Last week, Dave wrote a little ditty about how we will probably be crowning some Los Angeles players with the Most Valuable Player Awards this season. For the National League, that means Yasiel Puig or Clayton Kershaw. And, Dave is right. Dave is usually right. Right now, Kershaw is probably the best choice. But he’s a pitcher, and he missed a month, and yada yada yada people will invent reasons to not vote for him. And Puig? Well, we know he isn’t the most popular player among the voting bloc. But Giancarlo Stanton, on the other hand, is pretty popular with just about everyone. And he is having a heck of a season too. Could he sneak in and yank the award away from the boys in blue?
Let’s start with the obvious — Stanton is really good at hitting. At the moment, only Andrew McCutchen has a higher wRC+ than does Stanton, though Yasiel Puig and Paul Goldschmidt (and Seth Smith) are right there with him. In the power department, no one really compares. Stanton’s .270 isolate power is 29 points higher than Goldschmidt in second place, and nearly 40 points higher than Khris Davis in third place. He has similar leads in slugging percentage. For context, there are only nine qualified NL hitters with a .500 or better slugging percentage, and none are within 20 points of Stanton. That’s some sweet separation.
Stanton is rocking several career bests right now. His on-base percentage is at its highest, as is his stolen bases. In a week or two, or perhaps sooner, he’ll surpass his career bests for runs and runs batted in, and he’ll probably top his career bests for homers. And in the ultimate “teh fear” category, intentional walks, he’s already smashed his career highs. He got his 20th free pass in the ninth inning last night, which equals his total from the previous three seasons. Stanton and Victor Martinez become just the 10th and 11th players to reach that 20 free passes threshold since 2010. Stanton also doesn’t do anything poorly. He’s essentially a scratch fielder and base runner, and has the ability to make some showstopping catches or throws in right field, which endears him to the populace.
What’s more, he’s also the undisputed leader of a team that is hanging around on the fringes of playoff contention. Christian Yelich has had himself a pretty good season, as has Casey McGehee and Nathan Eovaldi, but this team revolves around Stanton. Perhaps that would not be the case if Jose Fernandez was around, but he is sitting this season out. And yet, Stanton has the team on the brink of contention. The Braves completely falling apart has played a role in this as well, but the Marlins aren’t awful either. They’re not contenders by BaseRuns, but BaseRuns sees them as essentially what they have been, a slightly below .500 team. This season, that qualifies as a playoff contender in the National League. There are currently just three teams between them and a playoff spot, and one of those three is the aforementioned Atlanta squad.
So, if the Marlins make a run at a playoff spot, Stanton is going to get some good profile in the process. Even if they fall short of the postseason though, if Miami finishes above .500 that still might do it. Since changing the team name and logo and moving into a new ballpark, the team has not even sniffed .500. In fact, if this Diamondbacks series goes the way Miami hopes it will, they will have surpassed last season’s win total by the end of the weekend. The team has to go only 22-19 for the remainder of the season to clear that bar, and with 20 games left against the Dbacks, Rockies, Rangers, Mets and Phillies, plus six with the disintegrating Braves, that goal is firmly on the table.
There’s also this — Kershaw and Puig may split votes. Even if there are just two or three people who vote against the crowd, it will create an opening for Stanton. Stanton doesn’t really have anyone to split votes with not only on his team, but really in his whole division. The only other players in the division in the top 15 in WAR among NL position players are Jason Heyward, Anthony Rendon and Chase Utley. Heyward derives too much of his value from defense to get serious consideration, Rendon is probably a year too early and Utley plays for an awful team. And on the pitching side, there isn’t anyone within a win of Kershaw, so if any pitcher would get it, it’d be him. But if he has to split votes with Puig…
The past two seasons, we’ve seen injuries cut Stanton’s season shorter than we would like. We’ve essentially been dreaming on this Giancarlo Stanton season since 2010, when he came up in June and smashed 22 homers in his rookie campaign that amazingly earned him zero Rookie of the Year Award votes. (Even Jonny Venters got one!) Now, we’re getting that season, and for Stanton it may be coming at the absolute perfect time. The Marlins are hanging around, the three top vote getters in last year’s NL MVP voting are all injured, and the other two top candidates play for the same team. Kershaw or Puig may be the favorites, and the rightful favorites at that, but Stanton may just fight his way in there and snatch it up.