Here is how I would have voted. For the final time (oh, man, I’ve done a lot of these, haven’t I?), this ballot is not a prediction of how I think MVP voting will shape up but rather how I would vote if I had one.
1. Jacob deGrom–New York Mets: He isn’t even a finalist, but the most valuable player in the National League this season was Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom. Obviously he isn’t going to win, but I suspect he will get more first place votes than two of the three finalists and that he was kept out of the finalists list because so many voters refuse to vote for pitchers (there is nothing in the wording of the award that says the award must go to a non-pitcher), or at least only do so if there are no viable position player candidates. There is an NL position player worthy of MVP–there just happens to be a pitcher more worthy. I detailed deGrom’s fantastic season here.
2. Christian Yelich–Milwaukee Brewers: I can’t get too outraged that Yelich will win this award–thanks to one of the hottest half-seasons this side of Barry Bonds, Yelich pulled away from the pack of position players (I’ll be in Las Vegas when this award is announced and if I can find 10,000 to 1 odds or so on deGrom winning, I’ll do it as a matter of principle). Yelich’s 166 wRC+ was tops in the NL among qualified hitters, and he made a legitimate run at a Triple Crown–he had the highest batting average, tied for third in home runs (tied for first among non-Coors players), and fell one RBI short of the league lead. His defense is nothing to write home about (though bonus points for versatility!) and he got a bit lucky by BABIP, but Yelich is an easy pick for best position players.
3. Max Scherzer–Washington Nationals: Who says my MVP top three can’t include two position players? Well, maybe you, but who cares, my vote doesn’t actually matter. I explained my rationale for Scherzer’s Cy Young case yesterday (you can find the link under #1 on this list).
4. Anthony Rendon–Washington Nationals: I would like to nominate Anthony Rendon as baseball’s most underrated superstar. He is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman who, like Jose Ramirez in the American League, could play second base if it came down to it. He is a weirdly efficient runner–he doesn’t steal many bases, just two this season, but by Base Running Runs, he finished 10th in the NL (the man who finished 11th, Amed Rosario, stole 24). And Anthony Rendon can flat-out rake: he finished 4th in the NL in wRC+ and was easily a better fielder than the three who finished above him.
5. Aaron Nola–Philadelphia Phillies: I feel kind of bad about having three pitchers in the top five. I really do. There is a part of me deep down that wishes the awards for position players and pitchers were separate, even if I believe voters shouldn’t try to make this the case until such stipulations are actually codified. But what the NL has is a far-and-away best position player in Yelich, a somewhat distinct #2 in Rendon (even though he isn’t a finalist, somehow), and a big pack of players who are pretty close together.
6. Lorenzo Cain–Milwaukee Brewers: Cain’s excellent 2018 was largely overlooked by the excellence of his teammate Christian Yelich, who was acquired on the same day as the veteran center fielder. But Cain was arguably the most valuable Brewers acquisition of that day for much of the season, until Yelich’s hot streak became too scalding to ignore: In addition to providing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, Cain stole 30 bases and, despite having the running and defense profile to be a perfectly capable player without much of a bat, managed an impressive .308/.395/.417 triple-slash.
7. Javier Baez–Chicago Cubs: Oh, hey, the second-highest ranked of the three finalists. Was wondering when they’d turn up. Anyway, much of Baez’s MVP case is built on somewhat irrelevant numbers (while batting after guys who get on base a lot, he drove in 111 RBI) and narrative (the notion that he is a superhuman defensive specialist despite his defensive metrics being fairly average), but let’s not pretend he didn’t have a very, very good season. Although his low-walk, high-strikeout batting profile is a bit worrisome long-term, his propensity for home runs allowed him a 131 wRC+ in 2018, and while his defensive metrics sully his reputation a bit, the fact that Baez could, say, switch over to shortstop or third base when personnel issues required it does give him an extra bump in value.
8. Nolan Arenado–Colorado Rockies: Long-time readers of my work know that Nolan Arenado is my mortal enemy, as I view him as the perpetually overrated logical conclusion of anti-analytics analysts seeking out the prototypical-looking MLB third baseman and instead landing on baseball’s Todd Marinovich. This is, of course, completely unfair to Arenado himself, who had a very good 2018, deservedly winning the NL Gold Glove and deservedly being nominated for the NL Silver Slugger (also, he won it). His raw numbers are a bit inflated by the Coors Field effect but even when adjusting for favorable park conditions, he deserves to be on this ballot, even if he shouldn’t be a finalist.
9. Freddie Freeman–Atlanta Braves: Every year, I revisit Freddie Freeman and wonder why I keep underrating him. He’s a somewhat obvious player, it seems–first basemen aren’t exactly known for slipping under the radar of sabermetricians. But Freddie Freeman deserves recognition for an excellent 2018 season in which he combined a 137 wRC+ with Gold Glove defense (at first base, but still), and he even stole ten bases just for good measure. Freeman was an important catalyst for a young Braves team that surprised many by winning the NL East.
10. Matt Carpenter–St. Louis Cardinals: Is this bias? It might be, honestly. It’s not that Matt Carpenter isn’t a perfectly defensible pick for down-ballot MVP votes, because he absolutely is: he hit 36 home runs and trailed only Christian Yelich in runs scored, he drew walks in an incredible 15.1% of plate appearances, and while he isn’t a great defender, he, like Javy Baez, provides value in his versatility. The honorable mentions list for the NL is pretty incredible–Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Nimmo, Max Muncy, Scooter Gennett, Trevor Story, and the player I most agonized leaving off my ballot, J.T. Realmuto–but ultimately I don’t feel like I committed malpractice by putting Carpenter on it.