Will the National League MVP be a pitcher this year?

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August just began, but people are already looking at the leaderboards to try and determine who will win the various awards that are doled out after the season. The American League MVP race seems to be between Mike Trout and Jose Ramirez, though Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor will also have a say. Chris Sale will also likely get some down-ballot MVP votes, but it’s unlikely he would win since the MVP has historically been a hitter’s award.

In 2011, then-Tigers ace Justin Verlander won the AL MVP award, becoming the first pitcher to win the award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. Clayton Kershaw won the NL MVP Award in 2014. But otherwise, it’s been all hitters. With two MVP awards given out each year, we’ve had 50 MVPs since 1993 and only two of them have been pitchers.

The NL side of the MVP debate this year is interesting for that reason. The NL doesn’t have any Trouts, Ramirezes, Bettses, or Lindors, who are all at about 6 WAR or better at the moment, according to FanGraphs. Nolan Arenado leads NL position players with 4.5 WAR. Matt Carpenter (4.4), Freddie Freeman (4.0), and Javier Baez (4.0) are the only other position players at 4 WAR or better. But the NL does have a surfeit of incredible starting pitchers with Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Aaron Nola all clocking in with 2.35 or better ERAs.

Scherzer has won the NL Cy Young Award in each of the last two years and finished 10th in MVP voting both years. But both seasons also had some legitimate MVP-caliber seasons from Kris Bryant and Giancarlo Stanton. There is no such position player in 2018, at least right now.

WAR is a tricky stat since the formula differs significantly for pitchers. Baseball Reference’s version is based on results while FanGraphs’ version is based on FIP, an ERA retrodictor. In other words, a FIP-based WAR is a more “should’ve happened” stat, which opens up an entirely different can of worms when it comes to the MVP debate. Baseball Reference’s version, however, shows us that the NL is led by Nola (6.7), followed by deGrom (6.4), Scherzer (5.9), outfielder Lorenzo Cain (5.4), Rockies starter Kyle Freeland (4.9), and Carpenter (4.7). Four pitchers in the NL’s top-six, including the top three.

We still have two months of baseball left, so things will almost certainly change. But it will be interesting to see if the NL position player field continues to be so relatively lackluster that voters will have to give the award to a pitcher, something they have been historically loath to do.

Colin Poche, Rays go to arbitration just $125,000 apart

Colin Poche torn UCL
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reliever Colin Poche went to salary arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday with the sides just $125,000 apart.

The gap between the $1.3 million the pitcher asked for and the $1,175,000 the team offered was the smallest among the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration figures last month. The case was heard by John Woods, Jeanne Vonhof and Walt De Treux, who will hold their decision until later this month.

A 29-year-old left-hander, Poche had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2020, and returned to the major leagues last April 22 after six appearances at Triple-A Durham. Poche was 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and seven saves in 65 relief appearances for the Rays. He struck out 64 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings.

Poche had a $707,800 salary last year.

Tampa Bay went to arbitration on Monday with reliever Ryan Thompson, whose decision also is being held until later this month. He asked for $1.2 million and the Rays argued for $1 million.

Rays right-hander Jason Adam and outfielder Harold Ramirez remain scheduled for hearings.

Players and teams have split four decisions thus far. All-Star pitcher Max Fried ($13.5 million) lost to Atlanta and reliever Diego Castillo ($2.95 million) was defeated by Seattle, while pitcher Jesus Luzardo ($2.45 million) and AL batting champion Luis Arraez ($6.1 million) both beat the Marlins.

A decision also is pending for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Eighteen additional players are eligible for arbitration and hearings are scheduled through Feb. 17. Among the eligible players is Seattle utilityman Dylan Moore, who has a pending three-year contract worth $8,875,000.