LAS VEGAS — With bat flips and a home-run trot highlighted by a dance around the third turn, Padres phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. enjoys putting on a show in a game forever resistant to showboating. But times do change, and even many old-school purists are beginning to embrace Tatis’ flair.
At 22, Tatis might be the most entertaining young player in baseball, although there’s an abundance of competition for that unofficial title.
He’s also facing fierce competition for the official title of National League Most Valuable Player, an opposite-coast two-player race between a power hitter in San Diego and an overpowering pitcher in New York. Mets ace Jacob deGrom has been so dominant that he’s favored to win an award typically owned by everyday players.
“It has to be so extraordinary for a pitcher to win it, but that’s the case,” Westgate SuperBook baseball oddsmaker Ed Salmons said. “The numbers for deGrom are historic.”
At BetMGM, deGrom is the +125 favorite to win NL MVP, slightly ahead of Tatis at +150 (3/2). It’s important to note those odds are not a reflection of oddsmakers’ opinions. MGM Resorts director of trading Jeff Stoneback said deGrom is favored mostly because he has attracted three times more money than Tatis in the prop pool.
DeGrom opened the season at 50/1 odds, and the book’s liability is on the long shot. Tatis opened at 9/1.
A two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, deGrom is 7-2 with a 0.69 ERA, 0.526 WHIP and 122 strikeouts in 78 innings. His ERA is the lowest by a pitcher through 13 starts since earned runs became an official stat in 1913. His scoreless-innings streak was stopped at 31 on Saturday, when deGrom threw 18 pitches over 100 mph.
The last NL pitcher to win MVP was the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in 2014, and Kershaw was the first to win it since the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson in 1968. (In the AL, seven pitchers have won MVP since 1968 — Denny McLain, Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley and Justin Verlander, but Verlander is the only one in the past 28 years).
“I still think a lot of voters will have the thought of not giving it to a pitcher because he pitches every fifth day, when he’s healthy, so there will be some reluctance,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and lifelong Mets fan.
A few things need to happen for deGrom to claim MVP — he must remain dominant and healthy, and the Mets, 40-33 with a four-game lead in the NL East entering Monday, must continue to win.
“I would say if deGrom stays healthy, because he’s doing stuff never done in the history of the game, he has to win it,” Salmons said. “But that’s if he stays healthy, and that’s a big if.”
DeGrom has dealt with minor injuries this season, including right shoulder soreness, right lat and side tightness and a stiff back. Tatis also has had injury issues and recently said he’s playing at 75 percent with a left shoulder that was partially dislocated early in the season.
Tatis, who had a three-homer game Friday, is putting up power numbers (25 home runs, 55 RBIs) that are more impressive when considering he has missed 19 of the team’s 80 games. He’s batting .294 and is tied for second in the majors with 16 stolen bases.
The Padres (47-33) are trailing the Giants (50-27) and Dodgers (47-31) in a tight three-team race in the NL West, but the Padres have won seven of the past eight against the Dodgers.
“If the trends continue with Tatis’ numbers and the Padres’ success against the Dodgers, [the award] will probably go to Tatis,” Magliulo said. “The Padres are a legit team, and Tatis is a fan favorite. You watch this kid and he loves playing the game. It’s pretty refreshing.”
One hole in Tatis’ case is defensive — he has made 17 errors at shortstop. One argument for deGrom’s case is offensive — he’s batting .414 (12-for-29) with six RBIs.
One player who could work his way into the MVP race in the second half is Ronald Acuna Jr. The Braves’ 23-year-old outfielder is batting .282 with 21 homers, 47 RBIs and 16 steals. BetMGM lists Acuna as the third choice at +375. Atlanta (37-40) is an underachieving team that needs to get hot, however.
Health permitting, the deGrom-Tatis MVP debate will go to the wire in early October.
The Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who leads the majors with 26 homers, is the even-money favorite in the AL MVP race. BetMGM lists the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani as the +105 second choice. Ohtani had 25 homers entering Monday in addition to his work in 11 starts as a pitcher (3-1, 2.58 ERA, 82 strikeouts in 59 ¹/₃ innings). Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the preseason favorite, has slipped to 40/1 odds. Trout has been out since May 17 with a calf injury.
BetMGM lists the Rays (+160) as AL East favorites ahead of the Red Sox (+175) and Yankees (+275). Boston is 6-0 against the Yankees and finished the weekend with a 47-31 record, a half-game in front of Tampa Bay and 6.5 ahead of the Yankees.
“The Red Sox are for real and not going away,” Magliulo said. “The Yankees are in trouble, no doubt.”
Matt Youmans is senior editor of VSiN.com.