deGrom or Tatis for MVP favorite? A debate

June 11th, 2021

There is no over-hyping the matchup brewing in Flushing this weekend. The pending showdown between Mets ace Jacob deGrom and Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. on Friday at Citi Field is must-watch viewing (and will be featured on as one of two free games of the day).

deGrom and Tatis are putting together MVP-type seasons, which brings us to an age-old debate: Should pitchers receive MVP Award consideration? Is deGrom the clear favorite to win the National League MVP Award? Who else should be in the conversation? A group of experts gathered to discuss.

Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: It's only mid-June, but the NL MVP debate is already a worthwhile one. That's mainly because a pitcher is looking like the front-runner at this point. So far, Jacob deGrom is having a season for the ages. He's allowed four earned runs total across nine starts and 58 innings. If the season ended today, is he your MVP? Should pitchers get first-place votes in MVP balloting?

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: Pitchers are players, too, so they should absolutely be eligible for MVP. That said, in order for a pitcher to win the MVP, their season really needs to be historic, and in most cases, there needs to be no real obvious position player to vote for.

Anthony DiComo, Mets beat reporter: I'm not sure it's even really a debate. Jacob deGrom has been the best player in the league, and it hasn't been all that close. Ergo, MVP. Who has been more valuable to his team? I can't think of a single person.

Feinsand: I have Fernando Tatis Jr. on Line 1, Mr. DiComo.

Sarah Langs, reporter/producer: As it stands today, deGrom is, for me. He has the lowest ERA for anyone through nine starts in a season since ERA became official in both leagues in 1913. His ERA is 0.62, the live-ball record is 1.12 by Bob Gibson in 1968. And we aren’t just two or three starts in. Nine in, and he’s on pace to set records abound. MVP.

Mike Petriello, analyst: Pitchers can absolutely get MVP. I advocated for deGrom to win it in the past. He's clearly the best pitcher in the game this year. He should still not win MVP.

Here's why: If you want to be the MVP as a pitcher, you need to have every box checked. And right now, he's about 25 IP shy of the league leaders. That gap will close over the course of the year if he stays healthy. But right this second: no.

Feinsand: The Mets have played 460 innings this season. deGrom has thrown 58 of them.

There are two other starters on his own team with more innings pitched and sub-3.00 ERAs. It’s not like he’s doing this alone for the Mets this season. Just like deGrom, if you take either Marcus Stroman or Taijuan Walker off the Mets, they’re not in first place.

Langs: If deGrom’s season ends up like his 2018 and '19 Cy Young seasons, not that those numbers are bad by any means, I wouldn’t say he’s the MVP. I’m saying if he really does break that Gibson (or even Dutch Leonard from 1914!) record. If he has yet another great, but not the-greatest-ever-season, this probably isn’t the year. There are so many amazing players in the NL, and Tatis feels like the choice ... unless deGrom sets the historic records, which, as I’ve sort of implied, I do really think he might do.

Feinsand: Let me preface this next comment with this: I am not a huge WAR guy in general. But deGrom is fourth in the NL in WAR among starting pitchers. Why not talk about Kevin Gausman or Brandon Woodruff for MVP? Where would their teams be without them?

Petriello: I like this question because I do not care where their teams would be without them. Still in San Francisco and Milwaukee, probably.

Also, Mark, if we're going down the WAR wormhole here ... the FanGraphs version of WAR has deGrom well ahead of everyone. We agree, though, that MVP voting is not a "rank the WAR leaders" anyway.

DiComo: Oh, I see we're going to have a fight here. I have voted for pitchers in the past, though I've generally adhered to the "position players play every day, and thus are more valuable” argument. However, you have to realize the outsized impact deGrom has had each time he's started. No disrespect to Marcus Stroman or Taijuan Walker -- they've both been great. deGrom has been about five levels better than them and everyone else in the league.

Feinsand: And there it is ... this argument (or any MVP argument) typically comes back to how a voter defines the MVP Award. Personally, when I have voted in the past, I tend to look at players on teams that were in the race. It doesn’t mean they have to win their division, but playing in meaningful games matters to me.

Tony, I’m not arguing for Stroman or Walker ahead of deGrom. That would be silly. I was just making the point that the Mets have not been a one-man show by any means this season.

DiComo: No, but you also just said you value teams in the race. What good team only has one solid contributor? Last I checked, there have been quite a few good Padres this year.

Let's not punish deGrom for the success of his teammates. They've punished him enough in the past.

Feinsand: deGrom is doing something we have seen before -- dominating as the best pitcher in the game. And he will likely be rewarded with his third Cy Young [Award] for it.

Petriello: Team success is definitely where we disagree. I know we're talking about NL here, but I'd still vote [Shohei] Ohtani in the AL even though the Angels are bad. Team record never, ever, ever matters to me in MVP decisions.

Langs: This is every MVP conversation, and there seems to be such a stark dividing line. And I have no idea who’s right! I know that I personally would also go towards not caring if a team is good or not. I think I’m looking for the MOST standout season, which to me, is most valuable. With Mike Trout in past years, the Angels would’ve had even fewer wins without him! So that’s still value, to me.

Feinsand: Ohtani is doing something we haven’t seen in a century. His offensive numbers and pitching numbers are both insane. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, and I would have Ohtani right up there for that.

