The title isn’t as crazy as it sounds. After his two-homer performance on Sunday Night Baseball, Max Muncy is right in the thick of the National League MVP race.
Muncy is hitting .272/.402/.550 with 25 home runs, a 157 wRC+ and a 15.8 BB%. He also leads all qualified NL position players in xwOBA (.424), while his 4.5 WAR is second in the league. Additionally, of the Top 10 NL hitters in wRC+, his .283 BABIP is the lowest, meaning he’s gotten a bit more unlucky than some of the others, for whatever that’s worth.
Editor’s Note: For the purposes of this article, all reference to WAR are fWAR, or FanGraphs’ WAR.
Not only that, but Muncy has played three different positions for the Dodgers this season. Yes, he even has 11 1/3 defensive innings at third base, mostly because Justin Turner has been a bit banged up. He has played first and second base at well above-average levels. He has 7 defensive runs saved and an 8.9 URZ/150 at first (576 1/3 innings) and 4 DRS and 8.3 UZR/150 at second (246 innings).
So, he’s elite at getting on base, he hits for plus-plus power and plays two defensive positions at above-average levels. What about that doesn’t scream “MVP!”? Not much. However, he has some stiff competition.
Harper is having a strong season for the Phillies. He’s hitting .297/.414/.567 with 21 home runs, the aforementioned, NL-leading 158 wRC+ and a 4.0 WAR. Trea Turner also has a solid claim, as he’s third in the NL in WAR (4.3) and is leading the league in batting average (.318). It’s going to be difficult for him to garner a lot of votes since he came from the Nats in a trade and not a lot of guys traded midseason are serious MVP contenders. A darkhorse is the Reds’ Jesse Winker. The outfielder is hitting .307/.395/.560 with 24 home runs, a 152 wRC+ and a 3.5 WAR. He isn’t a defensive dynamo, but he’s enjoying a breakout season with the bat. Juan Soto might be the best hitter in baseball (.302/.437/.506, 19 HR, 147 wRC+), but the Nats aren’t doing him any favors in the standings when it comes to the MVP race. And while it’ll never happen, the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds is having a great season himself — .309/.391/.536, 21 HR, 147 wRC+, 4.3 WAR.
But his biggest challenger — or vice versa — is Fernando Tatis Jr.
Eric Stephen tweeted this earlier and it’s mind-boggling.
Yep. Tatis Jr. is having a remarkable season and is the leader in the race, despite missing those 30 games. It looked like early on that his shoulder was going to be a season-long issue, but he returned from the injury strong only to re-injure it earlier this month. His first game back was Sunday, and what’d he do? Not only did he play right field — a position he has never played before — he went 4-for-5 with two home runs and a double. The guy is incredible.
Excluding strike-shortened seasons and since MLB went to a 162-game schedule, here are the players who have played the fewest number of games and still won the MVP:
- George Brett, 1980: 117 games
- Mickey Mantle, 1962: 123 games
- Willie Stargell, 1979: 126 games
- Barry Bonds, 2003: 130 games
- Josh Hamilton, 2010: 133 games
- Juan Gonzalez, 1996: 134 games
- Elston Howard, 1963: 135 games
- Rickey Henderson, 1990: 136 games
- Joe Mauer, 2009: 138 games
Tatis Jr. maxing out at 132 games and winning the MVP wouldn’t be terribly surprising.
Oh, and he’s 22 years old. His age doesn’t play a factor in the voting. It’s just more to show he’s going to be a problem for quite some time.
The only things going against Tatis Jr. are the fact he has missed 30 games (although, that makes his numbers even more impressive) and the Padres are slipping a bit in the standings. They’re still leading for the second wild card spot, but they’re on a 90-win pace, as opposed to the Dodgers’ 99-win pace. But that doesn’t matter too much, seeing as both these teams are set to collide in the Wild Card Game — unless the Giants start losing, which, at this point, doesn’t seem likely.
Muncy is having a great season for the Dodgers. He’s been one of the most consistent hitters on the team with the second-best record in baseball this season. Tatis, Jr. is on another planet. It’s going to take a big push from Muncy to earn enough 1st-place votes to dethrone Tatis Jr., but even if he doesn’t, he’s been the MVP for the Dodgers this season.