The overlooked MVP candidate: Miami Marlins pitcher Sandy Alcantara

Aug 15, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara (22) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at loanDepot park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 15, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara (22) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at loanDepot park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Sandy Alcantara. As attention begins to focus on the National League Most Valuable Player race, the Miami Marlins pitcher is one deserving name you are unlikely to hear much about.

Alcantara won’t get much serious consideration for the award for several reasons, all of them bad. To date, almost all of that attention has devolved to St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the likely winner.

Statistically, however, virtually all of the numbers that modern voters tend to look at in their consideration of  ‘value’  favor Alcantara. With one quarter of  the season  remaining, those numbers are not overwhelming, meaning  that by season’s end the final judgment could legitimately flip.

Miami Marlins pitcher Sandy Alcantara has strong case for NL MVP

For the time being, however, an intellectually honest MVP ballot would show Alcantara on top.

By the standards of modern measurement of ‘value,’ two or three top the list.

  • Wins Above Replacement. Through games of August 19, Alcantara has produced 6.8 WAR for his Miami Marlins. That’s an NL best.  Goldschmidt’s WAR in St.  Louis is right on Alcantara’s heels, at 6.7. This number, then, is a virtual draw, with a slight edge to Alcantara.
  • OPS+/ERA+. This stat is an assessment of the player’s superiority as opposed to league averages, with 100 equaling an average payer. Goldschmidt’s OPS+ presently sits at 200, identifying him as exactly twice as productive as his peers. But Alcantara’s ERA+ of 210 again gives him a slight statistical advantage.
  • Batter-pitcher matchups. Goldschmidt has a league-leading .421 on base average, meaning he has ‘won’ 42.1 percent of his individual pitcher-hitter battles. Again, that’s MVP worthy. But Alcantara has faced 663 opposing batters so far this season, and has allowed just 169 of them to reach base. That’s a denial rate of 74.6 percent, substantially higher than Goldschmidt’s 42.1 percent success rate.

It’s possible to swing this argument toward  Goldschmidt by comparing the players against league norms. Alcantara’s denial rate is 6.1 percent better than the 68.5 percent denial rate of the average NL pitcher.  Goldschmidt’s 42.1 success rate is 10.6 percent better than the NL average success rate.

When it comes to MVP voting, the biggest knock against pitchers tends to be precisely that they are pitchers, meaning they have influence on far fewer games than every-day players. At the most simplistic level, this is obviously true. Goldschmidt has played in 112 games for his Cardinals, Alcantara only 24 for his Marlins.

But the shallowness of that simplistic approach was suggested in the paragraph regarding batter-pitcher matchups. Goldschmidt may have played in far more games, but to date he has ‘only’ influenced the outcome of 486 batter-pitcher matchups, that being the number of his plate appearances. Far from being a handicap, Alcantara actually has a big advantage in game influence, having faced 663 opposing batters. That’s 167 more opportunities to influence a game outcome than Goldschmidt has had.

Even tossing in such imponderables as Goldschmidt’s ‘influence’ by being in the on-deck circle, or his fielding prowess — and for the record his fielding stats are consummately average — and it’s still impossible to even approach Alcantara’s substantial edge in game influence.

Alcantara’s edge ends up also being reflected in Win Probability Added. He has provided 4.9 games of Win Probability to Miami’s season; Goldschmidt’s added 4.6 Win Probability to the Cardinals. That’s another edge, although also a preliminary and fluid one, to Alcantara.

The other common argument that will be used to advance Goldschmidt’s MVP candidacy over Alcantara’s is that Goldschmidt’s Cardinals are in contention in the NL Central, while Alcantara’s Marlins are not contenders in the NL East.

Indeed, we are already hearing rumblings of this ‘drawback’ in discussion of the NL Cy Young race, where Alcantara is a leading contender. Advocates for his principal challengers in that contest, notably Los Angeles’ Tony Gonsolin and Atlanta’s Max Fried, bring up that distinction early in their presentations.

Because value is value, this is as fallacious an argument for MVP consideration as it is for Cy Young consideration. Logically in the case of the Marlins pitcher, it reduces as follows:  Sandy Alcantara can’t be MVP (or Cy Young winner) because Brian Anderson, Trevor Rogers and Jacob Stallings stink. In what alternate universe is that logical thinking?

None of this is to say that Alcantara should be the choice of NL MVP voters at season’s end. His margins over Goldschmidt are close enough that the judgment could easily swing between now and the start of post-season play.

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But they do argue, at this stage at least, for serious consideration of Alcantara for his league’s top on-field honor. If the voting were held today, he probably wouldn’t even make the top three, even though statistically he would deserve the trophy.