I usually don’t do post-season award analysis until, well, the post-season. But this year the MVP races seem like they could end up being really interesting. So lets take a look at who’s in the hunt.
The MVP candidates year in and year out generally are chosen by the voters using these criterion (fair or not):
- Best player on the Best teams
- Outstanding performances from players on non-playoff teams.
- Generally position players, except in a year when no position player really stands out.
- East Coast Bias.
I’m not going to get into an argument about whether the “MVP” means the “best player” or “most valuable” here. I’ll leave that to the multitude of other people who can’t get over this distinction. For me, the “MVP” still is a subjective award not entirely driven by the guy with the best WAR on the season. There are plenty who cannot get over the fact that Mike Trout had s uch a fantastic statistical season last year and didn’t win the MVP. Not me; I don’t see how you can be the “MVP” of a league when your team finishes 20 games out of first.
If the season ended today, your 5 playoff teams per league would be:
- NL: Divisional Winners Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles with St. Louis and Cincinnati meeting in the wild card game.
- AL: Divisional winners Boston, Detroit and Oakland with Tampa Bay and Texas meeting in the wild card game.
The NL playoff picture seems mostly set; the two wild card leaders have a decent lead on Arizona that seems, well not insurmountable but surprisingly strong. The AL picture is a bit more unsettled; lots can still happen in the AL East, and there’s three teams within 4.5 games of the wild card right now (Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City). And that’s to say nothing of the Yankees, who are in the hunt but seem more of a sideshow these days than a contender.
So, using these guidelines, lets look at the leading players that are likely to be in the MVP race. All stats are as of 8/10/13. Per team, lets look at the “leading” player both statistically and “honorarily.”
Lets start with the NL:
- Atlanta: Andrelton Simmons leads the team in bWAR, with almost all of it coming on the defensive side of the ball. He’s hitting .243 and your voter base just doesn’t have an appreciation for defensive exploits just quite yet. Justin Upton started out scorching hot and still has great stats on the year, but has cooled so significantly that I don’t believe Atlanta has an MVP candidate. They have 4-5 really solid hitters and solid pitching driving them to their divisional title.
- Pittsburgh: it begins and ends with Andrew McCutchen, a serious leader for the award right now. He’s tied for the league lead in bWAR and is having an outstanding season. Starling Marte has broken out this year but nobody denies that this is McCutchen’s team. Pedro Alvarez leads the NL in homers but is otherwise good, but not great, in other offensive statistics.
- Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig leads the team’s hitters in bWAR while taking the league by storm, but he’s only slightly ahead of Hanley Ramirez, who is having a relatively quiet break through season. But neither guy has played in half the team’s games, leaving a lot of pundits to call for Clayton Kershaw, who is tied with McCutchen for the NL lead in bWAR to get MVP votes. While I don’t advocate this scenario, it would not surprise me to see Kershaw win the Cy Young and get a top-5 MVP finish.
- St Louis: Yadier Molina continues to be the transcendent catcher in the NL and is the “spiritual leader” of the Cardinals, but he has gone down with injury and may be losing MVP steam. He no longer even leads his own team in bWAR (Matt Carpenter does), but remains a good candidate.
- Cincinnati: the obvious candidate here is Joey Votto, But something seems like Cincinnati’s scuffling as of late combined with the flashier candidates out there will lead to Votto getting votes but not the award.
Other NL Candidates to consider:
- Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt is in the top-10 in league bWAR for the Diamondbacks, but unless this team makes a huge run to the playoffs he’s merely going to be a top-10 vote getter.
- Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez is tied for the league lead in bWAR, but his streakiness and his team’s place in the standings is going to make it tough for him to get anything other than a top 10 finish.
- New York‘s David Wright is also putting together a great season, sitting in the top 10 in league bWAR almost entirely on the back of his bat (surprising given his prowness at third). As with Gomez, the Mets position in the standings hurts him badly. And his recent D/L trip (which seems like it may end his season) ends his chances.
My opinion of the NL voting right now: McCutchen, Kershaw, Molina, Votto, Gomez.
Over in the American league, the playoff situation may be murky, but the MVP race is pretty straight-forward. There is a lot to shake out in terms of the playoff positions and the candidates from those teams don’t seem to stand out as much. But as with 2012, there are two leading MVP candidates and we seem set to have the same arguments this year as last. But lets go team by team:
- Boston is being led by their two best players, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. They are both top-10 in bWAR and are having excellent seasons. Voters likely won’t be able to tell between them and they’ll split the vote with both guys getting top-10 MVP seasons.
- Detroit: Is there any question? Miguel Cabrera, who despite negative defensive bWAR is leading the AL. Max Scherzer will get serious Cy Young consideration but not MVP votes, not with Cabrera and other candidates.
- Oakland: Jody Donaldson has become the latest “who is that?” player that Oakland has found to drive them to a pennant in a division they have no business competing in. But east-coast bias and lack of star-power will work against him.
- Tampa Bay: It has to be Evan Longoria, once again, the face of the franchise. But as with year’s past, he’s toiling in relative obscurity in front of half the fans that should be supporting a team this good. And a lot of credit will go towards Wil Myers‘ call-up, taking away Longoria votes.
- Texas: the story of Adrian Beltre‘s career; he’s a darn good player and nobody gives him enough credit. Texas has shed many of its name players over the past few seasons, but Beltre continues to provide great value on both sides of the ball. The transcendant player on Texas this year is Yu Darvish, who will struggle in the Cy Young race (subject of anohter post).
Other AL Candidates to consider:
- Baltimore may very well sneak into a WC slot as they did last year, entirely on the backs of two guys. Chris Davis is having a great power season while Manny Machado is having a historic 20-year old season in general. Both guys have top-10 bWAR seasons and, as with the Boston guys, may split votes here. Machado in particular looks like he’s already put himself in the “Trout-Harper” discussion for most transcendent young player in the game.
- Los Angeles Angels: Here we go again. Mike Trout has put “sophomore slump” naysayers to shame, posting as good or better numbers across the board in 2013. Interestingly, Trout’s defensive component in 2013 is significantly hurting him whereas in 2012 it gave him a huge boost; his defensive component in bWAR is actually *negative* for 2013. A topic for another day, the ridiculous swings we see in defensive advanced stats. In any case, as with 2012 I think Trout’s team’s underperforming will hurt him and he will lose out again. It is what it is.
My opinion of the AL voting right now: Cabrera, Trout, and then I have no idea. Right now I’d probably go Machado, Ellsbury and Davis.
There’s still a lot of season to go, so lots could still happen. But I’m putting early markers on McCutchen and Cabrera. Both well deserved.