Is Freddie Freeman the leader in the NL MVP race?

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Freddie Freeman has been through every second of a grueling rebuild. Finally, the results are paying off, and not just for the first place Braves. Freeman has transformed from underappreciated superstar to a household name in 2018. He was the leading vote-getter for the All-Star game, and with a solid finish down the stretch, might wind up winning NL MVP.

However, there is a list of guys battling for the award, and what makes it even more intriguing, all of their respective teams are locked in a tight playoff race.

Matt Carpenter‘s torrid second-half has catapulted himself into the MVP conversation and the Cardinals to a half-game lead in the NL wild-card race. Javier Baez‘s spectacular all-around game has the Cubs four ahead of the Cardinals in the loss column. Nolan Arenado is putting together another ridiculous year in the mountains. Fresh off a four-game sweep of Atlanta, the Rockies sit just a half-game behind Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot. And of course, there is Freeman, who is quietly leading the Braves over the Phillies in the NL East.

Matt Carpenter’s Case

Why he will win: Carpenter had a ho-hum first half (for an MVP candidate) but countered it with an outrageous start to the second half. In a six-game stretch from July 14th to July 21st, Carpenter hit a ridiculous eight home runs. He followed that up in August where he hit six home runs over a seven-game period. His hot streak has also allowed the Cardinals to sneak back into the playoff race. Prior to August, the Cardinals were treading water trying to stay over .500, but a 16-4 month has the team currently in the playoff picture.

His .272 batting average is easily the lowest of the four candidates, but his on-base percentage is over one-hundred points higher at .386, something voters like to look for in their prototypical MVP. His slugging percentage also ranks first in the National League at .580, slightly ahead of Arenado at .577. He is first in the National League in home runs and third in WAR. If the Cardinals hot streak continues, it is likely going to be behind the bat of Carpenter, that could push him to win his first MVP award.

Why he won’t win: As aforementioned, the batting average of .272 is extremely low for an MVP-candidate. It would be the lowest average to win NL MVP since Johnny Bench all the way back in 1972, according to baseball-reference.com. His hot streak has also begun to fizzle out. Over the last fourteen days, Carpenter is hitting a lackluster .186.  That pace he began August with was unsustainable, and eventually, he is going to come down to earth, if he has not already.

Javier Baez’s Case

Why he will win: Baez’s case comes down to the excitement he brings to the game and his versatility.

There is not a more exciting play in baseball than stealing home. Baez has done that not once but twice this season. His twenty stolen bases are easily the most of any of the MVP candidates. He can play all over the field at a gold-glove level. Almost every night there is a Javier Baez highlight from the field, and almost every night, it is from a different place on the diamond. And he hits for more power than a guy like Freeman. There is not a player in the NL that can do it all quite like Baez, and it does not hurt that he is playing on the team in the NL with the best record.

Why he won’t win: Despite all of his excitement, he faces a similar problem to Matt Carpenter. Although Baez’s issues will be much harder to overcome. He is only hitting .290 this season, which would be the lowest for an NL MVP (outside of last year’s winner Giancarolo Stanton) since Mike Schmidt in 1986. In fact, only three players since 1989 have won the award with a batting average lower than .300. What will make it an even tougher hill to climb is his on-base percentage which is a pretty average .322, good for 54th in the National League behind the likes of Chris Taylor, Maikel Franco , and DJ LeMahieu. Baez is thrilling to watch, but he is no MVP.

Nolan Arenado’s Case

Why he will win: Arenado may have already been robbed of the MVP a few times before. He is on the way to his fourth straight season of 37+ homers and 125+ RBIs for God’s sake. Of course, people and voters love to attribute that to him playing in the Mile High altitude of Denver, but at some point, you have to give this man his due.

In the past, Arenado may have lacked the average and on-base percentage aspect needed for the award. That is not the case this year, as he is batting .309 with an on-base percentage of .391. His OPS of .968 leads the NL and he is fourth in WAR at 4.7.

He may not possess the wheels around the bases like Baez, but Arenado is also one of the league’s best fielders. He has won the Gold Glove at third base in all five seasons as a professional, and he’s a wise bet to receive his sixth at season’s end.

Why he won’t win: It is much harder to point to a single aspect as to why Arenado will not take home the MVP award. He has everything you could ask for in an MVP and is leading a sizzling Rockies team back into the playoff race. The reality is, though, he may get overlooked once again. People will say his stats are inflated because of the park he plays in for half his games and choose another candidate. When it comes down to two candidates that tote similar resumés, sometimes that becomes the unfortunate deciding factor.

Freddie Freeman’s Case

Why he will win: Freddie Freeman simply checks every box an MVP candidate needs to be handed the award. He leads the NL in batting average (.321) and hits (155). Holds an on-base percentage above the .400 mark, something only him and Joey Votto can say in the National League. His OPS (.934) ranks sixth and his WAR (5.5) is second behind only Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers. The versatile 6’5″, 220-pound Freeman plays an expert first base and even has eight steals on the year.

And perhaps even more importantly, he has the feel-good story to go with it. The Braves are the MLB’s best surprise and the darling of the National League. Freeman is playing the role of a budding star galvanizing a group of youngsters to the playoffs, where the Braves have not been since 2013.

Why he won’t win: The story fits and right now the numbers are there for Freeman to take home the NL MVP. However, the Braves and Freeman have to finish off the ending. It is hard seeing any of these players taking home the award if their team does not make the playoffs. The Braves best shot at making the dance will be hanging onto their two-game lead in the NL East. A situation that sees the Phillies pass Atlanta in the standings will make Freddie a much less attractive selection, no matter how well he finishes the season.

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