MLB Coverage: The Fluid National League MVP Race
The American League MVP race might have a clear frontrunner in Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, but the National League MVP battle is wide open. As recently as ten days ago, I wrote that Buster Posey was a clear choice, while acknowledging that it was close enough that one slump could change that equation.
Posey delivered that slump, as he’s lost seventeen points on his on-base percentage and twenty-five more on his slugging in the last week and a half. Who’s the front-runner now? Or is there one?
How topsy-turvy this race can be further discerned by looking at the Triple Crown categories. While the American League has Cabrera first in batting average and RBIs, and second in home runs, two of the National League’s three leaders are nowhere close to the MVP discussion.
Dominic Brown for Philadelphia leads the NL in home runs (15), but has an awful .306 on-base percentage. Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips leads the senior circuit in RBI (44), but while his own OBP of .340 isn’t bad, it isn’t going to even get you into an MVP discussion, much less win it.
So who are the other candidates? Let’s have a look…
TWO SWINGING THE HEAVY LUMBER
Troy Tulowitzki (SS, Colorado)/Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati): These two are having monster seasons, with Tulowitzki having a .404/.618 stat line for OBP and slugging, while Votto is at .465/.544. They are the clear offensive leaders on the two teams that lead the National League in runs scored, and both of those teams have winning records.
The downside to their candidacies start with their respective parks. Coors Field and Great American Ballpark are arguably the two best hitting environments in baseball. It doesn’t rule them out or invalidate their numbers, but we do have to at least take it into consideration.
Another factor is that both get significant help—Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez is having a big year of his own, with 13 home runs, and Votto has a fantastic running mate in Shinn-Soo Choo, along with Phillips. Again, this is not a disqualifying factor, but if we’re asking who is most valuable, it would seem that have quality teammates lessens the overall value of one individual star.
If the race were only about these two, I pick Tulowitzki because of his added defensive importance at shortstop. But how about…
THE DARK HORSE IN THE DESERT
Arizona has slid under the radar as they’ve taken over first place in the National League West, and their first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt is also getting it done without a lot of media love. But Goldschmidt has put up a .409/.593 stat line, is batting .330 and has hit twelve home runs. With the trade of Justin Upton in the offseason, there was added pressure on Goldschmidt and he’s delivered. By the way, speaking of Upton, his 14 home runs put his name in the ring, but his .254 batting average takes it right back out.
Goldschmidt is another player who’s in a good hitting park, although one thing we should add that—like Tulowitzki and unlike Votto—have to play a significant chunk of road games in great pitchers’ parks in the NL West, namely Los Angeles and San Diego.
I’d probably give the edge to Goldschmidt over Tulowitzki, simply because Goldschmidt has led his team into first place. I won’t hold it against Colorado if they don’t make the playoffs, and if they even have a winning season—as they are right now—I’d give Tulowitzki bonus points, but overachieving to win a division title counts for more than overachieving to get over .500. Goldschmidt has an edge with me right now, but by the narrowest of margins.
THE MILWAUKEE THREE
These aren’t serious MVP candidates, but the years submitted by Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun are going to be overlooked because the Brewers are having an awful season, and with a lack of pitching that makes it unlikely things will improve. But all three are among the leaders for OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). The fact their team is underachieving and the sheer volume of good offensive players damages the MVP prospects, but give the Milwaukee Three some love and get them all to Citi Field in New York for the All-Star Game.
PITTSBURGH’S TOP GUN
It’s not Sidney Crosby for the Penguins. It’s not Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers. Nope, the top gun in the city of Pittsburgh—at least based on two months of baseball is closer Jason Grilli. If you’d been asked this morning, could you have named the one closer who had the following…
- A perfect save percentage, nailing all 22 of his chances
- A 1.09 ERA
- Leading a team that’s had injury problems and helping the bullpen keep them in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Unless you saw Mariano Rivera’s first blown save earlier this week, you couldn’t have been blamed for figuring it was him. But Grilli is the answer to the question. He’s the single biggest reason the Pirates would be playing a wild-card game based on current standings. And that’s why he’s moved into the top spot on my National League MVP leader board.
THE AMERICAN LEAGUE’S 1-2 PUNCH
I initially intended for today’s MLB coverage to give equal time to the MVP races in both leagues, but the NL is by far the more interesting of the two. But a lack of fluidity doesn’t mean there isn’t excellence on the American League side, and while Cabrera is a clear leader today, things can change. At this time last year, it looked like Josh Hamilton was going to run away with the award. Instead he ended up run out of town.
But we do have to note that Baltimore’s Chris Davis is in very reasonable striking distance of Cabrera right now. He’s second to the Tiger third baseman in RBIs and batting average, and it’s Davis who leads the majors in home runs with 19. Davis is within four points of Cabrera in OBP, and the Baltimore first baseman’s slugging percentage of .749 is significantly better—in fact, it’s so good that you could make a very good argument for Davis to be the leader right now. If only for the fact he wasn’t in hitter-friendly Camden Yards, while Cabrera is in the vast expanse of Detroit’s Comerica Park. The unfriendly hitting conditions that Cabrera plays in have been a mostly unreported part of his excellence.
In either case, with Detroit atop the AL Central, Baltimore only a half-game back in the wild-card race and both teams settling in for the long haul, the Cabrera-Davis battle has the feel of one that will go on a little while longer.