Photo via USA TODAY Sports
The National League is stacked with premier players vying for the honor of winning the Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Award.
Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are the common inferences one goes to when thinking of the MVP for the National League in the 2019 season. Perhaps even Pete Alonso, who broke the rookie home run record with 53 home runs, breaking Aaron Judge and his 52 final verdicts from 2017. The debate runs rampant on discussion boards and social media pages alike on which of these three should be the player, with the injury to Yelich and the late-season fade by Alonso’s Mets giving way to Bellinger seemingly being the favorite.
Seemingly, but not definitely. Why?
Because of a third baseman.
Not Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs or Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies, either. But Anthony Rendon. The red white and blue Washington National.
Anthony Rendon, the free-agent-to-be 29-year-old is the MVP in the National League this season.
Let’s start with the basics. When looking at OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), Bellinger’s OPS sits at 1.033, while Rendon’s is 1.010. In regard to extra-base hits, Bellinger has tallied 84, while Rendon has 81. Even in plate appearances, Bellinger outperforms Rendon, with the former having 659 versus 646. All statistics are close, but Bellinger is ahead.
Wait a minute, you said Rendon was the MVP. Yet Bellinger has Rendon covered in all of the stats mentioned above. Precisely.
Let’s dig a little deeper. Bellinger before the All-Star Break had an OPS of 1.124, whereas after the All-Star Break it is .910. Rendon? .997 and 1.023. Rendon, collectively, has shown more consistency in this area through the halves, with the differential for Rendon being .026 in the positive direction, compared to Bellinger’s being .214 in the other direction.
So, both hit really well on the surface, despite the difference mentioned previously. Rendon, in fact, leads Bellinger in hits going into game 162, with the former tallying 174 hits compared to 169 for the latter. But that is too easy to say Rendon has the edge over Bellinger. Even looking between the numbers, Rendon also has shown slightly more diversity in the spray chart of how and he makes contact. Rendon’s line drive and fly ball percentage is 20.9% and 45.7%, compared to Bellinger’s which is 26.2% and 42.3%. Line drives and flyballs are the prime indicators of how to get hits, and although Bellinger possesses more hits for extra-bases, Rendon has shown to be slightly more three-dimensional in how he makes contact to collect the hits he gets.
In today’s game, where the three “true outcomes” of baseball is more prevalent than ever in regards to strikeouts, walks and home runs, making contact and not being strikeout-prone is becoming more and more of a rarity. While Bellinger outperforms Rendon in walk percentage and home runs (14.4% and 47 compared to 12.3% and 34), the key outcome to making contact at all lies in not whiffing and strolling back to the dugout with your head tucked down looking at the buttons on the jersey while spitting out sunflower seeds. In regard to strikeout percentage, Rendon has Bellinger beat in this, with Rendon striking out only 13.4% of the time, compared to Bellinger who strikes out 16.5% of the time.
Now, sure, the variance between the two is slight in either’s favor, depending on how you look at it.
Let’s look at it from a more team-oriented angle.
For Los Angeles, with Bellinger included, the average team OPS when averaging players with a minimum of 100 plate appearances is .826. Without him, the team’s average OPS is .810.
In regard to Washington Nationals players with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, the average OPS with Rendon included is .813. Without Rendon? .798. Without Rendon, the offense is not as potent as a Los Angeles lineup without Bellinger. Furthermore, the Dodgers have scored 877 runs, whereas the Nationals have scored 865. Bellinger has driven in 13% of those runs (115 RBI) compared to Rendon, who has driven in 14.6% of his team’s runs (126 RBI).
Look at it from this final angle. Starting play on May 24th the Nationals were a dead team walking, sitting at 19-31 with an injury-riddled staff and a manager in Dave Martinez on the hot seat. The season looked bleak. The white flag was getting ready to be hoisted. Then the team turned it around, due in large part to Rendon, who, since May 24th, has slashed .319/.411/.580, good enough for a .990 OPS. The Dodgers, on the same date, were sitting pretty at 32-18, an almost complete opposite to Washington. Bellinger since that date? .264/.371/.568 and a .940 OPS.
As a team, the Dodgers would not be the same team without Bellinger, but they would be able to hold their own without him. As a team, the Washington Nationals are lost without Rendon.
The MVP award and the debate regarding what quantifies as “valuable” persists among websites, blogs, and social media websites. It will always be a heated topic. And Cody Bellinger versus Anthony Rendon will be part of it. Both have had amazing seasons that no one can take anything away from.
The answer is simple, though.
Anthony Rendon, the stage, spotlight, and award are yours.