What's the age-old sports adage? "If you can't find any legitimate disrespect, create it out of thin air?" Now, that may or may not be an adage I just invented as an homage to Atlanta Braves fans who've chosen to be aggrieved instead of excited this September, but it certainly does describe the Ronald Acuña Jr./Mookie Betts MVP race to a tee!
Both Betts and Acuña play on top-two seeds in the National League. Both Betts and Acuña are mind-bending talents. Both Betts and Acuña should be honored to lose to whichever player captures the crown (and almost certainly will be, graciously!).
But both Betts and Acuña can't win -- this isn't 1979 anymore! And, judging by the way the past several weeks have gone, the interim period between the end of the season and award's announcement could get exceedingly toxic. Don't you dare wade into Atlanta's waters and insinuate this might be a close race, despite the two players' bWAR and fWAR both being nearly identical.
Who leads in both those categories, though? Betts. 8.1 to 8.0 and 8.2 to 7.9. But shame on me for remarking that this thing could go down to the wire.
Dodgers Mookie Betts vs. Ronald Acuña Jr. MVP race
There's a good chance -- a very good chance -- that Acuña is the deserving winner of this award. There's an even better chance that he captures it whether he's the deserving winner or not, and all this bloviating was for naught. But just know, when your entry point into the argument is, "40/70. End of discussion. End of story," you sound a lot like Miguel Cabrera "Triple Crown is All That Matters" voters, which the analytics community was taught to scorn.
Did you side with Aaron Judge in last season's AL race because "62 homers is a powerful number," or did you take in the full breadth of Shohei Ohtani's accomplishments? Just want to see some consistency here. Don't tell me, "40/70 is different." It's not. It's just your big number. It also hasn't happened yet (Acuña has stolen 68 bases and has been caught unceremoniously 13 times, which leads MLB).
And ... also ... while 40/70 feels monstrous in scale -- because it is -- did MLB not just widen the bases to create more action? Acuña Jr. is the first generational talent to approach and surpass this remarkable threshold, but if MLB gets its way, he won't be the last. It's not a benchmark we could even conceive of until 2023. Acuña has taken full advantage of the landscape to become the first man to breeze past it, and he should be congratulated for his ingenuity and skill. It will never become the norm, but it might never be a one-time-only automatic MVP qualifier again.
In no way was Jeff Passan diminishing Acuña's accomplishment by distilling his case as a "ceaseless recitation of 40/70." He was just accurately assessing what it's like to have this should-be-nuanced discussion at this moment in time.
This season's MVP race in the National League will not hinge on some side-quest tiebreaker like "defensive versatility." Betts will not win the honor because the quirk of his time at second base captured the imagination of our nation's children and taught them that even right fielders can play the infield if they dream big enough. Betts will not steal a trophy for the Dodgers from the beleaguered Braves out of spite (the Braves have won a more recent title, and if anyone should be crowing about disrespect, it's LA, whose recent championship has been invalidated by the general public, but go off).
Anyone pricking a needle into the MVP case isn't trying to tear down Acuña. They're simply looking for a dissection of the minute differences between two players with almost identical WAR totals (and, again, Betts' WAR is universally higher) and indistinguishable 167 OPS+ marks (seriously, entering play on Tuesday, that is insane).
Maybe that differentiator is the 40/70 mark, and we can all be done with it. Maybe that differentiator is record, which ... again, hat tip to Atlanta. But, before we know for certain, be extra careful if you'd like to challenge the foregone conclusion that Acuña has already taken home the award. And if the Braves lose early in October while the Dodgers keep fighting on, this wasteland could reach "Mike Trout GOAT Discussion" levels of toxicity.