By: Noah Wright
Like in 2018, Christian Yelich entered the season with a lot of potential, and if he could put everything together at once, he could win MVP. That’s exactly what he did, and won the NL MVP by clear margin. The same can be said for Javier Baez, who finished 2nd in NL MVP voting. Next year, we might see another surprise MVP candidate, and here, I want to go over some of the likeliest candidates who could be under the radar candidates for the Most Valuable Player award in 2019.
- Matt Chapman:
Last year, I thought the Gold Glove third baseman that made even Arenado look average deserved MVP over JD Martinez who finished 4th in AL MVP voting. Afterall, look at his numbers. .278/.356/.508 batting line in 616 plate apperances. 24 home runs, 137 wRC+. His .230 ISO ranked 27th in the entire MLB (14th in the AL). In comparison, Justin Upton had a .207 ISO, Miguel Andujar’s ISO was .230 as well, and Bellinger finished 2018 with a .210 ISO. Though Chapman’s bat was easily elite, his defense was on a level only a few have reached in a single season. At third, Chap gave the A’s 29 DRS (29!), 10.9 UZR, and a 3.5 dWAR. Only Andrelton Simmons came close to Chapman in DRS, having 21. At third base, the margin in DRS was wider than the Grand Canyon. The guy in second place, Johan Camargo, had 7. 22 less than Chapman. Chapman also isn’t a bad baserunner. He provided 2.6 baserunning runs above average. His speed, an average 28.3 feet/second (higher than Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, and Jean Segura just to name a few), helps him motor around the bases. Overall, Chappy was worth an impressive 8.2 WAR last year.
- Whit Merrifield:
Now Merrifield isn’t your typical MVP candidate. He’s not the most powerful, nor is he super flashy. But he does everything to a very good level. During 2018, Merrifield gave the Royals a good batting line of .300/.367/.438. In 707 plate appearances. His 120 wRC+ was only lower than that of Javier Baez for qualified second basemen last year. Merrifield’s best tool is his baserunning ability. Merrifield led the American League in stolen bases with 45, and Fangraphs gives him 7.4 baserunning runs above average. That ranked 6th in the AL. His speed of 29.0 feet/second could also give him an edge defensively, as he has excelled with the glove. At his primary position of second base, Merrifield was worth 8 DRS, 1.1 UZR. The speedy infielder can also play some centerfield to an above average rate as well. Overall, the late blooming Merrifield was worth 1.4 dWAR. While Merrifield isn’t much of a power threat, he did blast 19 long balls in 2017, so a 2017 Jose Altuve like season isn’t completely impossible for Merrifield.
- J.T. Realmuto:
The new Philly catcher has the potential to be an MVP in the near future. Last year, JT posted a .277/.340/.484 line in 531 plate appearances. Plus, he slugged 21 home runs. He led all catchers in wRC+ with 126. Overall defensively, he’s about average, having only -7 DRS, but catching 38% of runners trying to steal on him last year. Realmuto is also a great base runner for a catcher. With 4.8 base running runs above average, he ranked higher than Jose Altuve, Marcell Ozuna, Javier Baez, and Dee Gordon in that statistical category. Plus, he has an average 28.6 feet/second spring speed. Last year, JT had a .902 OPS in the first half, but fell to a .721 OPS in the second half. However, now that he’s in a hitter friendly park, and had better away than home splits last year, we could see Realmuto retain a .850-.900 OPS all season, putting him into contention for the Most Valuable Player in the NL.
- Anthony Rendon:
A division rival to JT Realmuto, Anthony Rendon is one of the most underrated players in the entire MLB. Last year, the third baseman put up his second consecutive .900+ OPS season, batting .308/.374/.535 in 597 plate appearances. He had 140 wRC+ last year with Washington. That ranked 10th among all qualified players. Above Mitch Haniger, Eugenio Suarez, Jesus Aguilar, and Nelson Cruz. His .227 ISO was also ranked above average. What is impressive is that Rendon finished 8th in fWAR at 6.3, just under Matt Chapman in fWAR. Though Rendon put up negative numbers in DRS, and UZR at third during 2018, he’s generally been known as a pretty good defender in his career at third base, so I’d expect a bounce back to above average numbers in most of his defensive categories.