Will Smith is barely a footnote in Juan Soto‘s life. With a half-dozen HBPs in Soto’s career, Smith might be the only pitcher who has plunked the superstar intentionally though. The Braves lefty closer is just one of the 81 pitchers that Soto has victimized in his career for a home run. If anyone should be upset, it should be Aaron Nola of the Phillies. Nola has served up a trio of dingers to Soto. The 22-year-old is locked and loaded for another run at the league’s MVP. In his four-year career, this will be Soto’s third Top-10 finish in MVP voting, and maybe he deserves to win it this year.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) members, vote for the MVP award. The criteria is clear that you do not have to be playing for a winning baseball team, and it states that directly in the instructions to the voters. Rather it just states that a voter consider the “Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.” Soto is clearly the best player on his team, and if pitchers would actually pitch to him, his value would be enhanced further.
Soto has been getting the Barry Bonds treatment. They would rather walk him than pitch to him. He has accumulated an MLB best 124 walks this season so far. But every once in a while a pitcher will go after Soto. Yesterday’s victim was Jon Gray. The 87.4 mph slider from Gray was crushed at an exit velo of 111.9 mph to an area that went over the cantilevered upper deck and landed four rows short of the concourse behind Section 143 in Nationals Park. In golfer’s terms, the ball flew 151 yards, but Soto gets no credit for the bounce and roll that Phil Mickelson would get. Maybe that is an 8-iron shot.
Technically, you do not win MVP awards for majestic home runs, but you do win them if you hit more than everyone else like Bonds. But Mike Trout has won three MVPs and never led in home runs or batting average in his league. It is a combination of achievements, and Trout has bold black ink all over his BBRef page. Trout won two of those MVPs on teams that didn’t sniff the postseason.
Over at Vegas Insider, it is Bryce Harper as the current odds-on favorite to win the MVP award over Fernando Tatis, Jr. who is still two-ahead of Soto based on the odds. Former teammate, Trea Turner, is two-behind Soto. Other familiar names on there are Max Muncy, Freddie Freeman, and Joey Votto.
With two weeks remaining in the season, can Soto pull it out? Let’s take a look at offense, defense, and WAR value.
The batting crown has Turner at .316, Soto at .315, and Harper at .313
The OBP crown is Soto’s with a big lead at .459 over Harper at a distant .428 in second place.
This is where Harper gets the big edge, and also where Tatis shows up near the top of the leaderboard. But Soto surpassed Tatis yesterday to take second place here. Harper is at 1.052, Soto at .990 and Tatis at .988. But Tatis has all of those stolen bases turning many singles into two-baggers. It is the same argument for Turner who leads the NL in steals with Tatis not too far behind him. Steals don’t show up in OPS. They do factor in WAR.
OUTS ABOVE AVERAGE on DEFENSE
Soto ranks 4th among all rightfielders at a 6 OAA rating. Harper who plays the same position ranks 35 spots behind Soto at a -5 OAA rating.
WAR via Fangraphs
This is where MVPs are made. Turner and Soto are tied at +5.6 WAR for third place. Harper is well in front of Tatis. This all encompassing formulated stat supposedly accounts for everything. Keep in mind that some of the WAR stat is subjective. The OAA stat on defense is from Statcast and is supposed to be as objective as you can get on a player’s defense. Fangraphs has Soto at a negative defensive WAR overall. Rightfield is not a premium defensive position. This is where Turner picks up WAR points over all of the other competitors in the Top-5 WAR spots.
But heart and hustle and intangibles are never factored in. It is a team game which will also skew numbers. Soto, somehow, leads all of those players in runs scored at 100.
TWO WEEK REMAINING
With two weeks remaining in the season, Soto has a chance to do what he did after the HR Derby and go en fuego and push his candidacy. It is unreal to think that Harper, Turner and Soto were all in the lineup together on that Nats 2018 team. At one time, they batted 1-2-3 in the Nats batting order with Soto batting first, and now they are 1-2-3 going for the batting title.
“I was thinking about it the other day: We were just teammates all together and now we’re fighting for the batting title,” Soto said. “It is amazing.”
Amazing indeed, and it was interesting to hear that Soto and Turner still talk often.
“I talked with Trea. He likes it,” Soto said. “He said it’s just fun to compete with each other and try to see who’s the best.”
Keep in mind that Soto won the batting crown last year which was quite a feat for a 21 year old.
“He’s been great,” Soto’s manager Dave Martinez said. “He gives himself a chance to hit every pitch. That’s all you can ask for. I hope that he continues to swing. I want to see him win another batting title. Back-to-back, that’s hard to do, but he’s got a chance to do it.”
Two weeks remaining.