The Nationals have as much star power as any team in baseball. From Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy to Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the team is loaded with headliners the league pushes to market. And they’ve been recognized for their exploits. The Nationals had five all-stars this year. Harper won the National League MVP award two years ago. Murphy finished second last year, while Scherzer took home the NL Cy Young Award.
Anthony Rendon does not garner the same kind of attention — in part because he actively avoids it, in part because his all-around game doesn’t attract it. He wasn’t an all-star this season. He has actually never been one at the major league level. But the Nationals third baseman went on to complete a strong case for the MVP award as the most consistent player on a club that overcame a slew of injuries to finish with the fourth-best record in baseball.
“It’s good recognition,” Rendon said last week of the MVP buzz. “Trea [Turner] tells me every day what’s going on. But I mean, that’s not what I’m out here playing for. I mean, I couldn’t care less. As long as we just win ballgames, I think all the personal accolades will come with that.”
There isn’t a clear-cut favorite for NL MVP. The crowded field also includes the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, the Reds’ Joey Votto, the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, the Dodgers’ Justin Turner and Corey Seager, and the Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt. Three — Bryant, Arenado and Turner — are third basemen.
The 27-year-old Rendon’s value is best explained by advanced metrics while putting a premium on the position he plays and how well he plays it. As the Nationals’ Twitter account frequently pointed out, Rendon led the National League for much of the second half in FanGraphs WAR. He finished tied for first with Stanton at 6.9. He finished with a 5.9 Baseball Reference WAR, which is computed with a different formula.
Rendon ranked second with 15.8 defensive runs saved behind Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons.At the plate, Rendon, who belted a three-run home run in Sunday’s regular season finale, batted .301 with a .937 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 25 home runs, 41 doubles and 100 RBI. All were career highs. The batting average was 14th in the NL, and the OPS was ninth. He also walked more than he struck out (84 to 82). Only four other qualified batters in the majors pulled that off — Votto, Justin Turner, Anthony Rizzo and Mike Trout.
“I like to be proud of both sides of the field and try to compile a good year offensively as well as a good year defensively,” said Rendon, who finished fifth in the MVP voting in 2014. “I don’t ever want to become a one-way player, I guess you could say. I want to be able to hit and support my team and, obviously, defend and try to save runs for pitchers and just keep the ball in the infield. I just try to take pride in both sides of the field.”
Stanton and Votto are the only candidates mentioned above who won’t play in the postseason, but they are seemingly the leading candidates for the old-school and new-school factions, respectively.
Stanton, a right fielder, led the majors with 59 home runs, 132 RBI and a .631 slugging percentage. Votto’s prowess is better illustrated by less traditional measures: The first baseman led the NL with 165 weighted runs created (wRC+) and a .428 weighted on-base average (wOBA). He also finished first with a 1.032 OPS, first with 134 walks and fourth with a .320 batting average. By nearly every measure, Votto was the best hitter in the NL.
But by at least one metric, Rendon was the best player in the NL. He probably won’t win the award, but a year after being named the league’s comeback player of the year, Rendon took another leap forward and made a strong case.