Thursday night’s highlights won’t include what made Trea Turner swear.
Juan Soto’s first preposterous Citi Field home run Aug. 10 went 463 feet, climbing up the black batter’s eye in center field. He hit a hanging curveball from a left-handed pitcher beyond the famed apple which was retracted in its home but no doubt surprised to see a ball fly by, prompting Turner to inform those in the dugout, “That’s a [bad word] bomb!”
Two nights later, Soto pulled a would-be sinker 466 feet to right field. It almost left the stadium. The contact was sufficient to make Soto smile, Robert Gsellman shake his head in disbelief and discombobulate a camera operator who lost track of the ball as it soared into the dusk.
Video of such feats will not be running when the National League MVP finalists are dissected before the award is announced (6 p.m., MLB Network). Soto, who led the National League in numerous key offensive categories is not a 2020 finalist. His omission surprised many. However, it’s for one particular reason: games played.
Soto played 47 of 60 games in 2020 because of a positive coronavirus test result and, later, a sore left elbow. The three finalists -- Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and Manny Machado -- played 60, 55 and 60 games, respectively. The extrapolation to a normal season further demonstrates how large a gap this is: Soto was on pace to play 127 games in a 162-game season. Freeman and Machado would play the full slate (in theory). And Betts would play 149.
Soto will finish with finalist votes. It’s unlikely he will bring in any No. 1 votes from the BBWAA members who have to list their top 10 when voting for MVP. Freeman is the odds-on favorite to win because he fulfills almost any requirement from a voter: he has success, high volume and played for a winning team (the latter of these is irrelevant to this voter, however it seems to matter on other ballots).
Let’s go back to volume. Major League Baseball’s season is always draped with the cliché of being a marathon, not a sprint, providing longevity that allows recoveries from a 19-31 abyss. Accordingly, how much players are on the field carries a massive weight. Each injury can become a three-fold process of complications: Player A needs to be replaced in the lineup; the lineup often needs to be adjusted as a result; the bench prowess is subsequently diminished by plucking from the reserves.
The last 10 years of National League MVP bear out the value of being on the field. No winner played less than 90.7 percent of their team’s games. Soto played 78.3 percent of the Nationals’ games in 2020 in large part because of what he believes to be a false-positive result from a coronavirus test just before Opening Day.
Here is the last decade of winners:
2019: Cody Bellinger 156 (96.3 percent; Christian Yelich finished second in large part because he played 130 games)2018: Christian Yelich, 147 (90.7)2017: Giancarlo Stanton, 159 (98.2)2016: Kris Bryant, 155 (95.7)2015: Bryce Harper, 153 (94.4)2014: (Clayton Kershaw)2013: Andrew McCutchen, 157 (96.9)2012: Buster Posey, 148 (91.4)2011: Ryan Braun, 150 (92.6)2010: Joey Votto, 150 (92.6)
So, Thursday night will bring an MVP discussion without Soto despite his league-leading OPS, OPS-plus, wOBA and wRC+. He simply wasn’t on the field enough in 2020 to join the other elite players for the league’s most prestigious award. Presumably, he will be joining them soon enough.