SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Nolan Arenado, the 2016 National League Most Valuable Player. Nice ring to it, right? So there it is, the MLB.com Bold Prediction from Rockies Land.
It makes a lot of sense to Rockies fans who last year watched Arenado, who turns 25 on April 16, hit 42 home runs to tie for the National League lead, drive in 130 runs to lead the Majors, and become the first NL third baseman to win Rawlings Gold Glove Awards each of his first three seasons in the Majors. Also, The Fielding Bible and the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Awards named Arenado the Majors' best third baseman.
But last year, voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America weren't hearing the Arenado case. The Nationals' Bryce Harper, who also hit 42 homers, took all 30 votes. Arenado placed eighth in the voting.
There's no ignoring that Arenado's candidacy was hurt because the Rockies finished last in the NL West. But none of the top three vote-getters -- Harper, the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt and the Reds' Joey Votto -- appeared in the playoffs.
Of course, there is a Coors Field factor. Rockies hitters have been constantly downgraded because Coors Field's atmosphere is so friendly to hitters. This theory doesn't take into account that when the team leaves Colorado, it has a greater adjustment than other teams when they travel. Also, if Arenado was penalized for hitting .316 at home and .258 on the road, did he receive credit for hitting more homers away (22) than at home (20)?
One otherworldly player overcame the forces working against Mile High City baseball to win NL MVP -- right fielder Larry Walker in 1997. Walker led the league with 49 home runs and was tops in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. Additionally, he took his third career Gold Glove.
Can Arenado match Walker?
He can't match the speed that led to Walker's 33 steals in '97. But Arenado has dominated his position defensively at a level greater than Walker through his first three years. Keys will be improving his on-base percentage -- .328 in 2014, .323 last season -- and continuing the climb in slugging that went from .500 in 2014 to .575. Arenado also needs greater production against left-handed pitching -- a tall order in the NL West. He had a .778 OPS against lefties last year, as opposed to .931 against righties.
Practically no one is getting Arenado out this spring, as evidenced by his .566 batting average, 1.094 slugging percentage and .579 on-base percentage through 19 games. Granted, that goes away when the regular season opens Monday, but imagine if Arenado holds onto a chunk of that timing.
Does a similar year, with incremental-to-dramatic improvements -- and improvement from a team that has built lineup and bullpen depth but is keeping its fingers crossed when it comes to starting pitching -- equal an MVP season?
"That can only hurt me, thinking of those things," Arenado said. "Would it be awesome to win it? Of course. But I'm concerned about being as good as I can. My swing and everything -- I'm almost 100 percent comfortable and confident in what I'm going to bring. I just focus on winning and just helping the team out.
"I'm trying to be consistent, find ways to keep getting better. Last year was a special year. I don't know if I'll do that again. But I know I can have a great year in a different way. I don't know if it's going to be 42 homers. I don't know if it's going to be 130 RBIs again. But I know there is a different way I can get better and be a good player."