The National League MVP race is shaping up to be incredibly tight with a little more than a month left in the regular season, and it parallels the race for the lead in the Total Runs stat.
Total Runs combines Runs Created (offense), Baserunning Runs and Defensive Runs Saved, along with a positional adjustment (but not a park adjustment) to account for a player’s total value.
The candidates in the top spots among the playoff contenders are Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter, Rockies shortstop Trevor Story and third baseman Nolan Arenado, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Cubs second baseman Javier Baez. Each has his strong points.
Carpenter went through a massive struggle early this season, with his batting average standing at .140 through games of May 15 (he had notable issues with defensive shifts). But since then, he’s arguably been as good as any player in baseball. He’s hitting .323/.430/.700 with 30 home runs in his last 82 games.
Carpenter does it on the defensive end as well. Though he’s cost the Cardinals three runs at second base, he’s saved them a combined 10 at the corner infield spots. His seven Defensive Runs Saved at third base are the most he’s had in his career. Carpenter’s value is accentuated by his having 38 more total runs than the Cardinal with the second-most, Marcell Ozuna.
Story has had an offensive bounceback, reestablishing himself as one of the top-hitting shortstops in baseball. Since June 26, he’s hitting .335/.373/.601. He’s created 83 runs, which surpasses his 2017 Runs Created total by 15 runs. He’s also saved four runs at shortstop, continuing his solid defensive reputation.
Arenado’s Defensive Runs Saved total is surprisingly low (he’s saved three runs after averaging 21 the last five seasons). But his contributions with the bat remain as stellar as they’ve ever been. If Arenado has a strong defensive finish to the season, he could finish in the top three in Total Runs for the third straight season.
Freeman is bidding to win his first batting title. He’s been a great hitter and has also been terrific in the field with seven Defensive Runs Saved, which ranks tied for third among first basemen. Though Freeman’s slugging percentage is down from 2017, it still looks impressive relative to offensive numbers throughout baseball. Freeman is one of two Braves with at least 100 Total Runs. Ozzie Albies is the other.
Baez is highly touted by Cubs fans and he’s in the thick of the race. Many feel he’s been worth more than the six runs he’s saved the team at second base and shortstop. Since June 26, he’s hitting .333/.354/.644 with 38 RBI in 44 games. Similar to Carpenter, Baez has a sizable edge on his next-closest teammate, Willson Contreras, who has 84 Total Runs.
Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is one run behind Baez in the Total Runs race. He’s not a serious MVP contender, but is noted here for the amazing season he’s having in spite of a low wins total. He and Max Scherzer are nearly even in the race for most Total Runs among pitchers, just ahead of Red Sox ace Chris Sale.
The gap between the top performers is small enough that it looks like whoever closes the season the best will come out on top in the Total Runs race and perhaps win the MVP as well.