NL MVP Race – Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado

By Ryan Thoms
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado both enjoyed marvelous seasons for the Colorado Rockies, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The NL MVP race is tight with players like Joey Votto and Giancarlo Stanton leading the way due to their career seasons. Here is a comparison of Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon with Joey Votto and Giancarlo Stanton in the main offensive categories:

Charlie Blackmon .331 213 37 104 137 14 35 14 1.000
Joey Votto .320 179 36 100 106 5 34 1 1.032
Giancarlo Stanton .281 168 59 132 123 2 32 0 1.007
Nolan Arenado .309 187 37 130 100 3 43 7 .959

*Bold stats indicate that the respective player led the National League in that category.

All four players had incredible seasons, and by just looking at the stats alone, it is difficult to pick an immediate winner. Stanton tore up the power categories, Votto was the perfect combination of power and on base efficiency, Blackmon was the best leadoff hitter in the sport, and Arenado was an extra-base-hit machine. However, Blackmon and Arenado have an advantage over Votto and Stanton that does not show up on the stat line.

What Blackmon and Arenado lack in the statistical department is made up for by the fact that their team made the postseason. Albeit the Rockies were eliminated in the Wild Card Game, the voting was conducted before the postseason, so the run that a player’s respective team made is immaterial when discussing the MVP voting. However, front-runners like Votto and Stanton were on below .500 teams and played in less meaningful games than either Blackmon and Arenado did down the stretch. Arenado and Blackmon’s ability to perform in a pennant race and pressured situations makes their seasons all more impressive.

The Rockies did not have an easy path to the postseason. They finished only one game ahead of the surprising Milwaukee Brewers and only four games ahead of the perennial contender, the St. Louis Cardinals. Due to this, it can be argued that without either of Blackmon or Arenado the Rockies would not have made the postseason. This assertion can be backed up with WAR. Wins above replacement illustrates how many more wins a player creates for his team compared to if he was replaced with a replacement-level player. Here is how Arenado and Blackmon fared against other NL position players:

Name bWAR NL Rank
Charlie Blackmon 6.0 6th
Nolan Arenado 7.2 3rd

Assuming they were not replaced by superstar players, Blackmon and Arenado were two of the pivotal players that led Colorado to their first postseason appearances in eight years. MVP voters can argue that their ballpark inflated their stats and that if Votto or Stanton played at Coors Field they’d be breaking all sorts of records, but that is merely speculation. What matters is that Arenado trails Stanton and Votto by .4 and .3 wins respectively and has solid offensive numbers and flashes Gold Glove defense on a nightly basis. Blackmon trailed only Stanton, Votto, Arenado, Tommy Pham, and Kris Bryant in WAR and was able to achieve incredible offensive numbers, while occupying the leadoff spot in the batting order and playing center field.

Other than Bryant none of the aforementioned players’ teams made the playoffs other than Arenado and Blackmon’s Rockies. This made Blackmon and Arenado truly valuable assets to their team in comparison to the other frontrunners. One can argue that Votto and Stanton prevented their teams from losing 100 games and being the laughingstocks of the league, but that is irrelevant as the only difference in losing 90 games or 100 games is a better draft pick. Their “value” was nowhere near the value that Arenado and Blackmon provided the Rockies.

Another stat that advocates for the value of Blackmon and Arenado is WPA. WPA stands for win probability added, which adds up over the course of a season how a player directly impacted his team’s chances of winning based on the situations he was presented. Here is where Blackmon and Arenado rank in the National League for WPA:

Player WPA NL Rank
Charlie Blackmon 4.3 5th
Nolan Arenado 4.9 1st

Both players are top five in the National League in WPA with Arenado leading all of National League offensive players in the category. WPA is a crucial to connecting a player’s skillset with how effectively they can impact the outcome of a game. Both Blackmon and Arenado demonstrate team value by their ability to come through when the team’s chances of winning are down. WPA also only takes into account offense, so Arenado and Blackmon’s overall contributions are not fully captivated by WPA.

Individually Arenado and Blackmon offer more than just offense. Arenado has four Gold Gloves to his name and is a finalist to win the 2017 award for third base. He leads National League third baseman in Range Factor and is second in the entire National League in defensive wins above replacement with a 2.3 mark. Blackmon’s fielding metrics are not favorable, but being able to patrol center filed on a nightly basis, while being an offensive powerhouse is very impressive. His 14 stolen bases are more than Votto, Stanton, and Arenado combined, and he did all his damage as the table-setter for the Rockies offense.

While Arenado and Blackmon may not have the power stats of Stanton or the on-base skills of Joey Votto, their MVP cases are built on the fact that they had marvelous seasons while playing meaningful baseball. Coors Field impacting their stats should not warrant debate as their opponents played in the same confines, and Blackmon and Arenado were successfully able to give their team the edge in most circumstances. Playing on the same team will ultimately split their votes; however, ruling either one of them out without deep consideration is blasphemy.

Posted in MLB

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