In our first MVP article, we covered the AL MVP odds, ruled out three guys we didn’t like, and proposed three guys we do like for MVP.
For the National League, we’ll be doing the same. In the American League, there really aren’t many good options for MVP. Mike Trout is the heavy favorite at +200 and the next best is Alex Bregman at +1000.
The National League race is much more competitive. In the NL, there are two guys who were snubbed for MVP in the shortened 2020 season, and both should be on your shortlist for MVP in 2021 (spoiler: it’s Juan Soto and Mookie Betts).
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Foul Balls – Avoid these guys for MVP
There are a number of guys near the top of the odds lists we are going to rule out immediately.
Ronald Acuna Jr.
First on the list is Ronald Acuna Jr. Acuna is one of the most talented players in baseball. However, pitchers are starting to figure out how to pitch to him, as shown by his dipping batting average each season.
In 2018, Acuna batted .293 in over 400 at-bats. As expected with a full season following a rookie year, pitchers figured him out a little the following year and his average dropped to .280. However, in a limited sample of 160 Abs in 2020, Acuna batted just .250. Though his OBP spiked, Acuna’s average dropped significantly.
For Acuna to win this award with a sub 300 average, he’s going to have to really smash a lot of dingers, drive-in a lot of runs, steal a lot of bases, and stay healthy. For the +850 odds, it’s far too risky for the payoff, so I’m out.
Nolan Arenado is up there with the sixth-best odds for NL MVP this season at +1200. I don’t think Arenado should be in the top ten. For one, Arenado is leaving the batter-friendly confines of Coors Field. Now that he’s not playing at such a high elevation, his power numbers will be down.
The second reason is the way he performed in 2020. Arenado missed some time and ultimately finished the season with a .253 average and eight home runs. Even if you give him an additional 28 at-bats to put him around the average for 2020, he still only projects to have around ten home runs.
Arenado’s best season was in 2019, when he hit .315 with 41 home runs and 118 RBIs. Even then, it wasn’t enough for him to finish the MVP race in the top five that year. Sure, Arenado can bounce back this season, but the Cardinals lineup is still not elite, so it’s not as if the ceiling for RBIs has gone up with the move.
Arenado offers nothing for stolen bases, so he’s really going to have to be elite in the main three offensive categories. I don’t think he has a realistic shot to get there.
Freddie Freeman is coming off an MVP season in 2020. He batted a career-best .341 with 13 HRs and 53 RBIs. Let’s be real, if the season went the full distance, Freeman likely wouldn’t have won the award. However, a shortened season meant anyone who got really hot had a chance to win it. Freeman was the guy and congrats to him for winning it.
This season, Freeman has virtually no shot of winning it again. For one, that .341 average probably isn’t returning. Before last season, Freeman’s best batting average season was in 2013 when he hit .319.
Second, Freeman’s career-high in home runs (38) and RBI (121) was in 2019. Even then, he just didn’t do enough in the home runs and batting average category to crack the top seven in MVP voting.
So, do we seriously expect voters to give him another MVP after getting a questionable MVP last season? He has a slim to zero shot at getting back-to-back MVPs, so avoid his inflated +1200 odds.
Trevor Story is Mookie Betts lite. Story has the disadvantage of playing for a much worse team and won’t get much help from both the rest of the lineup. Story also won’t see much protection, as pitchers may pitch around him frequently.
Last season, Story hit .289 with 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases. In 2019, he scored 111 runs, hit .294, crushed 35 bombs, drove in 85 runs, and stole 23 bases. Even with those numbers, he still didn’t finish top ten in MVP voting.
Still, he has the tools and the odds are nice (+2500), but my concern is that his team isn’t good and that’s ultimately too much to overcome. For him to not even be in the top ten in voting in 2019 shows us he’s going to have to absolutely kill it to be a finalist.
Fair Ballplayers – Best bets for NL MVP
Trea Turner +5000
We are starting out with a “longshot”, even though this guy really shouldn’t be. Trea Turner is a five-tool player (spoiler: three of the four picks are as well). Turner has put together seasons hitting well over .300, he’s stolen over 45 bases, he’s scored over 100 runs, and he’s hit 19 home runs twice.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t done it all in the same season. All we need from Turner is for him to put up numbers close to that in three of those four categories (and put up decent numbers in the fourth) and he should be in contention. For MVPs, we like to pick guys who have the ceiling and Turner is in his prime and has the talent to get there.
Mookie Betts +750
Mookie Betts is the one that got away for the Boston Red Sox. It’s rare we see the Red Sox make such a gaffe in the front office, but they certainly did by getting rid of Betts for practically nothing.
Mookie Betts was snubbed last season. Let’s be real, Betts hit .292 with 16 bombs, 47 runs, and 10 stolen bases. This season, the lineup is even more potent, which should help both runs and RBIs.
Betts, like Turner, has the tools to win it, but Betts is the favorite because of the power advantage and his lineup support. If Mookie picks up where he left off in 2020, he’s going to have quite the stats portfolio when it comes time to vote.
Juan Soto +750
I have invested a decent amount in Juan Soto this offseason. From rookie cards to printing plates, I want all the stock I can get in Juan Soto. One factor that doesn’t get overlooked in MVP voting is OBP.
In 2019, Anthony Rendon was an OBP God and voters acknowledged it by naming Rendon as a finalist. Unfortunately, voters appeared to neglect it last season, when they awarded the MVP to Freddie Freeman over Soto.
Juan Soto is basically Anthony Rendon but with more power and a better batting average. His OBP last season was .490. Just think about that for a second. Soto batted .351 with 13 home runs last season and still didn’t win MVP.
He hit 34 home runs, scored 110 runs, drove in 110 runs, hit .282, and had 12 stolen bases, and finished 9th in voting. This season, the attention will be on Soto. If he can do what he was doing in the shortened 2020 season, but increase the homerun total a bit, Soto should be the best bet on the board to win the NL MVP. For the record, I like him over both Betts and Turner. I think this is Soto’s MVP to lose.