It’s somewhat fitting in a year and baseball season where overcoming challenges is an overarching theme — a player who was previously infected with COVID-19 is the leading candidate for the NL MVP award as the shortened campaign nears its halfway point.
The Colorado Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon sports an eye-popping .472/.506/.681 slash line through his first 18 games. Those figures are partly comprised of six doubles, three home runs, 20 RBI and 18 runs. The veteran outfielder also was sidelined by coronavirus from a three-week-plus period in late June and the first half of July.
Blackmon didn’t arrive at the Rockies’ summer camp until July 13 as a result. He finally got his first taste of any kind of game action since spring training in an exhibition versus the Rangers on July 22. That was a mere 48 hours before Opening Day.
Yet there he is entering Friday’s action sitting atop the NL MVP leaderboards at +600 on DraftKings Sportsbook. That puts him ahead of $365 million dollar man Mookie Betts (+750) and surging sensation Fernando Tatis, Jr. (+800).
Over at PointsBet Sportsbook, Blackmon is even more of a favorite. His odds sit at +550, which is a massive leap from the +10000 figure he carried prior to the start of the season.
Talent rises to the top, even in shortened samples
Blackmon’s torrid start comes over 79 plate appearances. That starts to cross over from a minuscule, stat-altering sample to one that corroborates the player’s numbers aren’t just a complete statistical anomaly. And in a 60-game season, it prorates to well over 200 plate appearances in a normal, 162-game campaign.
The veteran outfielder’s success – which isn’t a shock by any stretch, considering his hitter-friendly home park of Coors Field and the fact he checked into 2020 with .three .300 seasons in the prior four years alone – is a testament to how even under unprecedented circumstances, betting on talent is typically a smart way to go.
In fact, an argument is definitely there for the adage of “anything can happen” in a much more compact season not being anywhere near as applicable on the individual-player level.
The whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts angle certainly does seem to have some validity so far in the 2020 season. Teams like the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers are better offensively than expected, for example. Both are still unsurprisingly near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to World Series futures. But both have seen improvements in their odds at the division level compared to their preseason figures.
However, when it comes to players, it stands to reason that when prep time for a season is unconventional or choppy, talent is the greatest fallback. That’s clear when looking at the aforementioned top trio of contenders for the NL MVP, as well as those right below them like the Braves’ Ronald Acuna (+1500) and the Reds’ Nick Castellanos (+1500).
COVID still an X-factor to be accounted for
That said, with a disease as unpredictable as COVID-19, the degree of symptoms a player experiences also has a sizable impact on performance once he’s recovered. The best example in terms of a player with similar talent to Blackmon is that of Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman.
Essentially just as accomplished a hitter as the current NL MVP favorite, Freeman was by his own account walloped by symptoms, to the point where he feared for his long-term health/life. He, too, had a very late arrival to summer camp and was activated just before the regular season. Unlike Blackmon, he’s had plenty of trouble hitting his stride at the plate.
Freeman is hitting just .254 through his first 20 games. He finally seems to be starting to come around almost a month into the season. Yet for the moment, he’s tellingly nowhere to be found in DK’s NL MVP futures market and carries +3000 odds on PointsBet.
AL MVP market helmed by two likely candidates
The American League MVP futures leaderboard also bears out the talent-trumps-all theory.
Three-time winner Mike Trout, who ironically was initially undecided about whether he’d participate in the season due to COVID concerns and the fact his wife was expecting, leads the field with +240 odds at DK after producing a .328/.377/.738 slash through his first 15 games.
The New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge, still in search of his first MVP award, is a close second (+265) courtesy of his MLB-high nine home runs and co-MLB-high (alongside Blackmon) 20 RBI.