Start at the top of the list and everything feels pretty familiar. The National League MVP award has only been discussed and debated since midway through the regular season—earlier, if you count me shouting that Odubel Herrera’s April and May numbers made him a candidate on a podcast early in the year.
But mostly, the same names have been tossed around for weeks: the deserving winner, Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich, has a heat map that’s primed to explode. Javier Baez is a dynamo in the Cubs’ infield, Nolan Arenado is the Rockies’ third base stud, Freddie Freeman is Freddie Freeman; but Yelich set himself apart this year after Derek Jeter sent him to the Brewers.
Keep scrolling down, and you’ll find the top two NL Cy Young finishers in Jacob deGrom and Maz Scherzer, as well as a sampling of sluggers and speedsters who trampled the Senior Circuit on contenders and their victims in 2018.
And there, between Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Justin Turner, is the first Phillies player to receive NL MVP votes since Carlos Ruiz in 2012, Aaron Nola. As our own schmenkman pointed out, six different writers supplied Nola with the votes he needed to secure 13th place on the list, none of whom hail from Philadelphia. The highest placed vote he received was for seventh place, from two different writers.
Nola finished much higher in the NL Cy Young voting, being a pitcher and all, behind only deGrom and Scherzer. But appearing on both lists is just another indication of the impact he had for the Phillies and the statement he made to the National League. Plus, let’s consider that Nola did what he did in 2018 while dragging the Phillies’ defense behind him, which did nothing but hinder him for stretches at a time.
Aaron Nola is currently listed as the leader in pitching WAR (Scherzer's hitting takes him top in overall WAR) & the table below shows why. Very low RA/9, Very Very bad defense behind him. In computing RAA, we use (RA9Avg-RA9) * IP / 9. RA9avg uses tm def, opp quality & PF's. pic.twitter.com/NwUF88oVL4— Sean Forman (@sean_forman) August 28, 2018
I’m not arguing that Nola should have been the winner of the MVP or Cy Young, and in a way, it’s soothing that he didn’t. As a young star, he’s in a solid place right now: recognized for his greatness, but still with room to get even better, goals to chase, milestones to reach and surpass. He’s in a position that the Phillies’ had probably hoped a few more of their young players would have reached this year: At age 25, it’s all in front of him, and he’s wearing a Phillies uniform. He’ll be in a lot of 2019 NL Cy Young projections.
When we look back on the 2018 season, we see a lot of letdowns. Mental break-ups, the dissolution of the Phillies’ unlikely contention, the absence of bats hitting balls, and the disappearance of effective pitching. But Nola held strong throughout the season, not just garnering him recognition now, but setting himself up as a centerpiece for the future.