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

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.