The Five Most Valuable Players in Baseball
Being an MVP candidate doesn’t always sync up with being the most valuable player in baseball. Max Rosenfeld breaks down the five players that move the needle the most for their ball clubs.
Often in sports, we come across confusion when discussing the most valuable players a game has to offer. In fact, the Most Valuable Player award is frequently given to players who are actually the best, but maybe not the most important to their respective teams.
It’s important to distinguish value, which deals with importance based on a player’s relationship to his club, from talent-based results, which are merely a product of how good a player is. The most valuable players are crucial to their team’s success. Without them, it is nearly impossible for the team to reach its ultimate goal.
So, who are the five most valuable players in baseball, and what makes them so critical to their team’s success?
Nolan Arenado, 3B Colorado Rockies
Arenado is officially the culture-setter in Colorado. As the best player on a team that just made the playoffs for the first time since 2007, Arenado is the face for this generation of Rockies teams. Arenado amassed a 7.2 WAR in 2017, collecting 37 home runs and 130 runs batted in while slashing .309/.373/.586, all while winning his fifth consecutive Gold Glove award–an accomplishment he has been granted in each of his Major League seasons. Arenado is not just valuable, he is one of the best overall players the game has to offer.
Still, Arenado sometimes suffers from the critiques that naturally come when a position player flourishes in Colorado (just ask Larry Walker). It is up to Arenado to continue his Cooperstown-like production in order to prove the doubters wrong and bring the Rockies back to the postseason again in 2018.
Kris Bryant, 3B Chicago Cubs
Bryant and Cubs manager Joe Maddon share a mutual benefit from one another because of their inherent ability to play to the other’s strengths. Maddon is a member of the new wave of baseball thinking and likes to employ a roster that is both versatile in its positional and lineup construction. Bryant is essentially an MVP caliber Swiss Army knife.
Not only does Bryant have some of the most lethal power tools in all of baseball, he gets on base at an alarmingly high rate, as evidenced by his .946 OPS in 2017, good for eleventh best in the big leagues.
Bryant is primarily a third baseman but is more than capable of playing all three outfield spots and first base if need be. Bryant played only nine games in the outfield and two at first base in 2017 but played 69 in the outfield and nine at first base during the Cubs 2016 championship campaign. This allows Maddon to give other players on the roster rest and create a variety of lineups based on the opponent on any given day. Indubitably, Bryant is crucial to the success of the Cubs.
Aaron Judge, OF/DH New York Yankees
It’s hard to leave Judge off this list based on his production last year. Judge stunned the baseball world by becoming one of the most valuable players in the game in 2017, smacking 52 home runs while recording a .422 (!) on base percentage. Forget the 208 strikeouts, Judge walks and hits enough balls over the fence to render them next to meaningless.
Now, Judge is tasked with replicating his epic season as the face of the Baby Bombers. The Yankees will be presented with high expectations in 2018 which they will be unable to reach if he regresses significantly. Baseball Reference pegs Judge for 37 home runs and 86 RBI’s this season.
David Price, LHP Boston Red Sox
Price’s tenure in Boston to this point has been…rocky. Price has failed to live up to the massive contract the Red Sox gave him two winters ago and even wound up in the bullpen for Boston’s American League Division Series against the Houston Astros. He must surpass the performance of his recent seasons if the Red Sox have any hope of retaining the edge in the AL East over the Yankees.
Reports have indicated that Boston is close to a deal with outfielder J.D. Martinez, but the point remains that the determining factor in if the Red Sox can maintain their edge over the Yankees will be the production of their starting pitching, beginning with the uncertainty surrounding Price. The talent is still there–after all, he shined last postseason with 6 2/3 shutout innings as a reliever. But as the Boston media will have you know, there is still plenty for Price to prove moving forward.
Stephen Strasburg, RHP Washington Nationals
The biggest obstacle to Strasburg and household name status has been his ability to remain healthy. This has not come easy for the star right-hander. Strasburg was dazzling in last year’s NLDS against the Cubs, striking out 22 and not allowing an earned run in 14 innings pitched. But still, the Nationals could not make it past Chicago, falling yet again before the NLCS.
2018 looks to be a make or break year in the nation’s capital given Bryce Harper‘s impending free agent frenzy. Yet it could be Strasburg, not Harper or Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, that is actually the most important factor to Washington’s success this season. If he can remain on the mound, the Nationals will boast the most impressive 1-2 punch in baseball and will pose a serious threat for home-field advantage in the NL playoffs, a factor that could help decide the pennant. The excuses have run their course in D.C. It has to be now.