Tuesday, September 9, 2014

National League Most Valuable Player

As the 2014 Major League Baseball season sprints into it's stretch run, each week separates post-season wheat from chaff. Time runs out on some clubs, and the words "Magic Number" once again emerge into the game's vocabulary for others.

As teams push for the pennant, they are often driven forward by one man, one lead character playing hero in that season. He may be a slugger. He may have a golden arm. He may come up with clutch hits at crucial moments of many of these dramatic, decisive games.

At the end of it all, teams win, and players are honored for their individual achievements. The voting for the 'Most Valuable Player' award in both the National and American League takes place before the post-season, so it is a reflection on the performance of the top players in the game over the course of the regular 162-game season that has unfolded over the previous full 6 months.

These centerpiece awards have been given out in MLB since 1931 by the Baseball Writer's Association of America. Two baseball writers from each city in each league vote annually for the recipient, and the winner is announced at the conclusion of the World Series.

The BBWAA has never given out a clear definition of "most valuable", and that has been a bone of contention among many voters, commentators, writers, fans, and even players themselves. What makes a player valuable to his team, and how is that measured? Can a starting pitcher, for instance, who only affects team performance once or twice a week, possibly be as valuable as a position player, who affects team outcomes every game?

Without definitive direction, I have always been guided by what I consider common sense. To me, especially since pitchers already have an award specifically dedicated for their excellence in the Cy Young Award, I cannot personally consider a starting pitcher to be more valuable than the most valuable of position players.

This is not to say that starting pitchers, such as Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, are not valuable. Clearly they are, and clearly the Dodgers, as one example, would not be the same team, and perhaps not even a contender, without Kershaw. So for me, a pitcher like Kershaw would absolutely receive acknowledgement on my ballot. But he would not be the top choice.

On each ballot, the writer's doing the voting select 10 players and rank them 1-10 in the order in which they feel these players have been "most valuable" to their particular team. A player then receives 14 'points' for every first place vote, 9 for a 2nd place vote, 8 for 3rd, 7 for 4th, on down to 1 point for a 10th place vote.

The following would be my personal 10-player National League Most Valuable Player ballot, were I to have one, and were the season to end today. I will present my 10-player American League MVP ballot tomorrow:

10) Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Milwaukee
You would be hard-pressed to make a case that any player has been more influential to his team's success as a complete surprise than has KRod proven for the Brew Crew. Once arguably the game's most dominant closer, he re-emerged in that role this season for the Brewers. He has registered 39 Saves with a 2.95 ERA and a magnificent 0.98 WHIP, and with a 69-14 K/BB ratio across 61 extremely valuable innings at the end of now-fading Milwaukee's closest games.

9)   Hunter Pence, OF, San Francisco
His raw numbers of 19 homers, 69 rbi, 101 runs scored, 13 steals while compiling a .295 batting average make Pence one of the best all-around offensive threats in the NL. Combine the numbers with his hustling defense and his passionate leadership, and factor in that he plays his home games in a pitcher's haven at AT&T Park in San Francisco, and you have a legit MVP candidate for a legit contender that wouldn't be so without him.

8)   Dee Gordon, 2B, Los Angeles
The only rival to KRod as a surprise MVP candidate, Gordon's emergence has arguably been even more unlikely. Not even a starter entering the spring, Gordon took the 2nd base job and ran with it, literally. Hitting .287, he has stolen 59 bases to lead all of baseball, has scored 80 runs, and generally been exactly what the first-place Dodgers needed: a catalyst at the top of the batting order on a consistent basis. His team is very likely once again struggling for runs and under-achieving if not for his sudden emergence as an impact player this year.

7)   Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles
The best starting pitcher on the planet. Period. On his return to the team after missing the first few weeks of the season, Kershaw took up right where he had left off during the team's showcase opening series in Australia in March, where he left off last season in a Cy Young campaign. He has dominated. With an 18-3 record, 22 of 24 Quality Starts, a 1.67 ERA and 0.82 WHIP, and with an unreal 210-27 K/BB ratio over 177.1 IP, Kershaw is the clear NL Cy Young Award winner once again.

