Joey Votto

2012 midseason awards: NL MVP

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There’s no doubt who has been the National League’s best hitter to date, what with Joey Votto leading the circuit in both on-base percentage and slugging. As for the best player, that’s still a difficult question. Here’s the top 10 in OPS:

1.082 – Joey Votto (1B Cin): .345/.464/.619, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 4 SB in 278 AB
1.015 – Carlos Ruiz (C Phi): .355/.419/.596, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 3 SB in 245 AB
1.014 – David Wright (3B NYM): .354/.443/.570, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 8 SB in 291 AB
1.014 – Andrew McCutchen (CF Pit): .356/.410/.603, 16 HR, 54 RBI, 14 SB in 295 AB
.984 – Ryan Braun (LF Mil): .305/.388/.597, 23 HR, 59 RBI, 13 SB in 295 AB
.983 – Carlos Gonzalez (LF Col): .336/.394/.589, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 10 SB in 304 AB
.957 – Carlos Beltran (RF StL): .306/.394/.563, 20 HR, 65 RBI, 8 SB in 284 AB
.923 – Matt Holliday (LF StL): .318/.397/.526, 14 HR, 56 RBI, 4 SB in 308 AB
.918 – Giancarlo Stanton (RF Mia): .283/.364/.555, 19 HR, 50 RBI, 5 SB in 283 AB
.913 – Melky Cabrera (LF SFG): .356/.395/.518, 7 HR, 42 RBI, 10 SB in 326 AB

Votto has 70 points of OPS on three guys who play tougher positions and who play in worse environments for hitters. Fluke or not, Pittsburgh has played especially pitcher friendly this year.

Here’s Baseball-reference WAR’s top 10:

4.7 – Wright
4.2 – Votto
4.1 – Ruiz
4.0 – McCutchen
3.9 – Michael Bourn (CF Atl)
3.7 – R.A. Dickey (RHP NYM)
3.6 – Holliday
3.5 – Cabrera
3.4 – Darwin Barney (2B CHC)
3.4 – Johnny Cueto (RHP Cin)
3.4 – Jordan Zimmermann (RHP Was)

And Wright takes the lead. That’s the case even though rWAR thinks McCutchen has been the most valuable player of the group offensively. He gets 4.4 WAR for hitting and baserunning, compared to 4.0 for Wright, 3.6 for Votto and 3.4 for Ruiz. However, McCutchen is rated a below average defensive center fielder here. If that holds up, it’ll be the third time in his four seasons that he’s graded out as below average.

Bourn gets rated the ninth most valuable hitter and fourth most valuable defender by rWAR. There’s also a surprise appearance by Darwin Barney. The system rates him as the NL’s most valuable defender so far at 2.5 wins. I’m not quite buying that.

On to Fangraphs WAR:

4.8 – Wright
4.7 – Votto
4.3 – Bourn
4.3 – Ruiz
4.0 – McCutchen
4.0 – Braun
3.7 – Martin Prado (OF Atl)
3.5 – Jason Heyward (OF Atl)
3.5 – Chase Headley (3B SD)
3.5 – Zack Greinke (RHP Mil)
3.3 – Holliday
3.3 – Cabrera

Fangraphs loves it some Braves outfielders, putting all three in the top eight. I can’t say I’m too impressed with their defensive numbers either. According to Fangraphs WAR, Bourn, Heyward and Prado have been the three most valuable defenders in the NL this year, followed by Alfonso Soriano in fourth. So, ahh… yeah.

On offense alone, it rates Votto as the most valuable hitter at 36 runs, followed by Wright and McCutchen at 30, Braun at 27 and Ruiz at 25. Like rWAR, it thinks McCutchen is a below average defensive center fielder.

I’m sold on the idea that it comes down to Votto, Wright, Ruiz and McCutchen here. I would have put Dickey against any of the candidates a couple of weeks ago, but he has allowed five runs in two of his last three starts, dropping him back a bit.

It’s close enough that I do want to look at their clutch stats to see if that might provide any separation:

Votto – .367/.518/.817 in 60 AB with RISP
Wright – .377/.500/.545 in 77 AB with RISP
Ruiz – .338/.400/.515 in 68 AB with RISP
McCutchen – .400/.495/.700 in 70 AB with RISP

Well, that just makes it more confusing. I was leaning Wright, partly because he’s had to face tougher pitching in the NL East than Votto or McCutchen, but the other two have been unbelievable in the bigger situations. It sure is fortunate for the rest of the NL Central that the Reds haven’t had anyone to hit in front of Votto all year.

The biggest determining factor here might be whether one sees McCutchen as a quality defensive center fielder. Scouts seem to think he is and it’s not as though he lacks for speed, but his defensive numbers have always been mediocre. I tend to think of him as an average center fielder, but then, I don’t watch a whole lot of Pirates baseball.

In this case, anyway, average is probably enough. McCutchen has been so valuable offensively that I’d say he slightly eclipses Wright and Votto here. It’s still awfully close, though, and there’s a whole lot of season left to go.

My ballot
1. McCutchen
2. Wright
3. Votto
4. Ruiz
5. Dickey
6. Braun
7. Beltran
8. Cabrera
9. Gonzalez
10. Bourn

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.