or is it supposed to be someone else entirely? Thanks!

Scary Tuna
Scary Tuna
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Oops! Yes, that was meant to be for Ozzie Albies. I’ll need to wait for your American League MVP award post before I can consider voting for Andrew Albers. 😉 In the meantime, I can share a little about him for HHS readers who might not recognize his name. I was surprised to see Albers resurface for a third stint with the Twins this summer. It made me recall the splash he made in his August, 2013 debut, finally getting his big league opportunity in his age 27 season. Despite his mid-80s fastball, he pitched like an MVP. No one… Read more »

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
1 month ago
Reply to  Scary Tuna

Thanks, Tuna! I while I have no memory of his August ’13 debut, I do live in Twins Territory now, and have for all of the last 16 years. Plus I’m married to a Twins fan, and her father is a 100+ games a year viewer. So I do spend a lot of time on the Twins. But I definitely remember that Albers game this year. In late August, the Brewers were still in a bit of a battle for playoff seeding. Only 2.5 back of the Dodgers and 5.5 back of the Giants, the Crew headed into Minnesota for… Read more »

Doug
Editor
1 month ago

My ballot. 1. Bryce Harper. OPS was 180 points higher than anyone else on team, so probably wasn’t getting much to hit; but still kept team in playoff hunt down to the final week. Became just the 10th player to reach 100 R and 100 BB in fewer than 600 PA. 2. Trea Turner. Was just the tonic needed by the the injury-plagued Dodgers to keep pace with the Giants to the final day. Only 7th shortstop with 65 XBH and 30 SB, and first since Honus Wagner to also lead league in hitting. 3. Fernando Tatis Jr. Crazy good… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Doug
Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug

Doug,
Any idea how the Giants’ over-age-30 cohort would rank by PA’s in the Crawford scenario above? Kapler must have done an incredible job….he didn’t quite do as well in Philadelphia 🙁

Doug
Doug
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul E

Sharp eye, Paul.

Split Finder shows the Giants as ranking 47th among playoff teams in PA for age 31+, all but 4 PA of which were for players aged 31-35. The Split Finder data are for season age (i.e. as of June 30th), while the game data was for age as of the date of the game. Adding in the PA for Giants aged 30 exactly (Yaz + Tauchman + a few pitchers) raises the PA total by 22%.

Last edited 1 month ago by Doug
Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
1 month ago

My ballot: Juan Soto – I just think that his OBP skills are completely insane. He’s the new Joey Votto. To have those skills at this age… man. I think he’s the guy this year. There’s no one I’d want to pitch to less in the NL. Bryce Harper – I wrote a lot above, obviously. The Phillies may not have actually had a lot of business staying in things as long as they did. But Harper more or less singlehandedly carried them there (at least offensively). Trea Turner – I mean, usually, a guy traded midseason like this would’ve… Read more »

Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago

1) Harper
2) Tatis
3) Crawford
4) Soto
5) Turner
6) Riley
7) Goldschmidt
8) Freeman
9) India
10) Acuna

I kind of believe that the BBWAA voted accurately for the most part. I do firmly believe that Acuna wins this award, hands-down, if he stays healthy and Tatis and Harper, if they played 155-162 games, would finish 2nd and 3rd respectively. Corey Seager probably would have finished very high up, as well, if he had stayed healthy/played 155 games.

Acuna may have scored 135 runs; Tatis would have hit 50 home runs. Pretty impressive

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
  1. Soto
  2. Turner
  3. Harper
  4. Crawford
  5. Tatis
  6. Freeman
  7. Riley
  8. Wheeler
  9. O’Neil
  10. Goldschmidt
Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
1 month ago

Still a tight one here!
Let’s keep it open until tonight (12/10/21) at midnight, your local time (that’s on the honor system).

Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Doom,
I saw you posted the Cy Young Awards…..were we going to do the AL MVP thing?