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The MLB season is roughly at the halfway point, so July would seem to be a good time to check in on the MVP and Cy Young Award races in both leagues, as well as overall team power rankings. I’ll be doing this utilizing the batted ball-based methods I typically employ here. This week, we’ll assess the MVP races in both leagues. Today, it’s the NL’s turn.

The National League MVP race is wide open, and that’s likely an understatement. No single player has taken the league by storm, and many of the top candidates have been injured for a material stretch of time. Even more notably, a sudden shift in the hitting environment at Busch Stadium, the home of the Cardinals, has artificially inflated the award cases of their position players. Let’s run down the top candidates as I see them, from the Honorable Mentions through the Top 5.


This is a wide-ranging group, and it wouldn’t shock me if the eventual winner came from it, rightly or wrongly. I place the Cardinal position players, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, within this group. Busch Stadium has been an extreme pitchers’ park since it opened, but somehow, someway, it’s behaving as an extreme hitters’ park thus far in 2022. You can read all about it here. Both hitters have been helped dramatically by Busch, as it has masked Goldschmidt’s diminished batted ball authority and Arenado’s amazingly high pop up rate. I’d narrowly place Arenado ahead of Goldschmidt today, at the top of the Honorable Mention group.

There are a couple of Dodgers in this group as well, Mookie Betts and Trea Turner. Injury is the primary reason keeping Betts out of the Top Five, but his batted ball authority hasn’t been all that special, either. His baserunning and defensive value keeps him in the hunt. Turner’s speed drives his overall game, and is likely overvalued by mainstream evaluation methods. For me, he’s just outside the top tier of candidates.

The Mets’ Francisco Lindor falls just short of the top tier as well. If he can rank this high despite hitting under .250, it tells you all you need to know about his upside. He’s become too pull-happy from both sides of the plate, and checks in as roughly an average offensive player relative to the league before positional adjustment. He’s perfectly capable of a big second half that would vault him to the top of this race.


#5 – RF Juan Soto (Nationals) – 15.0 “Tru” Runs Above Average – Ok, ok, some of you may be laughing right about now. Soto checked in with a .226 batting average through July 4, not exactly what one would expect in an MVP candidate. And it’s his bat that must deliver, as he’s offered a combined (-8.6) runs in Baserunning/Defensive value to date.

But Soto has been extremely unlucky on all batted ball types to date (174 Unadjusted vs. 204 Adjusted Fly Ball, 106 vs. 114 Line Drive, 48 vs. 90 Ground Ball Contact Scores) and has an unsustainably low 12.7% liner rate. He “should be” hitting .254-.402-.495 to date, which isn’t all that great by Soto’s standards, but in this season’s offensive environment, in the NL’s wide-open race for individual hardware, it places him in the mix. And you absolutely know he won’t be hitting .226 at the final bell. The Nats are terrible, but this is still Juan Soto we’re talking about.

#4 – 3B Manny Machado (Padres) – 17.4 “Tru” Runs Above Average – Machado would rank higher if he didn’t miss substantial time with an ankle injury. He’s helped quite a bit by Baserunning/Defensive value (+11.1 runs), as his actual offensive numbers are better than his underlying exit speed/launch angle fundamentals.

He has way overperformed on fly balls (183 Unadjusted vs. 114 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score) and grounders (282 vs. 142). He “should” only be hitting .268-.346-.423 given his batted ball mix to date. One should expect Machado’s projected end-of-season numbers to move closer to his actual ones by the end of the season. He’s a more than legit candidate to ultimately bring home the MVP hardware.

#3 – DH Bryce Harper (Phillies) – 18.4 “Tru” Runs Above Average – Last summer, I wrote an article highlighting Harper as a legit MVP candidate when he was way, way off the pace. Ultimately, I picked Soto for the award narrowly over Harper, but more than understood the actual result. This time around, Harper’s out due to thumb surgery, but in this league, in this year, he remains a very live candidate despite his absence.

There’s little Baserunning/Defensive value here (-5.1 runs to date), so the bat is going to have to carry the day. And it just might. His current .318-.385-.599 line is fully supported by his batted ball data. On bat alone, he and Soto are almost exactly in a dead heat for the top spot, seemingly as usual. Harper has been very unlucky on grounders to date (.107 AVG-.143 SLG) despite decent authority and an ability to spray the ball around and avoid regular infield overshifts.

#2 – 1B Freddie Freeman (Dodgers) – 21.8 “Tru” Runs Above Average – As in 2021, I simply don’t believe that the mainstream baseball media sees Freeman as a legitimate MVP candidate. I had him a clear 3rd behind Soto and Harper last season, and have him right in the thick of the race – and way ahead of mainstream frontrunner Goldschmidt – in 2022. His Baserunning/Defensive Value (-1.5) is way better than Goldschmidt’s, and they’re pretty close with the bat, with Freeman earning a slight edge.

Freeman has hit his flies (by 94.3 to 93.0 mph) and grounders (by 86.6 to 85.0 mph) materially harder than Goldschmidt, and has hit way more line drives and way fewer pop ups. Toss it all together, and Freeman “should be” hitting .295-.374-.516, a bit better than Goldschmidt’s projected .274-.363-.510. Freeman is as consistent as they come, and it’s going to take someone going off in the second half to conclusively defeat him.

#1 – SS Dansby Swanson (Braves) – 23.2 “Tru” Runs Above Average – Well, who saw this one coming? Obviously, Baserunning/Defensive Value (+10.9 runs) is a big part of the picture here, but Swanson’s offensive contribution has been roughly comparable to big bats like Pete Alonso and Josh Bell to date.

I’m not sure that it’s going to last, mind you, but outside of some good luck on grounders (175 Unadjusted vs. 84 Adjusted Grounder Contact Score), Swanson’s current numbers are well deserved. His 195 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score is behind only Harper and Soto among players mentioned today. His 90/25 K/BB ratio is a bit scary, and he has a history of streakiness, and may be due for a bad one any day now. There’s always room for the league’s best shortstop in an MVP race, and as of this moment in time, Swanson is the NL’s best.

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