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It’s time to take Giancarlo Stanton seriously as an NL MVP candidate

The most impressive hot streak of his career has closed the gap between Stanton and the National League’s best players

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Giancarlo Stanton was born and raised in southern California, but his life isn’t a Hollywood script. Or maybe it is a script and he just decided to improvise.

Because July 10, 2017 looked like the beginning of a downturn. A pair of Baby Bombers hijacked the spotlight from Stanton during the Home Run Derby, with Gary Sanchez eliminating him in the first round of competition and Aaron Judge usurping him as the new physical freak of Major League Baseball. Embarrassed in his own backyard, you would expect Stanton’s stardom to slowly fade, right?

Instead, the 27-year-old has found a higher gear. After totaling 16 home runs that night, he has smashed another 16 since only 25 games.

The power surge is part physical, as explained by our own Mitch Custer. Maybe there’s a psychological element, too. It can’t be easy for Stanton to walk around his home and stare into the void on his mantle where that sweet trophy ought to be. Now, he’s pursuing some more prestigious hardware, coasting toward a National League Silver Slugger award, with the NL MVP becoming increasingly realistic.

A closed batting stance has Stanton on the verge of setting a new franchise record for single-season homers.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

No Miami Marlins player has ever won regular-season MVP honors. Hanley Ramirez finished second in the 2009 balloting, although the race wasn’t particularly close (Albert Pujols received all 32 first-place votes). Stanton was the runner-up to Clayton Kershaw in 2014. If not for an errant Mike Fiers fastball, that would’ve been a fascinating decision.

With 46 team games remaining, this version of Stanton is producing nearly as well as the 2014 one.

Giancarlo Stanton's Seasons as an NL MVP Candidate

2014 145 638 37 89 105 13 0.288 0.395 0.555 0.403 161 6.3
2017 114 490 42 88 90 1 0.281 0.371 0.635 0.411 155 4.2
Source: FanGraphs

He has sacrificed selectivity for power. The walk rate is down significantly (from 14.7 percent to 11.4 percent), but so is the strikeout rate (from 26.6 percent to 23.9 percent). Stanton continues to defend well in right field, while adopting a more conservative baserunning approach. And it’s about more than just steal attempts. He set a career high in 2014 by taking the extra base on a single or double in 46 percent of his opportunities, according to Baseball-Reference. That’s currently down to 31 percent, limiting his impact in that facet of the game.

Fortunately, Stanton doesn’t have to compete against his younger self. Entering August 14, he dominates the 2017 NL leaderboards in a variety of categories: home runs (1st), slugging percentage (1st), weighted on-base average (6th), Win Probability Added (8th), Wins Above Replacement (9th) and plate appearances (10th).

Only a handful of players are performing better than Stanton overall, none of whom have a foolproof MVP case. Bryce Harper landed on the disabled list with a hyperextended left knee, and the Washington Nationals intend to treat it cautiously. Don’t expect there to be any consensus among the voting body as they split hairs between Anthony Rendon (5.1 fWAR), Max Scherzer (5.0 fWAR) and Harper (5.0 fWAR) in deciding on the most valuable Nat. Having too many awesome teammates is actually a handicap in the MVP conversation.

Washington’s cautious approach to Harper’s injury will prepare him for October, but put his NL MVP bid on life support.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers will need to overcome a similar issue. The narrative is on Cody Bellinger’s side, but he shares a clubhouse with star shortstop Corey Seager (5.0 fWAR), future batting titlist Justin Turner (4.9 fWAR) and super-utility man Chris Taylor (4.2 fWAR). Unless a clear front-runner emerges from that group, Stanton could take advantage.

Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto are all strong candidates. And there are others, too. It’s wide open! To be clear, Stanton only stands a chance if he maintains this phenomenal July/August pace throughout the entire second half and the Marlins continue flirting with a .500 record.

Stanton received a landmark $325 million contract on the heels of his previous NL MVP bid. The expectation was that he would justify it by perennially contending for the award. After a two-year, injury-filled detour from greatness, he’s re-established as a valuable building block—or trade chip—for new ownership to utilize.