Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder

First-third awards: 2011 NL MVP

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Now we’re on to the MVP awards. I’ll start with the more controversial of the two. Here are the league’s OPS leaders to date:

1.044 – Lance Berkman (OF STL): .329/.449/.595, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 0 SB in 158 AB
1.001 – Joey Votto (1B CIN): .338/.468/.532, 7 HR, 32 RBI, 4 SB in 201 AB
.975 – Matt Holliday (OF STL): .342/.433/.542, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 0 SB in 155 AB
.966 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL): .306/.402/.563, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 13 SB in 206 AB
.935 – Jay Bruce (OF CIN): .292/.355/.580, 17 HR, 46 RBI, 4 SB in 212 AB
.928 – Matt Kemp (OF LAD): .306/.382/.545, 13 HR, 40 RBI, 14 SB in 209 AB
.915 – Mike Stanton (OF FL): .267/.347/.568, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB in 176 AB
.904 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL): .316/.394/.510, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 0 SB in 206 AB
.883 – Carlos Beltran (OF NYM): .283/.369/.513, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 0 SB in 187 AB
.880 – Todd Helton (1B COL): .306/.371/.510, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB in 157 AB

So, the top 10 is nothing except first basemen and outfielders. That just won’t do. Here are the top guys at other positions:

.876 – Jose Reyes (SS NYM): .335/.382/.493, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 19 SB in 227 AB
.867 – Rickie Weeks (2B MIL): .291/.365/.502, 10 HR, 23 RBI, 6 SB in 223 AB
.857 – Ryan Roberts (3B ARI): .272/.380/.477, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 8 SB in 151 AB
.848 – Brian McCann (C ATL): .309/.374/.473, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 1 SB in 188 AB
.824 – Yadier Molina (C STL): .320/.365/.459, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 1 SB in 172 AB
.811 – Troy Tulowitzki (SS COL): .251/.328/.483, 11 HR, 31 RBI, 3 SB in 207 AB

I’m not so fond of what WAR has to say about the race. Here’s Baseball-Reference’s top 10:

3.6 – Roy Halladay (SP PHI)
2.9 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL)
2.9 – Kyle Lohse (SP STL)
2.8 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
2.8 – Clayton Kershaw (SP LAD)
2.6 – Jair Jurrjens (SP ATL)
2.5 – Matt Kemp (OF LAD)
2.4 – Cole Hamels (SP PHI)
2.3 – Andrew McCutchen (OF PIT)
2.3 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL)
2.3 – Josh Johnson (SP FL)

That’s a lot of pitchers. For what it’s worth, B-Ref has Braun, Votto, Kemp, Berkman and Reyes all credited with 2.6 WAR offensively (next highest is Hunter Pence at 2.2). However, it believes Reyes has been a horrible defensive shortstop and knocks him all of the way down to 1.7 overall.

How about the Fangraphs version of WAR:

3.3 – Roy Halladay (SP PHI)
3.0 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
2.9 – Jose Reyes (SS NYM)
2.6 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL)
2.5 – Rickie Weeks (2B MIL)
2.4 – Colby Rasmus (OF STL)
2.4 – Matt Holliday (OF STL)
2.4 – Cole Hamels (SP PHI)
2.3 – Daniel Hudson (SP ARI)
2.3 – Matt Garza (SP CHC)

I think Fangraphs is doing a better job of factoring in defense so far. It rates Reyes as a slightly above average shortstop and Braun as a poor left fielder. It’s also getting Rasmus into the top 10, partly on the strength of his defense. Of course, I d take issue with a system that thinks Hudson, who is 6-5 with a 4.22 ERA ERA, has been the NL’s ninth most valuable player to date.

One more list.  Since this an MVP discussion, I want to know who has come up big in the clutch.  WPA (win probably added) will show us that by assigning a value to the result of every at-bat.

6.49 – Prince Fielder (1B MIL)
6.46 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
6.36 – Matt Kemp (OF MIL)
6.15 – Hunter Pence (OF HOU)
6.06 – Ryan Howard (1B PHI)
6.04 – Martin Prado (OF ATL)
5.82 – Jay Bruce (OF CIN)
5.78 – Chris Young (OF ARI)
5.42 – Lance Berkman (OF STL)
5.40 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL)

So, if there’s one thing I’m sure of after looking at all of these numbers, it’s that there’s a long way to go before there’s going to be a clear cut favorite in the NL MVP race.

Votto is the NL’s best hitter right now, but he has just seven homers and he’s tied for 14th with 32 RBI. Only recently have Reds opponents really started to pay for pitching around him, as Bruce has caught fire and taken over the league lead in both homers (17) and RBI (46).

The Brewers have three players who all appear to belong on the ballot in Braun, Fielder and Weeks. Still, I’d hesitate to put any of them in the top spot, since none has overwhelming numbers or adds a lot of value with the glove.

Who would have thought the Cardinals could have a couple of MVP candidates and none of them would be named Albert Pujols? Berkman is the league OPS leader, but he gives back defensively and he’s played in fewer games than the competition. Holliday is third in OPS, but in just 44 games, compared to 55-56 for most of the rest of the candidates. I don’t think Rasmus, with his .815 OPS quite measures up, especially given the fact that he’s hitting .232 with runners on and .200 with RISP. He has just 20 RBI as a result.

Reyes deserves to be on the ballot. Kemp too. I think Halladay, not Howard, is the Phillies’ top candidate. Howard has 42 RBI, but that’s pretty much it. He’s hitting .252, and he’s second in the league in strikeouts.

The Diamondbacks are in first place, but they don’t have a real candidate. Roberts has been their best hitter. Stephen Drew rates as their best player, and he has a case for a down-ballot vote.

So, I’m not really feeling it, but I guess I have to do a top 10 anyway. Here goes:

NL Most Valuable Player
1. Votto
2. Braun
3. Halladay
4. Reyes
5. Bruce
6. Kemp
7. Fielder
8. Weeks
9. Berkman
10. Sanchez

I could change my mind on Votto tomorrow.  But he probably is the circuit’s best player at the moment.  It’s hardly his fault he has only 32 RBI: he’s hitting .381 with runners on and .419 with RISP.

Honorable mention to McCann, Pence and McCutchen. I think we’ll see Tulo get back into the race, but his struggles were a big reason why the Rockies were awful last month. My other prediction is that the award will ultimately go to the best player on the team that wins the NL Central, whether it be Votto, one of the Cards or one of the Brewers.

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.

Video: Andrelton Simmons makes a heads-up play to catch Carlos Asuaje off first base

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 03:  Andrelton Simmons #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 3, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.