6)   Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami
The most sensational individual performer in the National League this season on a daily basis, Stanton likely gets the honors as the Most Outstanding Player in the NL: 37 homers, 105 rbi, 88 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, a .291 batting average with a .396 on-base percentage. He is improved defensively, and has a cannon for a right arm. Stanton does it all, and has most importantly stayed healthy this year. The only thing keeping him from the top spot? His team is not, and won't be, in the post-season race. They could lose without him. They are losing with him. His performance keeps them fighting for .500, but for this writer, to win the honors you need to elevate your team to contention.

5)   Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta
The most valuable Closer in the game today, he is the perfect weapon in the 9th inning. In that role, he impacts 3 times the number of actual game results than does a starting pitcher like Kershaw. He has registered 43 Saves, tied for the NL lead. He has a 1.61 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He has an 80-18 K/BB ratio across 56 innings. The Braves are just 1 1/2 games out of a Wildcard berth that they wouldn't even be sniffing without him.

4)   Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee
The Brewers are just a game and a half out of the Wildcard, but they have been seriously fading, and with that fade Gomez' own shot at the NL MVP Award is also fading. But Milwaukee led the NL Central for much of the season, and they remain in the post-season hunt, largely thanks to Gomez' taking his game to another level. He has 21 homers, 67 rbi, 87 runs scored, and 29 steals while hitting at a .284 clip, and has taken the mantle away from Ryan Braun as the biggest threat in the Brew Crew everyday lineup. His teammate, Jonathan Lucroy, would also be a worthy nominee, and will finish high on some ballots, but it is Gomez who is the better all-around player.

3)   Anthony Rendon, Washington
Playing largely at 3rd base due to Ryan Zimmerman's season-long injury troubles, Rendon has been a whiz at the hot corner for the first place Nats. He also seemlessly slid over to play 2nd base for a month when Zimmerman was briefly able to get healthy. All the while, he has emerged as the most consistent offensive threat in their batting order. His 102 runs scored leads all of baseball. He has 18 homers, 77 rbi, and 15 steals as well. There is a sense is that he is only scratching the surface of his all-around game. Aleady one of baseball's best hitters, Rendon is the MVP of a team running away with a division crown. Hard to beat that as a league MVP endorsement. I was extremely tempted to list him in the top position.

2)   Andrew McCutchen, Pittsurgh
The Pirates have again emerged as a playoff contender for the 2nd straight season. Their run to the post-season a year ago was a prime factor in McCutchen taking home the 2013 NL MVP. Their return would be a major factor in his winning the honors in back-to-back fashion, something accomplished only by Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera in the last three decades. He has the raw numbers: 22 homers, 74 rbi, 76 runs, 17 steals, and a .311 batting average with a .402 on-base percentage. And he is getting hot and coming up with big hits lately in clutch situations. The Pirates have taken over a Wildcard spot, and if they hold it, he will be a top finisher when all the votes are counted.

1)   Buster Posey, San Francsico
The 2012 NL MVP, his raw numbers are good enough on their own: a .309 batting average, 20 homers, 79 rbi, 67 runs scored. That he produces this offense mostly from the catchers position makes him the game's top threat in that regard from the position. The Giants have wisely reduced his catching, shifting some of the load to more appearances at 1st base to keep his potent bat in the lineup, while also finding him more scattered rest opportunities. The result has been that Posey is fresh, the game's hottest hitter over the last month as the Giants halted a slide and re-emerged as contenders. They now lead the Wildcard race, and are still within range of running at the Dodgers for the division crown. They are at neither spot without him. At least for now with 3 weeks to go, on this man's ballot it is between Posey and McCutchen, the last two winners of the award, for NL MVP.


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