Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder

First-third awards: 2011 NL MVP

39 Comments

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: Koji Uehara close to signing with the Cubs

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, citing a source as well as Nikkan Sports, that reliever Koji Uehara is close to signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs.

Uehara, 41, finished the 2016 season with a 3.45 ERA and a 63/11 K/BB ratio over 47 innings. He missed some time in the second half with a strained right pectoral muscle. When Uehara returned from the disabled list on September 7, he tossed 11 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks through the end of the regular season. So there’s at least some evidence, albeit in a very small sample size, that Uehara has stuff left in the tank.

The Cubs recently acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals. Uehara would join Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, and Mike Montgomery in what is once again a very deep bullpen.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
2 Comments

Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.