Since his major league debut in 2013, Arenado has earned 5 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Sluggers, 3 Fielding Bible Awards, 3 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Awards, 3 All-Star selections, and a Platinum Glove. That’s plenty of recognition. But in the midst of it all, the big one has eluded him: Most Valuable Player. The more accolades Arenado receives without getting that MVP award, the more Rockies fans have to ask how much playing in Denver is affecting his chances.
Several reasons why the MVP remains out of reach come up repeatedly: from small market bias to Coors Field bias and even non-playoff bias. So what does Nolan Arenado need to do to win National League MVP?
Coors Field, Hitter’s Paradise
One of the major arguments against Nolan Arenado is his home park. The large outfield and the altitude allow batters to wreak havoc on baseballs. Rockies players’ numbers are skewed because they play 81 games at Coors, and the argument goes that because of that they need to blow the competition out of the water to win an MVP, like Larry Walker in 1997.
If you look at the numbers, however, since 1998 only 13 out of 40 MVPs have come from “hitter’s parks” (according to ESPN’s park factors). On the flip side, one might think that pitchers from more “pitcher friendly” parks such as AT&T Park in San Francisco or Petco Park in San Diego should be less eligible for Cy Young Awards for the same reason—their stats are skewed based on them playing 81 games in those stadiums. But since 1998, they are the same as hitter friendly MVP’s—only 13 out of 40 Cy Young winners have come from “pitcher friendly” ballparks. This shows that other hitter friendly and pitcher friendly parks don’t seem to harbor any bias for other teams, so the question still remains: why does Coors Field seem to be an automatic strike for some voters?
Coors Field definitely boosts Arenado’s numbers, but in 2017, Arenado hit just one more home run at home than away. He also hit .336 at home and .283 on the road—a 58 point difference. Giancarlo Stanton, the 2017 MVP, had a 26 point difference in batting average and only hit three more home runs at home than on the road. If Arenado could bring some of his numbers closer together between home and road splits, he’d be a higher candidate. But if he were to improve on his road numbers, he would arguably also improve his home numbers as well and would improve as an overall player.
Therefore, it could just be argued that Coors Field should be diminished from the thought processes of voters because other MVP-caliber players put up similar numbers. Unfortunately, the anti-Coors Field box is prematurely checked at the beginning of each season, so changing that mindset will be an uphill battle.
Hank Aaron Award
Due to the nature of Coors Field, Arenado does rack up plenty of hits every year. In 2015, he had 177 hits, 42 home runs, and 130 RBI. He finished 8th in MVP voting that year. In 2016, he accumulated 182 hits, 41 home runs, and 133 RBI, leading the National League in home runs and RBI for the second consecutive year. He finished 5th in MVP voting. In 2017, he finished with 187 hits, 37 home runs, and 130 RBI. He finished 4th in MVP voting.
Each of these years, Arenado won a Silver Slugger award; however, he has never won a Hank Aaron Award for player-selected best hitter in baseball. In fact, Todd Helton is the only Rockies player to have won the award. He did so back in 2000 with 216 hits, 42 home runs, and 147 RBI.
It might not seem like as big of a deal to miss out on this one award, but history shows that it might play a role. Eighteen out of 40 MVPs in both leagues since 1998, including the last three NL MVPs, have won the Hank Aaron Award during the same year that they won MVP in their respective leagues.
Winning the Hank Aaron award would do a lot for Nolan to climb his way up the MVP ladder. He might have to win the one award he has not have collected in order to win the other, bigger, award he hasn’t won. In order to do that, he will have to continue his great run and hope that another player doesn’t swoop in and take the crown instead.
Small Market Bias
The Rockies are not a “big market” team. They don’t have a large TV market or a lot of fans outside of the state of Colorado. When people think of American baseball, the Rockies don’t often pop into their minds right away. Their payroll isn’t anything to brag about, either. In fact, since 1998 the Rockies have never been a top 10 payroll team. The highest they have been is 11th in 1999.
This is notable because 45 percent of National League MVPs have come from teams whose payroll were in the top 10 in Major League Baseball that year. The last time a National League MVP came from a top 5 team was Clayton Kershaw in 2014, and Bryce Harper was the last top 10 MVP when his Nationals finished with the 6th highest payroll in 2015. That’s not saying that “small market teams” can’t win MVP, but they have to be extra special to break out and make a push to be seriously considered.
The final, and most common, argument against Nolan Arenado winning MVP is that his team does not make the playoffs. The Rockies only just made the playoffs in 2017 after an eight-year hiatus. Even then, it was only a Wild Card spot. It’s unsurprising that 2017 also represented Arenado’s highest MVP vote finish because, historically, MVPs come from playoff teams.
Thirty-two out of 40 MVPs since 1998 have come from playoff teams. Of those 32, only five were on Wild Card teams. The Rockies have never outright won the National League West title. All four of their playoff appearances were Wild Cards. If the Rockies can manage to win the division, it would give Arenado a serious boost in the MVP vote.
There are plenty of reasons why Nolan Arenado should be perennially considered for the honor of MVP based on statistics alone. There are, however, also plenty of other factors working against him, such as small-market bias and the fact that he plays half his games at Coors Field. Those will always work against him because as long as he plays for the Rockies, those factors are mostly out of his personal control.
Fortunately, he is only 26 and just entering the prime of his career. If he is able to continue putting up these kinds of numbers, and the team continues to be competitive, he will have a better chance of winning MVP in the future. Until then, he just needs to keep playing the same MVP-caliber game he has been. Everything else will fall into place.