Weighing up the NL MVP race at the halfway point

deGrom pitches
Jacob deGrom is the frontrunner for the 2021 NL MVP award. Photo from NYT.

The 2021 NL MVP race is fierce. As July begins, there are several players with a legitimate shot at the award.

Some would see this as a three-horse race between Jacob deGrom, Fernando Tatis Jr and Ronald Acuna Jr. Perhaps we are destined for a first-time winner, but former MVPs Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper loom.

2021 NL MVP race

deGrom is currently getting +125 as he aims to become the first National League pitcher since Clayton Kershaw to win the award. The Mets ace is doing historic stuff every fifth day. Keeping this up through the second half is the real test for deGrom. If he can reproduce this level of run prevention in the next three months, he will post one of the greatest pitching seasons in the history of the sport.

It’s easy to forget how long is left in this season, though. The 60-game campaign in 2020 has further exaggerated the marathon nature of an MLB season. No one can lock up an MVP in the first half. Health and slumps can quickly rip up an MVP case.

The American League is more of a foregone conclusion if Shohei Ohtani stays healthy. That’s despite some outrageous numbers from Vlad Guerrero Jr. The 2021 NL MVP race is feistier.

The frontrunners

The oddsmakers have deGrom, Acuna and Tatis as the main candidates as of July 2nd. Leading the pack, the three are pursued by a group including Bryant, Harper and Mookie Betts.

A quick look at the Fangraphs NL WAR table explains this balance. DeGrom, Acuna and Tatis are three of the top five. The only others in the top five are Phillies hard-thrower Zack Wheeler and Brewers ace Corbin Burnes. Starting pitchers traditionally need to be historic to win the MVP, even if their ‘value’ is similar to their position player rivals.


This is how deGrom has forced his case. His 5 fWAR is clearly ahead of Tatis (4) and Acuna (3.7).

Big-name contenders Bryant and Harper do not rank even in the top 40 in NL fWAR. It’s rarely as simple as using the WAR leaderboard to rank the 2021 NL MVP race, but the three leading candidates this year are all well backed by their statistics.

Chasing pack

If Wheeler and Burnes aren’t in contention for reasons of tradition, there are other position players who deserve some recognition here. The pedigree of Betts, Harper and Bryant makes them potential winners. Part of that, though, is because of their ceiling in the second half.

Maybe Trea Turner deserves more attention. The Nationals are keeping the NL East standings tight. Turner is 11th in NL wRC+, and his 18 stolen bases leads the league.

A second half like the first will see Nicholas Castellanos and Jesse Winker come into play. The pair are hovering around the periphery of the MVP race at this stage, but they need to be outrageous at the plate to take a charge at Acuna and Tatis. The five-tool phenoms are first and fifth in wRC+ while sitting joint-second in stolen bases and playing highlight defense.

There’s a long way to go in the 2021 NL MVP race. A solid group will believe they can put pressure on the big three, but with no sign of them slowing down, it’s going to take a spectacular few months. If we had to choose right now, it probably goes to deGrom, yet there’s a compelling case for Tatis or Acuna.

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About Sam Cox 684 Articles
Sam is a widely published freelance writer, covering basketball, baseball and a range of other sports. He's still trying to decide if he prefers a rundown shot block or a smooth double play.

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