By: Kathleen Boyce
For the majority of the season, the NL MVP race has been between Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger. On July 8th, MLB released a commercial called “Belli vs. Yeli: A game of M-V-P (Cody Bellinger vs. Christian Yelich!)” with the two players playing a game of PIG, but with letters M,V, and P. However, while the MLB made the NL MVP race out to be a two-horse race, another player put together an MVP caliber season and catapulted himself into the discussion.
Anthony Rendon used to fly under the radar when it came to the recognition of his talent, but his impressive statistics and World Series win has changed this and he is now regarded as one of the best hitters in baseball. He helped pull the Nationals out of a huge regular-season hole and through the playoffs with a dominant season at the plate and in the field, and he deserves to take home the NL MVP award.
There are a lot of factors that go into this year’s NL MVP award that are outside of the statistics themselves, so let’s look at these before diving into the stats. One very important consideration that will go into the votes is the health of Christian Yelich. Had he not fouled a ball off of his kneecap on September 10th and ended his season, the MVP award would have most likely been his. He finished with the highest batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS. However, he missed 20 extremely critical September games, during which the Brewers went 14-6, earning the second NL Wild Card spot without him. Yelich was a dominant hitter in 2019 without a doubt, but this injury opens the door for Bellinger and Rendon.
Many people are now looking at Cody Bellinger as the MVP, but I want to argue that Rendon was the more “valuable” player to his team. Cody Bellinger plays for the dominant Dodgers, who are stacked with impact players up and down their lineup. On the other hand, Anthony Rendon has carried a large portion of the offensive load for the Nationals, especially after the departure of Bryce Harper. According to Fangraphs, the total WAR for the Nationals hitters is 26.0, while the WAR for Dodgers hitters is 34.8. Cody Bellinger’s individual WAR was 7.8 (22.4% of the team WAR), and Anthony Rendon’s was 7 (26.9% of the team WAR). To demonstrate my point, if you subtract Cody Bellinger’s 7.8 WAR, the Dodgers still have a better WAR than the Nationals do with Anthony Rendon, proving the fact that Anthony Rendon is the more “valuable” player to his team.
|Anthony Rendon||Christian Yelich||Cody Bellinger|
Now, for the numbers! Anthony Rendon places second out of the three players in batting average (.319) and OBP (.412) behind Christian Yelich, and is third in SLG, OPS, and HR. Bellinger and Yelich are known more as power hitters than Rendon is, but Rendon brings things to the table in other aspects of the game. Nicknamed “Tony Two Bags,” he leads the three candidates in doubles, and although they aren’t as highly regarded as homers, they are extremely productive at-bats that show the telltale signs of a good hitter. Rendon also has the best BB/K ratio at 0.93, with 80 BB and 86 K. He only strikes out in 13.3% of his at-bats, which is less than Bellinger’s 16.4%. In an era in which the league’s hitters are striking out more and more (Baez: 27.8%, Acuña: 26.3%), Rendon stands out as someone who doesn’t. In general, putting the ball in play, except for a double play, is more productive than striking out.
Anthony Rendon is also considered a top fielder, and he plays third base, a highly coveted position. Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) is a stat from Fangraphs that adds fielding runs above average with positional runs, so it is a tool to compare the fielding abilities of different positions. Anthony Rendon’s DEF is 4.1, Cody Bellinger’s is 3.2, and Christian Yelich’s is a -3.7. If it wasn’t for Nolan Arenado, Rendon would already have at least one Gold Glove, and a major part of his value to the Nationals is his consistent level of defense.
A psychological association of an MVP is a player who comes through in clutch situations. Baseball Reference keeps track of a player’s stats in different scenarios. Rendon batted .365 with runners in scoring position, and he also batted .362 with RISP and 2 outs with 37 RBI and an OPS of 1.313. In what Baseball Reference considers high leverage situations, Rendon hit an astonishing .402 with a 1.268 OPS. Comparing this to his normal .319 AVG and 1.010 OPS, it is clear that Rendon consistently thrives in important situations. On the other hand, Cody Bellinger’s numbers show that he isn’t as clutch as Rendon. With runners in scoring position and 2 outs, Bellinger only batted .241 with 22 RBI and an OPS of .804 (his overall OPS is 1.035). In the Nats’ five elimination games this past postseason, Rendon had three HR’s and three doubles in the 7th inning or later. Therefore, Anthony Rendon fits our mold of an MVP: the player you are thrilled to see come up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning if he is on your team, and a nightmare for the opposing team.
After looking at the statistics, let’s return to the storyline. Christian Yelich missed the portion of the season where his team played the best and launched themselves into the playoffs. Cody Bellinger is a star, but he is one of many bright spots on an electric team. On the other hand, Anthony Rendon was the backbone of the World Series champion. After being 19-31 on May 23rd, the Nationals finished the regular season 74-38 (0.661 winning percentage) with Rendon being the leader behind the comeback. People were concerned as to how the Nats would fare without Bryce Harper, but Rendon silenced those concerns with a stellar season. Even though it doesn’t impact MVP voting, it should also be noted that Rendon’s team has defeated both of the other candidates’ teams during their World Series run. Anthony Rendon’s solid hitting, clutch plays, and impact on his team should win him the award.