We’ve passed the halfway point in the major league baseball season and the races for the individual awards are taking shape. Here’s how TheSportsNotebook sees the race for the National League MVP…
- Troy Tulowitzki, the shortstop for the Colorado Rockies, has a .445 on-base percentage, and a .618 slugging percentage, both of which lead the league. Tulowitzki’s defensive range—as measured by the Range Factor (RF) stat is the best among National League shortstops. By the numbers, Tulo can’t be argued against.
The argument against Tulowitzki is that Coors Field jacks up the numbers, and with his team at 36-46 coming into Monday’s games, he’s nowhere near contention. Hence, he falls in the category as “The Producer”, because it’s numbers alone that have to drive his support.
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- A poor man’s version of Tulowitzki is Arizona Diamondbacks’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and the hitter-friendly Bank One Park in Phoenix. With numbers lower than Tulo (.387/.529) and playing for a worse team, Goldschmidt couldn’t rise any higher than second if the vote were held today. But he’s still in the discussion if you’re willing to consider a great player on a bad team—and I am.
FRANK, IT’S THE RIGHTFIELDER!
The panicked shout of Priscilla Presley to Leslie Nielsen in the comedy spoof The Naked Gun when she spotted rightfielder Reggie Jackson making his way to shoot the Queen of England, leads us into the next two candidates.
- Giancarlo Stanton for the Miami Marlins is having a monster offensive year, a .408/.590 stat line that isn’t far behind Tulowitzki for the best raw production in the NL. Stanton’s range grades out as the best among NL rightfielders, and though his team is under. 500 (39-43), they’ve hung in the mediocre NL East, only five games out at this writing.
- Yasiel Puig takes heat for his baserunning decisions and his grades on the defensive metrics are near the bottom of NL rightfielders. But the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rightfielder has numbers of .402/.521 and does it in a very difficult park to hit in. He’s also clearly been the best offensive player on a team that would make the playoffs if the season ended today and is barreling hard toward first place in the NL West.
It’s not the discredited, but still productive Ryan Braun, that’s putting together MVP credentials for the team with the best record in the National League. Two other players deserve serious consideration for the award.
- Catcher Jonathan Lucroy has a fantastic stat line of .403/.515 and the fact he does it in spite of the physical burden of catching makes it all the more impressive. Lucroy has rendered pointless, at least for the time being, the debate over whether Yadier Molina in St. Louis or San Francisco’s Buster Posey is the best catcher in baseball.
- Carlos Gomez might be a little bit of a hothead, but there’s no denying the Brewer centerfielder can hit. His numbers sit on .375/.525. What hurts him, at least in my view, is range factor that’s middling among NL centerfielders. To be an MVP at an important defensive position, I’d prefer to see this be an unambiguous strength, rather than a so-so attribute.
THREE OTHERS WORTH A MENTION
- Andrew McCutchen won the MVP last year and the Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder is in the conversation again, at .418/.525. But his team is struggling to find its way and McCutchen’s defensive ratings are poor.
- Adam LaRoche has helped carry the Washington Nationals offense, at .417/.500, and done it at a time when they’ve been without Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman has also missed a lot of time. My biggest problem with the Nats’ first baseman is personal—I passed on two chances to acquire him in my Fantasy League and at reasonable cost. His winning the MVP award only further underscores my stupidity.
- Anthony Rizzo came to the Chicago Cubs with a lot of hype, and the fact the team has been so bad is obscuring the fact that Rizzo really is “all that.” His numbers are on .394/.512.
I’m not one who has a problem with voting for a pitcher for MVP—they might only pitch every fifth day, but their impact on a game they start is so dramatic that it more than makes up for it. And no one is pitching better than the Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Cueto, with a 1.88 ERA and 124 innings pitched, both of which lead the National League. Oh, and Cincy’s Great American Ballpark is one of the hardest parks in the league to make a living in as a pitcher.
Cueto’s drawback is an 8-5 record. It’s not his fault—I’ve watched most of his starts, as this is a young man that I’ve pledged my baseball fealty to. But you can reasonably argue that while his ERA and innings might make him the best pitcher (and thus worthy of the Cy Young), is really most valuable if his team—which is tied for the last playoff spot coming into today—is getting its wins on nights other than when he’s on the mound, even if it’s not his fault.
If the season ended today, here’s how I’d vote…
1) Stanton—The best combination of numbers, carrying a shaky lineup and keeping his team in reasonable contention. And without the benefit of a friendly park.
2) Cueto—If his team gets him a few more wins, he’ll deserve an MVP trophy along with the Cy Young Award.
3) Tulowitzki—It’s the park, more than his team’s performance that keeps him from winning the award. Also, the fact that he’s far from the only Rockie swinging a good bat and does not bear Stanton’s level of responsibility for carrying a lineup (or Cueto’s in carrying an otherwise mediocre Reds’ rotation). But having said that…the numbers are dazzling and it’s got to get Tulowitzki in the top three.