Who should win the National League MVP award?

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My assumption is that Joey Votto will be named National League MVP when the award is announced this afternoon, as his monster season combined with the Reds making the playoffs for the first time since 1995 will likely have him atop most of the 32 ballots cast by Baseball Writers Association of America members.

However, based strictly on his performance–rather than some combination of his performance and his team’s success–it’s not quite as clear if Votto was actually the best player in the league.

Consider the following comparison between two MVP candidates:

                PA     AVG     OBP     SLG      OPS    HR    RBI    RUN
Player X       700    .312    .414    .596    1.011    42    118    115
Player Z       648    .324    .424    .600    1.024    37    113    106

Which of those two players was the most valuable? Player Z had a slightly higher batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS while performing better in high-leverage situations, but Player X came to the plate 52 more times and had more homers, RBIs, and runs while playing better defense. I think they’re close enough that there’s really no “right” answer, yet I’m fairly certain that Votto will be the runaway winner when the voting is announced in a few hours.

Player X is Albert Pujols.

Player Z is Joey Votto.

Carlos Gonzalez is also very much in the mix, but his numbers aren’t quite as jaw-dropping as Pujols’ or Votto’s, as he trails them by 37 and 50 points of OPS despite calling Coors Field home for half his games. Gonzalez had a tremendous season, but a .974 OPS in Colorado just isn’t as impressive as a 1.011 OPS in St. Louis or a 1.024 OPS in Cincinnati. And sure enough, Gonzalez hit .380 with a 1.161 OPS at Coors Field compared to .289 with a .775 OPS on the road.

I tend to think Pujols’ extra 52 plate appearances and superior defense at first base give him the edge over Votto, but it probably wouldn’t be all that difficult to convince me Votto should be the pick and ultimately the difference between them is so slight that it’s impossible to say with any kind of certainty either way.

Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell were named co-MVPs in 1979 and if ever there was another year for the award to be split between two equally deserving candidates this is probably it, but I suspect Pujols has a better chance of finishing third than first. His excellence has almost become routine at this point and the Cardinals underperformed as a team despite his MVP-caliber season, and those two factors are likely more than enough to break any sort of performance-based “tie” in the voters’ eyes.

Votto and Pujols were the MVPs of the National League this year, but only Votto will get the award.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.