First-third awards – NL MVP

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We’ll use VORP
to come up with a list of candidates and go from there. Position
players only. I think Dan Haren should figure into the mix for the
bottom half of the ballot, but the rest of the top 10 will be hitters.

1. Albert Pujols – 37.2
2. Raul Ibanez – 33.4
3. Carlos Beltran – 30.0
4. Hanley Ramirez – 27.9
5. Adrian Gonzalez – 26.5
6. Chase Utley – 26.1
7. Miguel Tejada – 24.7
8. Ryan Zimmerman – 23.4
9. Justin Upton – 23.1
10. Brad Hawpe – 22.4
11. Orlando Hudson – 21.3
12. Ryan Braun – 21.2
13. David Wright – 20.9

That’s everyone over 20.0.

Moving on to OPS:

1. Albert Pujols – 1168 in 53 G
2. Raul Ibanez – 1091 in 52 G
3. Adrian Gonzalez – 1075 in 53 G
4. Brad Hawpe – 1051 in 46 G
5. Carlos Beltran – 1022 in 47 G
6. Justin Upton – 1000 in 50 G
7. Chase Utley – 998 in 50 G
8. Prince Fielder – 979 in 54 G
9. Ryan Braun – 964 in 52 G
10. Hanley Ramirez – 962 in 51 G

Playing time isn’t as much of an issue here as it was in the AL,
where it was tough to figure out where to put Joe Mauer and Jason
Bartlett. The only player in the NL to perform like an MVP candidate
over 30-40 games is Joey Votto, who had a 1091 OPS in 38 games before
landing on the DL.

Finally, the RBI list, since that’s what the real voters will be mostly concerned about:

1. Raul Ibanez – 53
2. Prince Fielder – 52
3. Albert Pujols – 48
4. Ryan Howard – 46
5. Adrian Gonzalez – 43
6. Adam Dunn – 42
7. Brad Hawpe – 41
8. James Loney – 41
9. Brandon Phillips – 40
10. Dan Uggla – 39

I see five legitimate candidates: Pujols, Ibanez, Beltran, Gonzalez
and Utley. Fielder isn’t hitting any better than the top two first
baseman and he’s a weaker defender. As a subpar shortstop, Hanley is
rather overrated by VORP. Also, he hasn’t been as much of a force on
the basepaths as usual, and even though he’s hitting .400 with RISP, he
has just 25 RBI while batting third. That knocks him down to sixth.

Of the top five, two are quality defenders at key positions, two are
quality defenders at first base and one is a below average defender in
left field. Beltran’s candidacy takes a hit because he’s missed five of
the Mets’ 52 games.

As outstanding as Ibanez has been, I don’t see a reason to go away
from Pujols, last year’s MVP. He has the OPS lead, he’s a positive in
the field and on the basepaths and he’s hitting .341 with RISP. Utley
also contributes in more ways than Ibanez.

What Gonzalez has gone is truly remarkable — he’s on pace for more
than 60 homers while playing half of his games at Petco Park — but he
doesn’t have the same kind of average as the other candidates and his
OBP is being inflated by teams working around him with RISP. It’s not
his fault that the Padres can’t protect him, but it has made him less
valuable. He’s hit just .231 with RISP.

First-third NL MVP

1. Pujols
2. Utley
3. Ibanez
4. Gonzalez
5. Beltran
6. Ramirez
7. Haren
8. Fielder
9. Hudson
10. Mike Cameron

Yordano Ventura and Jose Fernandez were two of the most promising arms in MLB

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 3: Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Baseball lost two incredible pitchers in the last four months, both to horrible and unforeseen tragedies. Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura were among the most talented and promising pitchers in MLB, two young arms that drew both accolades and criticism for their performance on the mound.

Ventura signed with the Royals in 2008, blazing through several tiers of their farm system before he was called up to replace an injured Danny Duffy in late 2013. He secured his rotation spot the following spring and finished a solid 2014 campaign with a 14-10 record, 3.20 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 32 starts for the club. During the Royals’ World Series run later that year, Ventura dedicated his performance in Game 6 to Cardinals’ prospect Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic just two days earlier.

In four years with the Royals, Ventura pitched to a 38-31 record, 3.89 ERA and 6.5 fWAR. While his command and overall production rate waned, bottoming out in 2016 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.85 SO/BB rate, his dynamic pitch repertoire still kept him front and center in the Royals’ pitching staff. He brandished an electric fastball that, at its lowest point, hovered around 96.6 m.p.h. and, at its best, topped out around 102.6 m.p.h.

Like Ventura, Fernandez made an instant impression in the major league circuit. He earned Rookie of the Year distinctions in 2013 after delivering a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 4.1 fWAR with the Marlins. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year, he recovered to take on a full workload in 2016 and stunned the league with a 16-8 record, 2.89 ERA, career-high 253 strikeouts and 6.1 fWAR.

Ventura developed a reputation for brushing back hitters, which escalated in some cases to volatile bench-clearing brawls. In 2015, he was ejected for three altercations in three consecutive games and served a seven-game suspension. Halfway through the 2016 season, he earned another eight-game suspension after plunking the Orioles’ Manny Machado in the back with a 99 m.p.h. heater. Some speculated that his aggressive behavior on the mound was excused — or, at least, made more palatable — by his talent and track record, while others called for a more heavy-handed approach from the league.

Fernandez, too, found himself at the center of speculation after reports emerged that painted the 24-year-old as a “clubhouse difficulty,” citing attitude problems that damaged relationships between the pitcher and Marlins players and staff. On the field, he was occasionally chastised for failing to adhere to some of baseball’s unwritten rules, most notably when he showed his elation after hitting his first career home run off of the Braves’ Mike Minor in 2013.

It’s impossible to predict where Fernandez and Ventura’s careers would have taken them. We mourn them not for their actions on the mound or their potential as star pitchers, however, but for their inherent value as people who were loved and respected by their families and teams. Major League Baseball will be worse off for their loss.

Yordano Ventura killed in an auto accident

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 2:  Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals jokes with teammates as he walks off the field after the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on June 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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UPDATE, 12:07 p.m. EDT: The Royals have confirmed reports of Yordano Ventura’s death with an official statement. No further details pertaining to the accident have been divulged.

Terrible, terrible news: Christian Moreno of ESPN reports that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura has been killed in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. His death has been confirmed by police. He was only 25 years-old. There are as of yet no details about the accident.

Ventura was a four-year veteran, having debuted in 2013 but truly bursting onto the scene for the Royals in 2014. That year he went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 183 innings, ascending to the national stage along with the entire Royals team with some key performances in that year’s ALDS and World Series. The following year Ventura won 13 games for the World Champion Royals and again appeared in the playoffs and World Series.

Ventura was often in the middle of controversy — he found himself in several controversies arising out of his habit of hitting and brushing back hitters — but he was an undeniably electric young talent who was poised to anchor the Royals rotation for years to come. His loss, like that of Jose Fernandez just this past September, is incalculable to both his team, his fans and to Major League Baseball as a whole.

Our thoughts go out to his family, his friends, his teammates and his fans.