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.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.