First-quarter awards: NL MVP


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.
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

Who will be the 2016 World Series’ breakout star?

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Javier Baez #9 of the Chicago Cubs looks on prior to game six of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Watching baseball most every day between April and October is a lot of fun, but it also can be a bit desensitizing. People like me and like many of you see some of baseball’s biggest stars every night and some of those same stars multiple times a week. We appreciate them but, after a little while, we tend to take them a little bit for granted.

The World Series, however, is a time when a lot of people who only watch their own team on a regular basis start watching other teams. It’s also when a lot of people who don’t watch a lot of baseball in general pay closer attention to a sport that may only be their second or third love. These people are getting a first glimpse, in many cases, of some truly special players performing on baseball’s biggest stage for the first time. They’re seeing stars break out. Their very act of paying attention to them now contributes to the breakout. It’s a cliche, but October is when stars are born.  It’s like relativity or something: they’re born because so many people are looking on, seeing their light for the first time.

The Indians have a handful of exciting young players who have not fully captured national attention as of yet. Sure, Francisco Lindor has been on the radar of baseball obsessives for a few years now, but he’s just completing his second big league season and is, for all practical purposes, entering the national spotlight for the first time this postseason. Jason Kipnis has played for six seasons and, for many of those seasons, was one of baseball’s most underrated and overlooked stars. Eventually, as happens with a lot of players like that, hardcore baseball fans came to truly appreciate him . . . but is he that well known to casual fans and those who have not seen much of the Indians over the past few years? Could his playing this World Series with a sprained ankle turn him into something bigger than he already is in the public consciousness?

The Cubs have a bit more of a national following and have had players in advertising campaigns and the like. As a result, even casual fans know who Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are. But have they seen them play as much as they’ve seen their images in TV commercials? Even if they have, there are still some generally overlooked and relatively unknown players on that Cubs roster. Catcher Willson Contreras didn’t come up until the middle of June. If you’re a Cubs fan or a fan of one of the many teams the Cubs have vanquished on their way to the World Series you know and love (or, possibly, loathe) Contreras well, but most people haven’t had a chance to see him much. Now he’s poised to play in the Fall Classic. Second baseman Javier Baez has been up and down in his brief major league career, but he’s been electric down the stretch and in the postseason, having drastically cut down on his strikeouts and having flashed some serious leather of late. There’s something about him that just screams “superstar,” and he now has the chance to show that to the world.

The idea of a “breakout star” is a bit amorphous. It could be someone young who shows himself and his talents to the world for the first time, like a Lindor or a Baez. It could, on the other hand, be someone who has been around for a long time — say, a David Ross or a Rajai Davis — who creates a signature moment for himself in the Fall Classic with one big swing of the bat. Heck, Edgar Renteria did both of those things in two different World Series, announcing his presence on the national stage with a big hit in the 1997 Series and bowing out gracefully with a big hit in the 2010 Series. Someone could create a prologue or an epilogue to a wonderful career, starting tonight.

Ultimately the question in the headline above is a rhetorical one, not a predictive one. We don’t know who will make the 2016 World Series his own and who will, in turn, make himself into a household name. But a short series, laden with drama like the World Series, all but guarantees that we’ll have one. A player who, after the next five to nine days, will forever be known by both the baseball obsessives and the casual fans. Watching that star being born will be just as enjoyable as watching the overall content at hand.

World Series Game 1 Lineup: Schwarber and Coghlan in, Heyward out

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Chris Coghlan #8 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after lining out to end the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ninth inning of game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Cubs and Indians have released their lineups for Game 1 of the World Series.

Joe Maddon makes two notable changes: Kyle Schwarber as the DH and Chris Coghlan in right, with Jason Heyward on the bench.

Heyward has been close to a lost cause at the plate all season for the Cubs and is 2-for-24 in the playoffs this year. While his defense is a plus, Maddon has decided that he’d rather have the lefty Coghlan facing Corey Kluber.

1. Dexter Fowler (S) CF
2. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
4. Ben Zobrist (S) LF
5. Kyle Schwarber (L) DH
6. Javier Baez (R) 2B
7. Chris Coghlan (L) RF
8. Addison Russell (R) SS
9. David Ross (R) C

For the Indians:

1. Rajai Davis (R) CF
2. Jason Kipnis (L) 2B
3. Francisco Lindor (S) SS
4. Mike Napoli (R) 1B
5. Carlos Santana (S) DH
6. Jose Ramirez (S) 3B
7. Brandon Guyer (R) LF
8. Lonnie Chisenhall (L) RF
9. Roberto Perez (R) C