For months, it looked almost certain that Ronald Acuña Jr. would win the National League’s Most Valuable Player award, perhaps unanimously. Perhaps he will still do so, for he certainly did nothing prejudicial to his cause; He hit just .320/.407/.515 this month as the Braves clinched their sixth straight division title. But, through no fault of his own, it’s not so clear anymore, is it?
That’s because Mookie Pets is about to expire best month For what increasingly looks like a career in the Hall of Fame. Coming into Monday, Acuña led in home runs, OPS, and both major Wins Before Replaced titles. While ballots aren’t – nor should they be – a simple “war rating” exercise, especially when small winning bits are involved, both major versions of WAR now feature Betts as a full winning forward, which is a meaningful difference.
Leading the league in WAR, home runs, and OPS, all for a first-place team? Perhaps the question is not why Bates won the award, but rather why he won the award Not a winner that it.
This is very spontaneous, of course. What Bates is missing is the season-long narrative of being the front runner for the award, which is something that matters a lot. What he’s missing are the 49 (!) extra stolen bases that Acuña has, potentially on his way to his first 30/70 season in history. But if we’re discussing narratives here, the story of Bates’ response to the call to move from right field to start 52 games (and counting) as a quarterback, just because his team needed him, is powerful in its own right.
Even this conversation (and it does!) says more about Bates’ greatness than it does about any imagined flaw in Acuña. How did Bates get here – and how do you define value, anyway?
(A brief moment to acknowledge Freddie Freeman, who is in the midst of the best full season of his Hall of Fame career; believe it or not, he is just nine points behind Louis Arrays in the major league lead in batting average, a feat that would It catches some voters’ attention. He actually leads Acuña in FanGraphs WAR. But since Freeman plays first base and trails Betts in slugging and both Betts and Acuña in home runs, he lacks some of that narrative quality that matters when humans vote for trophies .
To a lesser extent, this also applies to Matt Olson, who will likely hit 50 and lead the sport in RBIs, even though he will fall behind in the war due to a lack of valuable first base run and first base defense, i.e., by his own admission, not up to its usual level. Realizing that a hot finish can change the equation, we’ll consider this a two-man race for now.)
1) It took Bates’ best month at the plate to get here
As of Monday, Bates has had a portion of last season Training with weighted bats In Driveline Baseball, he is second in the Majors (behind only Shohei Ohtani) in slugging percentage and OPS, and has already tied a career high of 35 batters.
This is key, because for most of the season, Bates has trailed Acuña in terms of production, and as noted earlier, Acuña has faced almost no slump. Instead, Betts has run it, in a way that might be easier to understand if you look at their respective monthly OPS. It’s indisputable that Acuña got off to a faster start than Betts did, just as it’s indisputable that Betts had a much better August than Acuña had. between two? From May through July, Bates had 1,000 OPS. Acuña had a .989 OPS, which means: essentially identical.
The difference is in that first month, and in the last month. Since Betts’ advantage in August was greater than Acuña’s in April, the season’s totals reflect that Betts was somewhat better at the plate, mostly when it came to power, because he has 11 extra base hits.
Bets: .315/.407/.611, 1.018 ops, 171 ops+, 35 h
acuña: .333/.417/.569, .986 ops, 159 ops+, 29 hrs
Betts now holds a 43-point gap in OPS. They’re basically even in runs scored (Acuña has five more), and Betts has a 19-point advantage in RBIs. They each have excellent strikeout and walk rates, and both are better than average.
But it took until Aug. 20 for Betts to take the lead in OPS, and that’s the key here. Given Acuña’s huge lead in stolen bases, which we’ll get to in a moment, Bates had to hit as well or better to make a solid case, which he now finally has – thanks best month He’s ever had it. It’s one of the best months anyone has had in the last ten seasonsIn reality.
Beats, Best Months Ever, by Ops
1.328 // Aug. 2023
1,200 // May 2018
1.173 // April 2018
1.156 // September 2018
1.103 // August 2020
This gets into really “create any story you like” territory. If you want to give credit to Acuña for consistency, feel free to do so. If you want to give credit to Betts for getting better as the season goes on and playing at a higher level as the playoffs approach, then you have to credit him for that too. There will never be a right answer there.
But in reality, this is the easy part of the argument. Aside from his batting average, Betts beats Acuña in most notable batting metrics you can think of, including the WAR hitting component (FanGraphs has Betts in 51 batters, Best in the NLwith Acuña third behind Freeman at 46). Although Bates is unlikely to repeat his August feat, the 43-point lead in OPS seems hard to beat in the last few weeks, and the difference expectations I suggest they perform roughly identically in this regard for the rest of the season, which would be a fitting finale for two elite hitters.
If that happens, Bates will lead operations, potentially lead war, and… well, what does that mean?
2) How rare is it to lead the league in WAR and OPS and not win the MVP award?
