MLB MVP races: Does Fernando Tatis Jr. still lead cramped NL field?

MLB MVP races: Does Fernando Tatis Jr. still lead cramped NL field?

It’s September. And while technically the 2021 MLB season does bleed three days into October, we’re effectively in what is viewed as the final month of the regular season. There’s still plenty of jockeying to be done in the standings, and in individual award races. So with the calendar flipped, let’s take a look at a snapshot of where things stand right now in the MVP battle.

This assessment isn’t going to be necessarily how I would vote right now, but instead where I believe the vote would fall if it happened right now, based upon years of studying BBWAA voting tendencies and tracking heavily late in each season for the past decade-plus. And let me tell you, even with all that, the situation is very cloudy when it comes to stuff past the very top of the ballot.

American League
1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Ohtani is leading the league in home runs and slugging percentage while also having stolen 22 bases (including home against the Yankees on Tuesday night) and going 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 105 innings pitched. It’s pretty jaw-dropping when you step away and get distance from it. I think it’s possible many of us have taken for granted just how special this is. As if it wasn’t obvious, we’ll point out he’s running away from the field in WAR.

The only point of discussion here is how the voters view “value.” The Angels aren’t contenders. I’ve had people ask me the standard “how valuable can he really be?” question regarding the Angels’ record. Well, they’ve hovered around .500 for most of the season with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon hurt. You can’t see the value Ohtani brings?

2. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Blue Jays
Will the people who believe the MVP has to play on a contender view the Blue Jays as close enough to contention? If so, Vlad Jr. can take those votes from Ohtani. Guerrero has been the best hitter in the AL pretty much from the start of the season. He leads the league in on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+, runs and total bases. There’s also a chance that he could lead — meaning he’s very close to the leader — in average, slugging, hits, home runs and RBI.

The first two contenders here were easy. Now there’s a huge mass of individuals that are very tough to sort out.

They aren’t a contender, but what Salvador Perez is doing with the Royals here in terms of his power surge definitely deserves a look. Marcus Semien is having an excellent year and would absolutely be in the mix for a top-five spot right now. The same goes for his former A’s teammate Matt Olson. Aaron Judge checks out highly in rate stats, but he’s outside the top 10 in home runs and RBI. If Giancarlo Stanton stays as hot as he currently is, he’ll find his way into the mix. Carlos Correa sits toward the top of the WAR leaderboard. José Abreu isn’t having the rate stat line he did when he won last year, but he’s already over 100 RBI. Finally, keep your eyes on Brandon Lowe. The Rays have the best AL record and he’s on a major hot streak.

National League
1. Fernando Tatis, Jr., Padres
Now that he’s back from a third issue with his left shoulder, Tatis is also back in the driver’s seat for this award. He has huge leads in slugging percentage and home runs while sitting around the top in OPS and leading in OPS+. He’s within striking range of the lead in total bases, RBI and stolen bases, too, giving us a nice picture of how well-rounded he is. On that note, he is tied for the NL lead in WAR.

The fight for runner-up is hotly contested. These are not necessarily ranked.

Trea Turner, Dodgers
Turner is leading the league in average, hits and stolen bases while also sitting top five in total bases and WAR. He’s top 10 in runs and OPS+. All this despite being traded while dealing with a COVID-related quarantine. Let’s also note his steadying presence atop the lineup for the Dodgers when Mookie Betts was hurt for a few weeks.

Bryce Harper, Phillies
Harper leads the league in OPS and at times it has felt like he’s almost single-handedly keeping the Phillies’ offense awake as they hang on in contention in the NL East. If they win the division and he has a big September, he’s looking at a shot at a second MVP while everyone who doubted my “he’s underrated” take has to eat crow.

Max Muncy, Dodgers
Muncy is tied with Tatis for the most WAR in the NL and sits highly on the on-base percentage and slugging percentage leaderboards. He’s tied for second in home runs and top-10 in RBI while playing for one of the best teams in baseball all year, not just since the trade deadline like the aforementioned Turner. It’s possible that’ll matter to some voters.

Freddie Freeman, Braves
With the loss of Ronald Acuña, Jr. and the Braves having surged to a lead in the NL East while Freeman has been scorching hot for two-plus months (he was hitting just .240/.352/.452 after June 22), the defending NL MVP is right in the thick of things.

Juan Soto, Nationals
Soto is, again, all over the rate stat leaderboards and one of baseball’s brightest young stars. He’s also not blowing everyone away enough to justify many top-echelon votes while playing for a terrible team. He still merits mention because he’s just that damn good.

Joey Votto, Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, Reds
If the Reds hold a playoff spot, keep an eye on which one of this trio ends up with the best offensive numbers. All three are in the top eight in OPS at present.

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