COLLEGE PARK, Maryland–The Washington Nationals have the National League’s second-best record. One of the main reasons: the elite-level play of third baseman Anthony Rendon.
But Rendon did not make the All-Star Team and, according to pundits and oddsmakers, does not have much chance of taking home the league’s MVP award.
Sports betting website Bovada.com gives Rendon 20-1 odds to win the award — seventh-best in the league — compared to 3-2 odds for current favorite Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins.
The crowded league MVP race field also includes a handful of other Nationals’ players. It feels like Rendon is “competing against his own team to see who’s really the most valuable player there,” said MLB.com Nationals beat writer Jamal Collier.
“In a race like this for the MVP, he’s just a guy who a lot of people might not consider right away, until you really take a dive into his numbers and see how good he’s been,” Collier said. “But he definitely deserves to be in those first couple of names mentioned.”
Here are the top four reasons Rendon deserves to be in the MVP running.
1. He’s an all-around player
Rendon’s statistical case for the award mostly rests on his all-around excellence. He’s far above average at the plate, in the field and on the bases, pushing his total value higher than almost anyone else. While there are players better than Rendon at each of those three aspects of the game, very few have matched his performance in all three.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an all-encompassing stat that measures how “valuable” a player has been compared with a “replacement player” called up from the minor leagues.
A leading baseball website, Fangraphs.com, has Rendon tied with the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve for the MLB position-player WAR lead at 6.5 wins. Odds-on MVP favorite Stanton comes in third at 6.1. Other WAR formulas find slightly different numbers, but most agree Rendon has been of the most valuable players in the league.
Rendon’s all-around play this season should put him in the conversation for the MVP, said Andrew DiComo, a New York Mets beat writer for MLB.com.
“He brings a lot of value, and I think he gets overshadowed by Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy,” DiComo said. “He doesn’t really, off the top of my head, have a weakness, and that’s a pretty rare thing, especially in today’s game when guys can be so specialized.”
2. He’s a defensive stalwart
One factor that differentiates Rendon from most other league MVP candidates: a large part of his value lies in his defensive ability.
He plays an excellent hot corner, ranking among the league leaders in defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). UZR assigns each play a run value and credits or penalizes a player depending on whether he made the play.
“Defensively he is as good as anybody else at that position,” Collier said. “With Rendon, the impact he makes on the field, kind of how easily he picks it, watching it every day you get to really appreciate just how smooth he is defensively.”
3. He can hit, too
Rendon is not an elite power hitter like most of the other players in the MVP race, but that hasn’t stopped him from contributing as a hitter. Although not in the same rarefied air with the bat as he is on defense, he is still among the league’s best hitters by several measures.
His on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) comes in at a stellar .948, a figure that ranks eighth in the league and 42 percent better than league average. That’s ahead of Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado — a dark horse MVP candidate — although significantly behind Stanton. Using more traditional offensive stats, Rendon’s 90 RBI are 10th in the league, ahead of slugging teammate Murphy.
Still, a lack of power relative to his fellow MVP-chasers might hinder Rendon’s candidacy in the end.
“Home runs is a sexy stat that people look at,” DiComo said. “What Giancarlo Stanton is doing right now [an MLB-best 53 home runs] for example has opened eyes. If you hit a lot of home runs, you’re generally going to be in contention for postseason awards.”
Rendon has hit 23 home runs this season, a personal career high. However, it still pales in comparison to Stanton and Arenado, who both have at least 30 homers.
4. He’s been consistent down the stretch
The MVP debate could change radically over the final weeks of the season. If Stanton leads the Marlins to an improbable playoff berth, or another candidate goes on a home-run binge, the narrative around the race is bound to shift.
Henry Schulman, a Giants writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, has been part of the league MVP electorate each year since at least 2012. He places extra value on late-season performance.
“I don’t even start looking at numbers and such until the final week of the regular season because I am a big believer that September performance is important in the discussion,” said Schulman via email. “I couldn’t begin to tell you where I see Rendon fitting in.”
Rendon’s performance in recent weeks has done nothing to hurt his chances. Since Aug. 15, his OPS is a healthy .915 and his batting average is .333, significantly higher than his season mark of .304. In 20 games since mid-August, Rendon has knocked in 14 runs and collected 10 extra-base hits.
Despite the possibility that a good September could put him in the conversation for the league’s highest honor, Collier believes Rendon isn’t focused on it.
“A lot of people will say when they’re asked about it, ‘Yeah I’m not thinking about that I’m focused on the team,’” Collier said. “But I think it’s not just lip service or BS when he says it because he generally shows up and plays the game and is kind of focused on baseball.”