Mookie or Manny? NL MVP race heating up behind two narrow favorites
Unlike the AL MVP race, which is quickly becoming Aaron Judge's to lose, the battle for this year's top billing in the NL has divided bettors into two distinct camps: Mookie or Manny?
Mookie Betts is currently the favorite to win NL MVP (+275) after a torrid run in May, but his price is only a tick shorter than that of Manny Machado (+300), who was favored to win this award as recently as this week. Those two have traded pole position multiple times in recent weeks as slim front-runners in a loaded field.
In some ways, it's a miracle that Betts is even in this discussion after he hit .191 through his first 16 games this year with the Dodgers, which felt like an extension of his injury-plagued ending to 2021. We even highlighted his slow start back in April, when he looked like a clear fade thanks to his lacking power and high strikeout rate.
But the former MVP clearly had more left in the tank, as evidenced by his .327 average and 14 home runs since April 27 - the most by any NL hitter in that stretch. He also dramatically dropped his strikeout rate (14.6%) in that span, and his strong showing in May has elevated him to second in fWAR (3.4) among all qualified NL bats.
Who ranks first? That would be Machado, who lit it up in April (1.067 OPS) and May (.918) before a quiet start to June (.698). The Padres star still ranks top-five in the NL in AVG (.329), OBP (.401), and SLG (.543), though his nine home runs hurt his case for an award that often rewards big-time sluggers.
As we've already seen this season, the MVP leaderboard can change in an instant; just ask Betts and Machado. So who else could ascend to the top of the pack? Here are the current odds to win NL MVP and a few other names to watch:
|Fernando Tatis Jr.||+10000|
Bryce Harper, Phillies (+1000)
The reigning NL MVP is at it again. Harper doesn't rank near the top of the NL in most counting stats thanks to a few missed games, but he paces the league in slugging percentage (.637) and already has 15 home runs - third in the league - in just 51 games.
Remember that the Phillies slugger was a relative dark horse in this race a year ago until the second half of the season, when he hit .338 with 20 home runs to secure his second MVP award. He could easily do the same en route to a third trophy and might be the best value on the board.
Juan Soto, Nationals (+2000)
Few players have been unluckier than Soto, whose .225/.368/.451 slash line discounts just how well he's played thus far. The Nationals' young star ranks fourth in the NL in expected wOBA (.417) - well above his actual wOBA (.362) - and his .222 BABIP ranks second-lowest among all qualified NL batters.
Soto has always had an anomalously low launch angle (5.8 degrees) for someone with his power, though his BABIP has never finished lower than .310 across a full season. He's somehow still hit 12 home runs this year and leads all of baseball in walks (46), so don't be surprised if positive regression brings Soto higher up this list in short order.
Nolan Arenado, Cardinals (+2500)
Arenado was among the betting favorites to win this award after a sizzling April when he hit .375 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 19 games. He's hit just five homers in 36 games since and batted .196 in May, while Cardinals teammate Paul Goldschmidt posted some of baseball's best offensive numbers to steal the MVP spotlight in St. Louis.
Don't discount a second-half surge from Arenado, though. He's historically hit better over the back half of the year and owns a career .292 average in June, which is right around where he's hitting this month (.290). The nine-time Gold Glove winner will also post some of the best defensive numbers of any MVP candidate, which could tip the scales in his favor in a close race.