For the second straight year Fernando Tatis Junior spent a portion of the season as the frontrunner for National League MVP, but for the second straight year it looks like someone else will take home the goods.
Last year it was Freddie Freeman. This year Bryce Harper and Juan Soto appear to have the edge on the Padres electrifying superstar. Right now Vegas oddsmakers favor Harper, and many experts agree.
In 2020 it was pretty easy to understand why Freeman ran away with the award – he put up incredible numbers at the plate while leading the Braves to an NL East crown. This year the choice isn’t so obvious, but signs suggest it won’t be Tatis.
I reached out to four national baseball writers to gauge how they see it playing out. Each have Tatis trailing in the race, and they provided some explanations as to why.
It boils down to three factors.
Let’s start with number of games played. Tatis made three trips to the Injured List and was limited to 130 total appearances. Bryce Harper played in 141 games, Soto showed up in 151. This is the least significant of the factors, but availability does matter in a tight race.
Next up: missed opportunities.
The Padres fell apart down the stretch to fall short of the postseason. Harper’s Phillies and Soto’s Nats also packed it up after 162 games, but Harper’s torrid stretch late vaulted Philly into the playoff picture while the Padres collapsed. If the Padres had hung on to a Wild Card spot, that likely wins Tatis a few points.
The other missed opportunity comes on the defensive side. Tatis was shaky in that department, especially early in the season. He finished with 21 errors at shortstop. It's worth mentioning that neither Harper or Soto are known for their glove work and both play less impactful positions in the outfield. However, if Tatis had performed this year the way he did in 2020 when he put up some of the best defensive numbers in the game – that might have been enough to give him a clear edge in that department.
The final factor is the most significant: that is, of course, performance at the plate.
You could handpick stats to support your argument for any of the three finalists. On one hand Tatis led the NL in homers and had more RBIs and stolen bases than the other two despite playing fewer games. Conversely, the other guys finished with more runs and hits with a higher average and OPS.
So what stats matter most?
There are a couple metrics that writers I reached out to kept bringing up: OPS+ and wRC+. Those may mean nothing to you, but I’ll try to explain as simply as I can.
OPS combines how often a player gets on base with how productive they are in each at bat. wRC stands for weighted runs created and is pretty much what it sounds like – a reflection of a player’s offensive value in terms of the number of runs they generate. The '+' represents a leveling of the playing field, adjusting to certain variables like a player’s home ballpark, which can skew their numbers one way or another.
Both OPS+ and wRC+ use the same scale – where 100 represents your average ballplayer.
When it comes to OPS+ Harper led the majors at 179 followed by Soto, with Tatis fourth at 166. Those three led the NL in wRC+, finishing in that same order.
It really goes to show how in the weeds you can get trying to differentiate one candidate from the other. It’s not like the American League race where everyone watched Shohei Ohtani and was like 'yeah, he’s obviously the guy'.
It doesn’t look like Tatis will be that dude this year in the National League. But through three seasons he’s been in the MVP discussion twice - an incredibly impressive accomplishment.
It seems inevitable that one year when we do these deep dives into the minutiae Fernando Tatis Jr. will separate himself during the season, and lead the pack where it matters most – at the finish line.
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