Freddie Freeman deserves to be the National League MVP in 2018.
He just does, and, barring injury, he will win it.
Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt started off horribly; Nolan Arenado feels like a guy who will always belong in the conversation but will never feel like the most important player in the NL; Matt Kemp dropped a bunch of weight and is slashing 306/346/531 on a Los Angeles team that seems to be righting the ship; Brandon Belt has missed time, too, and you really can’t make the case he’s been better than Freeman this year; Bryce Harper isn’t having his best season and has been overshadowed by 19-year-old phenom Juan Soto; Odubel Herrera, Lorenzo Cain and/or Christian Yelich deserve love, and Scooter Gennett just terrorized the Braves in the Reds’ three-game series in Atlanta this week, but do any of these names feel like they deserve the NL MVP over the best player on the surprising, division-leading Braves?
This is why giving an AL and NL MVP award is so stupid. The NL is a mess, with over half of the league still having a realistic chance of qualifying for the playoffs this fall. There really are no great teams, just a lot of solid B+ or A- teams that have a plethora of talented guys, as mentioned above, but they just don’t feel like they should ever win an MVP. If you look at the AL, you have Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, J.D. Martinez, Jose Ramirez, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado, Jose Altuve and I’m probably forgetting several others. Freeman belongs in this group, but it feels wrong that only one of those guys can the AL MVP while looking at the choices in the NL? Is there a GM out there that wouldn’t take what Betts, Trout, Ramirez, Lindor and Judge are doing this season over Freeman? I doubt it.
So what are we doing here?
Trout is having arguably the best season of his career -- and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are playing .500 baseball and Shohei Otani is on the shelf -- and he’ll probably take home the AL MVP. He leads the majors in WAR (6.7), Offensive WAR (5.9), OBP (.460), tied with Betts in OPS (1.101), Runs Created (92), and Adjusted OPS+ (205). What you’ll find when comparing Trout’s insane season with other AL MVP candidates, like Betts and Altuve and Lindor, for instance, is how close they are to Trout in a variety of categories. Trout has been the best player in baseball, yes, but Betts, Altuve, Lindor, and Machado are having stellar seasons, too.
It can’t happen, but I’d like to propose a change to this year’s NL MVP voting: Let the AL stars not named Mike Trout compete. Everybody plays everybody now, anyway, so, really, what is the rationale behind still splitting the awards by league? When we look back years later, unless you’re a Braves fan, you’re not going to remember the season Freeman is having, no, you’re going to remember how freaking stacked the top of the AL was and, even though Trout was the obvious choice for AL MVP, there were a bunch of other guys, who, in any other year, would have been deserving of MVP, too. Nobody is taking Freeman over Betts; Freeman over Judge; maybe even Freeman over Lindor or Ramirez or Machado. It’s not too late, Rob Manfred, you can still drop the charade!
So let’s give -- what used to be the NL MVP now known as the Not Mike Trout MVP -- to Betts. The Red Sox are going to win over 100 games, and Betts is a major reason why. He’s the best player on a real, October contender. ( On a serious note: Won’t it feel weird for both MVP winners to not play for team’s without a chance of winning the World Series this year?) Yes, Martinez has been worth every penny, a bout with carpal tunnel is precisely what David Price needed to get back on track in Boston, and the only thing to complain about in Boston is Blake Swihart never putting it together. Betts has been worth a WAR of 4.6 -- Freeman a few spots behind in seventh overall among qualified hitters, per Fangraphs -- and, he only maintains a WRC+ of 193. For reference, only Trout is ahead of him with a 199 WRC+. Freeman has a WRC+ of 155, which is elite, too, but a WRC+ in the 190s, like only Betts and Trout own, is just ridiculous. Betts does it all -- he hits for average, doesn’t strike out a lot, hits for power (20 HRs for Betts, 15 for Freeman), and plays above-average defense. Betts is the total package and then some -- he’s just not Mike Trout.
You could sell me on Ramirez for the Not Mike Trout MVP award, or Lindor, or Judge, or Machado, or even Altuve but you can’t sell me on it being Freeman. If the conversation is whether or not Freeman is a top-10 player, it’s not a debate: Freddie Freeman is a top-10 player in MLB. If the conversation is whether or not Freeman winning an MVP but Betts and Lindor and Ramirez and Judge and Altuve doesn’t seem like a crime, that is very much a debate. The answer is probably Mookie Betts, with Ramirez and Judge close behind, and then Freeman comes in with Machado and Lindor and Altuve. Freddie Freeman is a very good MLB, but that’s not good enough to win the Not Mike Trout MVP -- no, that award belongs to the Red Sox superstar Mookie Betts. Make it happen, Manfred.