This column started with a basic question: Who is the 2022 Mets MVP?
The question came to mind because each time I walk through the Mets clubhouse, it strikes me just how valuable so many of their players have been this year. Which leads to a whole bunch of other thoughts, including still trying to determine what “most valuable” means and what to put into the equation to come up with that definition, plus a few thoughts on Buck Showalter.
So I want to detour to these supplemental issues before I get to the Mets MVP — at least who I think it is through three-quarters of this season — but I promise I will get there. Heck, I will go 1-through-5, but maybe that is the place to begin.
I think you can make a pretty solid case for at least three different Mets as their most valuable player and at least 10 who should be considered for the top five slots. That probably explains why they have held first place for so long this season and have the third-best record in the majors. I think it also explains why Showalter is going to cakewalk to his fourth Manager of the Year award for his fourth different team. Is that Hall of Fame-worthy even without a championship? Alas, a column for a different day (none of my competitors steal that one).
Among the reasons (perhaps the biggest one) Showalter is going to win the award is just how many of his players are performing at or near their peak value for him. After so many years of the Mets underperforming their talent, the 2022 club is rife with players maximizing their production. Think of what you would have projected for a player on April 1 and where they are now, and you will see just how many Mets are reaching or exceeding those totals.
If it is a manager’s job to 1) create an environment to get elite performance and 2) to put players in the best circumstances to succeed — and I think this is so much of the responsibility — then Showalter actually might be the Mets’ MVP. But the “P” stands for “Player,” so let’s just focus there.
As someone who often has voted for one league’s MVP in the past three-plus decades and writes an annual midseason and end-of-year awards column, I think about this honor more than others. Part of it is that MVP is the most prestigious annual on-field award bestowed. But also because my writing forefathers decided to call it the Most Valuable Player award instead of the Best Player award.
Each year, I try to come to peace with what that means, and annually I recognize there is a lot of ambiguity and room for personal preferences. There is no precise formula, though more and more often Wins Above Replacement has become a dominant crutch. And I appreciate the effort to find one stat to meld fielding, hitting and baserunning. But it seems bizarre to me to over-emphasize a metric whose properties and proportions I cannot (and I would bet most cannot) explain and that is calculated differently by the two main purveyors of WAR.
Consider that the National League’s top-five position players in Baseball Reference WAR, in order, are Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman, Mookie Betts and Manny Machado. In the Fangraphs version, it is Arenado, Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Machado and Francisco Lindor (without Edman in the top 10).
Goldschmidt, Arenado and Edman all are Cardinals. It seems far-fetched to believe the three most valuable players in the league play for one team — in this case, the first-place team in the worst division in the league.
But this is part of the MVP voting dilemma, too. How do you even determine the most valuable player on a team? That trio from the Cardinals. Betts, Freeman and Trea Turner from the Dodgers. Max Fried, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson from the Braves.
Which brings me back to the Mets. Because they have at least three as well in Lindor, Pete Alonso and Edwin Diaz. I am going to give an order (stick with me), but I will admit I am not positive I have it correct. Plus, there are others with cases to break into the top three, and when you see my top five, there will be cases for those not part of that.
In reality, if you follow a team every day, especially a winning club, you realize just how “valuable” so many players are.
Luis Guillorme and Trevor Williams might not make the top 10 of my Mets MVP ballot. But would anyone argue against their value? The Mets have played smarter, better on defense and with a propensity for putting the ball in play. Guillorme emerged from the chorus to excel in all of those areas. The Mets’ pitching depth has been a concern from the end of the lockout to you reading this sentence, and Williams’ ability to more than capably fill a variety of roles resonates on the days he pitches and beyond by protecting others.
Goldschmidt is the NL MVP front-runner. But this is going to be a fascinating vote as those filling in ballots (I do not have an NL MVP vote this year) will have to determine how to work in his Cardinals teammates and just how many Mets, Braves and Dodgers to list on a 10-line ballot – and in what order. There is still a quarter of a season of information to provide clarity. My suspicion is it won’t, and it could get even more complicated. For example, I am not including Jeff McNeil in even my Mets top five – but what if he wins the NL batting title?
OK, enough of my meandering. For 3Up this week, we are going five deep:
1. Francisco Lindor
It is possible Andres Gimenez — the key piece obtained by Cleveland in the Lindor trade — will finish higher in the AL MVP voting than Lindor does in the NL. Gimenez is second to Aaron Judge in the AL in WAR (Baseball Reference).
My case for Lindor begins with attendance. I am huge for games played, largely because regardless of what a spreadsheet might tell me about the value of a player based on his rate stats, even in a limited number of games, managers will hardly speak of anything more highly than relentless availability, especially of their best players. It takes away having to overuse inferior players.
Twins center fielder Byron Buxton is a brilliant player … when he plays. He had made 85 starts in 122 games through Wednesday. Will the Twins miss the playoffs because his body just doesn’t allow him to play more? The idea, ultimately, is to Win, not to accumulate Wins Above Replacement.