Petriello: Not to take anything away from the Mets, either, but half the reason they're in first is that the rest of the NL East keeps imploding.

DiComo: I would argue what deGrom is doing right now, we've actually never seen before. Unless you were alive in 1968.

Footer: Our pal at ESPN, Buster Olney, put out this tweet that got the conversation going -- who is your early NL MVP? The choices: deGrom, Ronald Acuña Jr., Kris Bryant and "other." Some of us think the “other” will be Tatis Jr. He's played 20 percent fewer games than his competitors, and yet, he's right up there with the league leaders in most categories. How does this race shake out?

Petriello: For me, I think there's a huge difference between "right now" and "at the end of the season.” Right now, deGrom hasn't pitched enough. Right now, Tatis has missed time and had poor defense. I'm not sure I'd put either No. 1 right now due to those things. But should they perform the way I expect from here on out (and stay healthy), they're probably my 1-2. I think right now, Acuña Jr. is my No. 1.

Feinsand: I think Bryant will be a factor unless the Cubs fall out of it. Then again, if Chicago falls off and becomes a seller, Bryant could wind up going to a contender and actually strengthening his case.

Acuña Jr. is also going to be firmly in the mix, but if the Braves don’t get their act together, it will hurt his case.

Langs: Bryant is definitely in the discussion, and certainly amongst this top ... five-ish or so ... but I think Acuña and Tatis ultimately have an edge on him with what they add baserunning and defense wise, just among position players, even taking deGrom out of it.

Footer: Unsurprisingly, Buster's tweet riled up fans from other cities. Reds fans were not happy that their two early-season stars -- Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos -- were not listed in the poll. So that brings us to the next question: Should players from a fourth-place team be considered for MVP?

Langs: I see no reason why they shouldn’t be.

Mark Sheldon, Reds beat reporter: I would think so, definitely. In 2017, [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Joey] Votto finished a close 1-2 and neither were with contenders.

And while voters outside of Cincinnati wouldn't be able to see it daily, Castellanos has an influence on players like Winker and some of the younger guys. He sets a tone, and not just for flexing over a Cardinals pitcher.

Petriello: Sure. I don't care if the Reds are in first or last. They've each been outstanding. I think they'd each be in my Top 5.

Feinsand: Considered? Sure. But their seasons would have to be far better than any players on contending teams.

DiComo: Yes, absolutely. Winker and Castellanos are 1-2 in the National League in wRC+. As a frequent voter, that's a huge stat for me. They're both higher than Tatis and Bryant in that regard, and I won't ding their chances just because Luis Castillo happens to be bad now.

Petriello: The biggest drawbacks for the Reds guys for me isn't the team contending -- it's not like they've caused that terrible bullpen -- it's that their defenses are each pretty weak. It takes a lot of hitting to overcome that.

Langs: Even if their offense is stellar, which it is, I am with Mike there -- the other position-player candidates, specifically Acuña and Tatis, have more of the well-rounded games. We’ve seen guys win for stellar offense and stellar offense only, but this is just such a crowded year, at least so far.

Footer: Hard to argue with what Winker is doing so far. Just because he’s not quite hit the national landscape, that's no reason to detract from his candidacy.

Feinsand: I don’t buy into the “national recognition” argument. These awards are voted on by people who cover the game. And I can tell you that for 99 percent of them, they take that responsibility very seriously.

Was Christian Yelich a huge national name playing in Miami and Milwaukee? How about Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh?

Petriello: Yeah. We're well past the days where the writers voting had to see guys in person. It's actually an argument for why the voting process should be changed. But that's a different story. Agree on national recognition not mattering much.

Feinsand: I should leave now. Mike agreed with me!

Sheldon: I think players with non-contenders often have an extra hurdle to cross to satisfy voters -- national recognition or not. It's not always right but I think it's a reality.

DiComo: Can I chime in with a follow-up? deGrom. That is all.

Feinsand: Here’s another name that needs to be discussed in this conversation: Buster Posey.

We all keep waiting for the Giants to fade, yet they have the best record in the NL as we sit here today. Posey’s return has been the biggest reason for that, both for his offense (.988 OPS) and his impact on the pitching staff. I’m not saying he should or will win, but he deserves some recognition. The MVP Award isn’t always about who has the best stats. That’s what the Cy Young and Hank Aaron Awards are for.

Footer: Let’s conclude this spirited debate by ranking your MVP candidates, 1-4. And you can only name four.

1. Acuña
2. deGrom
3. Tatis
4. Winker

Ask me in a week, it'll be different. The week after that, too.

Langs: Right now, today ...
1. deGrom
2. Acuña
3. Tatis
4. Winker

By tomorrow ... or three days from now? Could be entirely different. And probably will be!

1. Tatis Jr.
2. Acuña Jr.
3. deGrom
4. Bryant
5. Posey

I would have Winker 6th. I don’t want the Reds fans thinking I’m completely disrespecting their guy.

1. deGrom
2. Tatis
3. Acuña
4. Winker

1. Acuña
2. Tatis
3. Winker
4. ??? -- I have yet to vote for a pitcher on MVP ballots in my short time of voting. deGrom could be the first but let's get deeper in the season.