RAR has Longoria, Ibanez as MVPs through May

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Fan Graphs is a site that I couldn’t live without and has a great stat called Runs Above Replacement
(RAR) that combines offensive and defensive contributions while
comparing players to “replacement-level” guys at the same position.

For example, how many runs would the Cardinals lose if they had to
replace Albert Pujols with a random first baseman called up from the
minors? Last year the answer was 89.2 runs, which led baseball.

While not perfect, Runs Above Replacement is an excellent way to
examine all-around contributions and can be used to determine the top
MVP candidates based strictly on their between-the-lines performance.

Now that May is in the books I thought it would be interesting to update the RAR leaders through the season’s first two months:

AMERICAN LEAGUE        RAR          NATIONAL LEAGUE        RAR
Evan Longoria 33.1 Raul Ibanez 28.7
Joe Mauer 27.1 Albert Pujols 26.6
Jason Bartlett 27.1 Mike Cameron 26.5
Ian Kinsler 25.6 Ryan Zimmerman 26.3
Marco Scutaro 25.3 Hanley Ramirez 26.1
Kevin Youkilis 25.0 Adrian Gonzalez 26.0
Nelson Cruz 23.9 Matt Kemp 25.2
Victor Martinez 23.3 Chase Utley 23.0
Aaron Hill 23.2 Justin Upton 22.1
Torii Hunter 22.2 Ryan Braun 20.8

Evan Longoria ranked as the best player in baseball through the end of April
and he’s still atop the RAR leaderboard a month later, hitting
.327/.396/.623 with 13 homers, 20 doubles, 55 RBIs, and excellent
defense in 51 games overall. Through his first 173 career games,
Longoria has been 86.7 runs better than a replacement-level third
baseman.

Joe Mauer has amazingly vaulted into the No. 2 spot among AL
position players despite spending all of April on the disabled list,
which shows just how spectacular he was in May. Mauer hit
.414/.500/.838 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 28 games while logging 176
innings at catcher last month, guiding Twins pitchers to a 4.19 ERA
with him behind the plate after the staff posted a 5.26 ERA in April.

Raul Ibanez ranked second among NL position players in RAR through
the end of April and barely slowed down in May, hitting .312/.366/.661
with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 28 games to take over the top spot from
Mike Cameron. Of course, Ibanez is having by far the best season of his
14-year career, topping his previous high OPS by nearly 200 points, yet
has been all of 2.1 runs better than Albert Pujols.

At the other end of the RAR spectrum, Garrett Atkins (-13.3) and Delmon Young (-12.2) rank as the least valuable all-around players in their respective leagues, with Brian Giles (-10.5) and David Ortiz (-11.8) not far behind.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.