Washington Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon was the victim of a star-studded logjam at third base, preventing him from representing his team in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Nolan Arenado, the RBI leader at the break, won the fan vote and players voted in Jake Lamb as the backup, leaving Rendon without a roster spot.
But forget all-star nominations — it’s time we start talking about Rendon as the league’s most valuable player.
Rendon finished the first half batting .304 with 16 home runs and 54 RBI, creating runs at a rate that is 48 percent higher than average after adjusting for league and park effects (148 wRC+), the most among NL third basemen and tied for fourth highest among NL hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Plus, he saved 17 runs per 150 innings through his fielding prowess, the most of any infielder this season.
The only other hitter in the NL entering the second half who produced as many wins above replacement as Rendon (4.1 fWAR) is Justin Turner. Paul Goldschmidt (4.0), teammate Bryce Harper (3.8), Joey Votto (3.8), Corey Seager (3.6), Nolan Arenado (2.9), Charlie Blackmon (2.7) and rookie sensation Cody Bellinger (2.3) — all given better odds than Rendon to be named NL MVP — have all been less valuable during the first half.
Yes, much of Rendon’s value comes from his solid play at third base, but his batting and base running is worth 21.2 runs above average, fifth most in the league heading into the second half. And he makes pitchers work for their outs, requiring them to throw 4.5 pitches per plate appearance, second-most in the majors and tops in the NL. He also swings at very few pitches outside the strike zone (21 percent, third-lowest in the league), allowing him to get ahead in the count more, where he is batting .356 with a 1.256 OPS.
This all-around play has Rendon batting .293 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI, producing a 6.1 fWAR by the end of 2017 — the second-highest in the league behind Goldschmidt (6.2), per Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections. Steamer projections have Rendon finishing third (6.2 fWAR) behind Harper (6.6) and Goldschmidt (6.3).
Finishing in the top three is key for any MVP candidate: Since 2008, eight of the nine eventual NL MVP winners have ranked No. 1 in FanGraphs’ wins above replacement by season’s end, the lone exception being Ryan Braun, who had the third-highest fWAR in 2011.
In sum, Rendon is the most valuable player in the league for a team that is among the most likely to win the World Series. If that doesn’t make someone an MVP candidate, nothing does.