February 3, 2023

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Could this star be first MVP in Mets history?

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This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It’s time to put into context what Pete Alonso has been doing.

Over the Mets’ first 56 games, Alonso leads the Majors with 54 RBIs and is tied for the National League lead with 16 homers. More than one-third of the way through the season, Alonso’s batting average is the best mark of his career.

As such, Alonso has established himself as an early NL MVP candidate. And while it’s way too early to predict whether he, Manny Machado, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt or some other latecomer will win the award, Alonso has a chance to become the Mets’ most legitimate candidate since David Wright in 2007.

Here’s an early look at him and his competition:

Pete Alonso
Key stat: 54 RBI (leads NL)
There is no great analytical argument to be made for Alonso as the MVP at this point, considering he entered Monday tied for 18th in the NL in fWAR, sixth in wRC+ and seventh in wOBA. Those are the types of statistics upon which many modern voters rely, and they’re not quite up to the caliber of a typical MVP. (In fact, according to the FanGraphs versions of WAR, Alonso ranks fourth on his own team behind Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil, and he ranks sixth on the Mets in Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR.)

But Alonso’s WAR figures seem to have been dragged down by his defense, which is little surprise considering he is third among NL first basemen in errors and is last among MLB first basemen in defensive runs saved. With the bat, Alonso has been dominant, tied with Betts for the NL home run lead and alone by a mile in the RBI race. Some modern voters don’t care about counting stats such as runs and RBIs, considering them as much a product of luck as skill. But many others don’t see things that way, and there’s no denying Alonso’s value to this team on offense. He’s on pace to obliterate the Mets’ single-season RBI record.

Paul Goldschmidt
Key stat: 189 wRC+ (leads NL)
If it seems like Goldschmidt is in this conversation every year, it’s because he is. Goldschmidt has finished in the top 20 in NL MVP voting eight times in the last nine seasons, in the top 10 five times, and he’s twice been runner-up. Perhaps this is the year he breaks through. That wRC+ figure is an extremely useful statistic to determine how effective a player has been at run creation, adjusting for external factors such as ballparks. Of course, Goldschmidt also fares well in more traditional metrics (he ended Sunday leading the NL in hits, on-base percentage and was second in slugging), and he’s a better first-base defender than Alonso. Barring injury, it would be surprising for Goldschmidt to fall out of the MVP conversation at any point.

Like Alonso, Goldschmidt could lose a few votes because of all the talent around him; he’s one of three Cardinals to rank among the top five in the NL in both versions of WAR, along with Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman.

Mookie Betts
Key stat: 3.6 fWAR (leads NL)
Since Barry Bonds, only two Major League players have produced a 10-win season per Baseball-Reference calculations. One is Mike Trout — no explanation needed there. The other is Betts, who reached 10.7 bWAR en route to an American League MVP with the Red Sox in 2018.

Betts isn’t having quite the same type of season this year in Los Angeles, but he is hitting for more power, leading the NL in runs scored and total bases, and still playing excellent outfield defense. There are very few quibbles in Betts’ game; if the season ended today, it would be difficult to argue against him as MVP.

Manny Machado
Key stat: 3.4 bWAR (leads NL)
Then again, if the season ended in mid-May, it would have been difficult to argue against Machado. It’s an illustration of how quickly things can change at this point of the year. Three weeks ago, Machado was leading the NL WAR race by a mile, before a pedestrian couple of weeks allowed Betts to catch up to him on the statistical front. Machado’s résumé is similar to that of Betts as an all-around force. In seasons past, Machado has featured more power, while Betts has been more of an on-base threat. This year, the opposite has been true. Both have been supremely valuable on both sides of the ball.

So where does Alonso stack up? He’s probably not the MVP as things stand right now, but he’s close enough that it’s realistic to think he could overtake others by the end. Remember, the Mets are by far the oldest of the three remaining franchises (Arizona, Tampa Bay) without an MVP. It’s bound to happen eventually.

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