First-quarter awards: NL MVP

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andre ethier followthrough.jpgThrough one-fifth of the season, I imagine everyone would have said Andre Ethier was the National League MVP. However, he is losing ground while on the DL because of a fractured finger. Let’s look at how a couple of systems rank the NL’s top 20 players.
VORP
1. Ubaldo Jimenez – 32.3
2. Roy Halladay – 28.3
3. Andre Ethier – 26.4
4. Livan Hernandez – 23.7
5. Ryan Braun – 22.8
6. Chase Utley – 22.4
7. Tim Lincecum – 22.1
8. Jaime Garcia – 21.4
9. Adam Wainwright – 21.0
10. Barry Zito – 20.7
11. Albert Pujols – 20.2
12. Dan Uggla – 18.8
13. Casey McGehee – 18.6
14. Jayson Werth – 18.4
15. Joey Votto – 18.1
16. Alfonso Soriano – 18.1
17. Tim Hudson – 18.0
18. Roy Oswalt – 17.6
19. Josh Johnson – 17.5
20. Marlon Byrd – 17.0
VORP adjusts for position, but doesn’t try to take defense into account otherwise.
Here’s RAR from Fangraphs, which uses UZR to account for defense.
1. Chase Utley – 26.4
2. Roy Halladay – 23.6
3. Marlon Byrd – 20.7
4. Ubaldo Jimenez – 19.5
5. Tim Lincecum – 18.9
6. Adam Wainwright – 17.8
7. Dan Uggla – 17.7
8. Joey Votto – 17.7
9. Albert Pujols – 17.2
10. Ryan Ludwick – 16.9
11. Ryan Zimmerman – 16.8
12. Alfonso Soriano – 16.8
13. Jayson Werth – 16.6
14. Josh Johnson – 16.6
15. Stephen Drew – 15.9
16. Casey McGehee – 14.7
17. Chase Headley – 14.6
18. Andre Ethier – 14.5
19. David Eckstein – 14.5
20. Ryan Braun – 13.9
Some big changes there. For one thing, UZR is convinced that Ethier has been one of the game’s worst defenders this season and it costs him nearly half of his offensive value. Braun also loses big here, while Byrd and Ludwick get surprisingly large boosts.
Of course, this is the folly of taking a quarter-season’s worth of defensive data and trying to weight it on the same scale as offense.
RAR also rates Halladay’s performance ahead of Jimenez’s, under the theory that Halladay has gotten less help from his defense, but I’m not buying that.
Throwing out the pitchers for a moment, here are the NL OPS leaders:
1. Andre Ethier – .392/.457/.744 – 1201 – 38 RBI
2. Jayson Werth – .324/.404/.634 – 1037 – 31 RBI
3. Chase Utley – .307/.430/.593 – 1023 – 23 RBI
4. Alfonso Soriano – .323/.386/.615 – 1002 – 23 RBI
5. Albert Pujols – .323/.426/.561 – 988 – 29 RBI
6. Joey Votto – .311/.408/.570 – 977 – 31 RBI
7. Ryan Zimmerman – .311/.361/.607 – 967 – 25 RBI
8. Casey McGehee – .325/.395/.570 – 965 – 37 RBI
9. Ryan Braun – .333/.413/.551 – 965 – 30 RBI
10. Kosuke Fukudome – .310/.406/.552 – 958 – 21 RBI
11. Dan Uggla – .291/.377/.570 – 947 – 28 RBI
Worthy of note from that group is that Braun is also making a difference on the basepaths, having gone 9-for-9 stealing bases to date.
I see three serious candidates for NL MVP here, and nicely enough, they’re the No. 1s on the three lists about: Jimenez, Utley and Ethier.
Jimenez has thrown 63 1/3 innings and amassed a 0.99 ERA. He’s won eight of his nine starts, with his lone loss coming in a 2-0 shutout. It’s hard to get much more valuable than that.
Utley has offered the NL’s best combination of offense and defense, and it doesn’t hurt his case that the Phillies have the NL’s best record at the moment.
Ethier not only leads the NL in OPS by a wide margin, but he’s also come up huge in big situations. He’s hit .450 with eight homers in 60 at-bats with runners on and .500 with six homers in 38 at-bats with RISP.
I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the three, but since Ethier has missed the last week, I’m going with Jimenez. Not that I put much stock in it, but the Dodgers have stayed on a roll even without Ethier. The Rockies, on the other hand, are 12-20 when Jimenez doesn’t pitch.
First-quarter NL MVP
1. Jimenez
2. Ethier
3. Utley
4. Halladay
5. Votto

Video: Adrian Beltre belts a walk-off home run on Monday against the Athletics

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 25:  The Texas Rangers celebrate the two-run walk off homerun by Adrian Beltre #29 against the Oakland Athletics at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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The Rangers found themselves in a 5-1 hole after three innings against the Athletics on Monday, but scratched out some runs in the middle innings. That allowed them to enter the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by only one run, 6-5, facing A’s closer Ryan Madson.

Adrian Beltre, who hit a solo home run in the seventh inning, stepped to the plate with a runner on first base and two outs. He was the Rangers’ last hope to keep the game alive. The veteran third baseman swung at Madson’s first pitch, a 96 MPH fastball, and drilled it to left-center field for a walk-off two-run home run.

Beltre now has nine walk-off home runs in his career. While the 37-year-old isn’t quite the offensive dynamo he was even two years ago, his numbers are still respectable. He’ll head into Tuesday’s action batting .281/.334/.468 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI in 392 plate appearances.

Jay Bruce: “This is such a fleeting game. It’s so unforgiving.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 25:  Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds swings and watches the flight of his ball as he hits a two-run homer against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the fourth inning at AT&T Park on July 25, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Outfielder Jay Bruce was the catalyst in the Reds’ 7-5 victory over the Giants on Monday night, drilling a pair of two-run home runs. It’s good timing for the Reds, as the trade deadline is six days away. The Reds might prefer to get a prospect or two for Bruce rather than pick up his $13 million club option for 2017 or buy him out for $1 million and let him walk into free agency.

It was only a year ago that it seemed like the Reds would have to settle for next-to-nothing to get rid of Bruce. He posted career-lows across the board in 2014, including a .654 OPS and 18 home runs. He improved last season, returning to 26 home runs, but came with an uninspiring .729 OPS.

This year is another story. Bruce is currently hitting .272/.326/.564 with 23 home runs and a league-best 77 RBI. He’s on pace to set career-bests in a lot of categories if he’s able to stay healthy.

Bruce was honest about his resurgence, though, admitting that he doesn’t know why he’s so much better this year as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

This is such a fleeting game. It’s so unforgiving. You’re never settled. You’ve never got it. You’ve never figured it out. It’s like a puzzle that never has all the pieces to it. You might get close and feel pretty good about your progress, but you never are going to have the puzzle put together.

Bruce, who welcomed a child into the world back in April, also discussed the difficulties of hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors once again.

It’s harder this year. I have a family I have to focus on now. Logistically, it’s much more intricate. I know the skit. I know how it goes. But it will be nice when it’s passed because we’ll have a plan of attack on whether my family is staying where they are in Cincinnati or elsewhere.

This is a point of view that is not often covered. This time of the year can be very difficult for players who may be traded, as they await a phone call that could send their lives into upheaval. It may mean being away from their families for three months. It means living out of a hotel room or finding a place to live on very short notice. Even Bruce’s comments about his success this year are illuminating about the mental strain of the game.

As usual, great reporting by Buchanan. His full article is worth your time.