Lindor has started 125 of the Mets’ 126 games this year — 123 at shortstop. The lone game he did not start was June 2 against the Dodgers, the first game after he suffered a fracture at the tip of his right middle finger. That Lindor persevered through that injury not only helped Showalter with his daily lineup, but also with his daily messages about toughness, finding a way and prioritizing the team.
That Lindor, in Year 2 with the Mets, also has clearly embodied what his manager wants when it comes to heady play has been central to the team’s success.
But this isn’t just about fortitude and smarts. Lindor has excelled on both sides of the ball. Alonso has been great at attendance, and — especially early — he often was the Mets’ lone power source. Lindor’s defense at such a vital position, for me, is a separator.
2. Edwin Diaz
The easier call here is Alonso. If you wanted to put Alonso first or second, get it, that’s totally justifiable.
But here is something I have thought about a lot: Would the Mets have a better record today if you replaced Alonso with a one-grade-lower first baseman or Diaz with a one-grade-lower closer? Essentially would you be better with, say, Pete Alonso and Pete Fairbanks or with Edwin Diaz and Yandy Diaz — the Petes or the Diazes?
I would go with the Diazes while acknowledging the Mets would be considerably worse without either. It’s just that the Mets bullpen is the most concerning area of the team, and without Diaz in the ninth, it feels as if it all would just crumble. His presence has enabled Showalter to better mix and match to bridge from the starter to the closer.
And his presence has done something else, especially as his performance and confidence has improved with each month of the season: It affects the psyche of the other team. There is a bit of a Mariano Rivera feel to this now, with opponents recognizing they have eight innings to win a game. That creates a subtle edginess for those opponents and a need to re-think their strategy. It looms over games.
I realize this contradicts my attendance spiel because Diaz is only at 50 1/3 innings and has faced just 194 batters — that is 95 fewer plate appearances, for example, than Guillorme has taken as a hitter. But Diaz’s impact — his value — is substantial enough to me, especially when considering the construction of the Mets roster, to place him second.
3. Pete Alonso
But if you wanted to make Alonso second or first, yep, that is legit. He also has started 125 games. He didn’t start June 8 against the Padres after getting drilled in the hand the previous day by a 96-mph Yu Darvish fastball. But the guy is tough. He continued on after a horrific spring training car accident. He has been hit by pitches 10 times, including once in the head.
He has 31 homers. He leads the NL with 104 RBIs. Runs batted in often are downplayed now as we come to greater acceptance that you need teammates to get on base to build up that total. And going into Thursday, no major leaguer had more plate appearances with runners in scoring position than Alonso’s 166. But his 1.075 OPS was sixth in the majors among those with at least 100 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. It was the third-best in Met history for the 74 players with at least 166 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
That Alonso does not bring much defensively or on the bases means some demerits.
But he is tough and productive, the greatest source of power for a team that can struggle in that realm. It is all valuable.
4. Starling Marte
You could put McNeil or Brandon Nimmo here as a different position player, and who would argue? McNeil has been versatile and clutch and though neither overly speedy nor graceful still performs well on the bases and in the field. Nimmo brings daily energy, has handled center field way better than expected and establishes the Mets’ grinding persona on offense from the first pitch.
But one area that has differentiated the 2022 Mets from their recent teams is that they are more dynamic, and that begins with Lindor and Marte. I think of the best players in the game as multi-tooled threats: Every day, in some way, they are going to help your team win. Mookie Betts personifies this in my mind — he has five tools unleashed daily, and one or more of those tools is going to impact every game.
Marte is not Betts. But he is a player who, as you watch every inning of every game, just grows on you because of the impact in some form or fashion.
Even with Marte enduring leg injuries this year, the game changes when he reaches first base. Opponents are distracted and at times unnerved.
5. Max Scherzer
Am I upending my attendance theory again? Yep. Sorry. Because if Scherzer did not miss six weeks due to an oblique strain, he would be in contention for the MVP of the Mets and for Cy Young of the NL.
And I do not want to downgrade my other theory too much because the durability of Carlos Carrasco until recently and of Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker all year has been invaluable. The Mets had lots of worries about their rotation depth, and this trio’s ability to take the ball over and over – especially when Scherzer joined Jacob deGrom and Tylor Megill on the IL – fortified the Mets. A deGrom injury last year tanked the Mets in the second half. Simultaneous injuries to deGrom and Scherzer did not create the same jump into a baseball grave because of Bassitt, Carrasco and Walker. By the way, that trio did more than just show up. They have pitched well. Bassitt’s consistency in carrying the ball deep into games at a high level would be the differentiator if I were trying to pick the most valuable among those three.
Yet Scherzer has just been so good for his 18 starts that he gets my fifth spot for Mets MVP, especially when combining that performance with a tenacity/focus that have become bedrocks of the club.
Of course, that is narrative, and many folks do not want narrative in their MVP discussions, just cold hard data, even if they can’t explain the formula that produces the data.