“Sixteen of the top 28 players have led the league in bWAR,” Benjamin Alter He wrote for SABR earlier this year‘, while also noting that only once in the last 15 seasons has he won an MVP award without finishing in a top 5 total wars, which is an indication of the growing acceptance of the scale over the years. Having the most wars in a season doesn’t (and shouldn’t) guarantee an MVP award, but leading the league in it certainly says a lot about how important you are. So, how often does the player star in operations and in war? And if they do, as Bates is currently doing, how often does that turn into a reward?
Since the Baseball Writers Association of America began voting for MVPs in 1931, a player has topped his league in OPS and WAR 80 times. (That’s 43 in the National League, 37 in the American League). Only 42 of those seasons ended in MVP seasons, or just over half. This seems like a disappointing association, but it was all those chapters from nearly a century ago, long before anyone had heard of any such thing.
It might be worth sticking to the modern era. Just look how it has disappeared since 2000:
National League since 2000
The two who do not? in 2000when voters certainly didn’t know how to handle the numbers Todd Hilton put up on Course Field prior to the hydration (finished fifth), and 2017which isn’t hard to explain at all, since Giancarlo Stanton was essentially even with Joey Votto in WAR (7.9 to Photo’s 8.1), but he did knock out 59ers on his way to MVP honors.
American League since 2000
So, you could say that in the past 20 years, the player leading in OPS and WAR has won 10 out of 12 times (83%), a number that will likely change given that Ohtani is certain to lead the AL in those categories as well — and Bates is on his way to doing so. So in the National League. To do that, and not win the prize, would require a very convincing narrative. Luckily for Acuña, he has one, but Bates has one, too.
Acuña has 61 steals after two on Monday night, the most in baseball. Bates has 10. If we put that into our cool scientific calculator, Acuña has stolen more than six times as many bases as Bates. It’s a lot. It’s too much, and the reasons are different, as MLB.com’s David Adler spoke about recently. It’s not just about speed; It also seems to be about being wise enough to realize that the game has changed and aggression is a good thing. This is clearly the biggest selling point of any “Acuña for MVP” case, as he would end up with nearly unparalleled power/speed numbers, potentially finishing with a historic 30/70 season. (A 40/70 season, which once seemed possible, now seems unlikely, given that he has only hit eight homers since the beginning of July.)
But for Bates supporters, there are two easy counterpoints here. The first is that Acuña was Caught stealing more than anyone elseand getting off bases hurts more than getting on base, although that hardly closes the gap.
The second was the move Bates made during the season to (mostly) second base and (occasionally) shortstop, changes necessitated by the early-season injuries to Chris Taylor and Miguel Rojas and the July demotion of struggling rookie second baseman Miguel Vargas to the minor leagues. .
Going into Monday, Bates has appeared in 92 games at right field, 47 at second base, and 16 at shortstop. Here is the full and complete list In AL/NL history, players have appeared in at least 15 games as second place, shortstop, and at any outfield position, in a season in which they also hit at least 25 home runs:
Scoring an Acuña 30/70, or whatever it came to in the end, is an incredibly impressive feat. Bets move to the center of the field (and back to the right, and then back again, while hitting equal In all three of them) is impressive in its own way. Will voters be able to consider either? more adorable? It’s an impossible choice.
4) Defense metrics either favor the bets, or they don’t.
If we really want to make an argument, let’s put this: Leading metrics don’t necessarily agree with Betts, but they do think Acuña’s all-around defensive game has been average just this year.
It’s not hard to explain what Statcast sees in the six-time Gold Glover and Betts, and it’s nothing new. His once elite speed decreased as he got older, and now, at the age of thirty, he has exactly that Intermediate league Speed, which can be seen in the fact that it is now rated as over Very good in basic operation. for him The defense followed suit As the glove that used to be around the world (until 2018) is now solid (until 2022) and this year it’s even more average.
However, what he might lose in Defensive metrics, he might gain back in Featured Plays:
There is actually a very entertaining world in which Bates wins the Gold Glove award for utility player, which was first handed out last season. But either way, Bates’ case here isn’t “very well liked by defensive metrics” because it is “not an area where Acuña has a clear advantage in the MVP situation.”
5) So who has the advantage now?
Both stars have a proven track record of success and play for a top club, so there isn’t much of a difference between them. They both have a slow first baseman as their deputy, so there’s a somewhat similar “splitting vote” factor. If you care about contextual stats like probability of winning, They are basically connected therealthough Bates has a healthy progression with Runners are in a scoring position.
The correct answer is here there is no correct answer, Not now, as August turns into September. You can make a strong case for either of them—or Freeman, too—and you can’t be wrong, because they all deserve it. Just like with Ohtani vs. Aaron the Judge Last year, when you have two elite players having really great seasons, sometimes the only mistake you can make is not valuing both at the expense of having to pick a winner.
In the end, it’s clear that Bates’ case is very good, but it’s also clearly very close to predicting it. In September, the race will be very interesting. But at least it is. For the first time, it’s now a real race.