Not long after Nolan Arenado’s walk-off home run Sunday, the buzz surrounding the Colorado Rockies third baseman ratcheted up.
Maybe it was because Arenado finally had A Moment; it’s not often a player hits a walk-off home run to complete the cycle and then delivers an impassioned speech with a bloody face.
Or maybe it’s because the Rockies, who sit 20 games over .500, are finally good.
Folks who write and talk about the game at the national level are finally noticing what Rockies observers have understood for a while: Arenado is a transcendent talent.
Arenado has essentially been this guy since the start of 2015.
Yes, he’s been better at drawing walks the last two years. And you can see that he’s on pace to hit fewer home runs this year compared to the last two. (Arenado’s got 15 round-trippers now, but his slugging percentage hasn’t dropped because he’s on pace to hit 58 doubles.)
Other than that, there’s not much disparity in the numbers.
In the field, Arenado continues to do absurd things. He ranks second in FanGraphs’ defensive runs saved metric. When you watch some of the plays he makes, it’s hard to imagine how anybody could be better.
If I had a nickel for every jaw-dropping barehanded play he’s made the last three years, I wouldn’t be driving a 2001 Nissan Maxima. Arenado does stuff like that on a near-nightly basis. He makes it look mundane. Imagine the average third baseman attempting that play — he’d knot himself into a pretzel.
Arenado looks like a lock for his fifth-straight Gold Glove. And for the first time in his career, Arenado could actually contend for National League MVP. He finished fifth in 2016 and eighth in 2015.
The attention is overdue.
As Jonah Keri wrote in his Sports Illustrated column this week, “Greg Holland and Jake McGee and a whole bunch of young starting pitchers are suddenly kicking ass in Colorado, so only now can we start thinking of Nolan Arenado as a legitimate MVP candidate?”
In the last five years, an MVP winner has come from a team with a losing record only once. Mike Trout won the American League MVP in 2016 in a season in which the Angels finished 74-88. All nine other MVP awards went to players who were a part of winning teams.
The Rockies won 68 games in 2015 and 75 in 2016. This year, they’re 46-26. That puts them on pace to win more than 100.
“I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves nationally,” starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood said after Colorado’s win Sunday. “I think with us winning games and being on top of the division, I think people are taking notice of him.”
Chatwood is right. It’s hard to gain notoriety when your team is bad, even though in baseball it’s hard for one player to significantly impact the outcome of a game. Wins and losses aren’t the only factor either. That tapping you hear in the distance is someone on the East Coast tweeting “he plays half his games at Coors Field.” The Mountain time zone gets overlooked, too.
But the rest of the country is coming around on Arenado’s brilliance. Arenado is an incredible talent. That’s been evident for a while.
Subscribe to Denverite’s weekly sports newsletter here.