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

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.