A simple (yet difficult) question: Who’s the Braves’ MVP?

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

No Brave will be voted the National League MVP, which isn’t to say no Brave will receive votes. As many as a half-dozen could, which would be something. Only three members of the team that became 2021 World Series champs drew support: Austin Riley finished seventh, Freddie Freeman ninth and Ozzie Albies 13th.

As we’ve said a time or two, this year’s team is way better than last year’s. Even as we stipulate that WAR (wins above replacement) isn’t a perfect metric, it’s handy for determining overall value. As of Friday morning, Riley ranked fifth among NL position players in Baseball-Reference WAR. Max Fried ranked second among NL pitchers. Both made the All-Star team.

So did Ronald Acuna, William Contreras, Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson. Acuna is among the sport’s most gifted players. He drew MVP votes in each of his first three seasons – finishing 12th in 2018, fifth in 2019 and 12th in 2020. He’ll win the award soon. Going by WAR, though, he has been the 10th-best Brave in 2022.

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The Braves’ biggest names over the four previous division-winning seasons were Freeman, the 2020 MVP, and Acuna. Freeman is gone. Five Braves position players have a higher WAR than Acuna. (That’s not counting Contreras, mostly a DH.) These Braves have done without Freeman, have seen Albies work two games since June 13, have gotten a lesser season from Acuna ... and should win 100 games. Theirs is a team of remarkable depth.

Today’s exercise – apologies for burying the lede – is simple: Among all this excellence, who’s the Braves’ MVP?

Honorable mention: Spencer Strider, who galvanized the rotation, and Kyle Wright, terrific over six months. Once upon a time, 20 wins would have made us view Wright as the staff’s ace. Today we value other numbers more.

No. 5: Swanson. A month ago, he might have been my No. 1. He plays a key defensive position and does it well. He has had his best offensive season – 22 home runs and 92 RBIs. But Matt Olson has 30 homers and 96 RBIs, and he didn’t make my honorable mentions. Olson’s OPS is .782. Swanson’s is .763. Contrast those with …

No. 4: d’Arnaud. His WAR is only 2.7, but catchers get short shrift, WAR-wise. His OPS is .801, third-best among NL catchers. His wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is 122; Swanson’s is 112. League average is 100. Of at least equal importance, d’Arnaud has shepherded a pitching staff that’s a mix of young (Strider, Wright) and older (Charlie Morton, Kenley Jansen). The Braves’ pitchers rank second-best in the NL in ERA, strikeouts and WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched). That doesn’t happen without Td’A.

No. 3: Fried. Here’s your ace. He’s fourth among NL pitchers in ERA, third in fielding independent pitching, second in fewest walks per nine innings, third in fewest homers per nine. The only reason he isn’t higher on this list is that he works every fifth day. He should finish no worse than second in Cy Young Award voting.

No. 2: Riley. He wasn’t quite a prospect on the level of Albies and Swanson, but he’s the new infield cornerstone. His WAR is 6.0. By way of comparison, Freeman has had one 6-WAR season. (He might get there this year, though.) Riley ranks second in the NL in total bases, third in home runs, fifth in OPS, seventh in wRC+ at 143. He’ll draw the most support among Braves in the official voting. He’s not my MVP, though.

No. 1: Michael Harris. He doesn’t appear in official stat rankings because he wasn’t summoned until Memorial Day weekend. With enough plate appearances to qualify, he’d be fourth in the NL in batting average, seventh in OPS and ninth in wRC+ at 142. The Braves were 22-24 when he was promoted. They’re 75-35 since.

Harris changed this team. The outfield again was short-staffed: Adam Duvall and Marcell Ozuna weren’t hitting; Eddie Rosario was on the injured list and Acuna was coming off ACL repair. Harris stepped into center field as if he owned it. Now he does.

In four months, he has compiled a 5.2 WAR. Acuna’s best full season was 2019, when he played 156 games and had a 5.1 WAR. Harris is the NL’s second-youngest player. He’s also this team’s MVP. Saw that coming, did you?