Pouliot’s midseason award picks: NL MVP

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Now it’s time for the NL midseason MVP, and this year’s picture to date is just as confusing as last year’s was, in my opinion. Of course, the BBWAA decided on Buster Posey pretty handily last year(27 of 32 first-place votes), but I ultimately picked Yadier Molina from a close group of five players.

Here are the current OPS leaders:

.991 – Michael Cuddyer: .343/.396/.594, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 6 SB in 254 AB
.967 – Carlos Gonzalez: .295/.362/.605, 23 HR, 62 RBI, 15 SB in 329 AB
.943 – Joey Votto: .323/.432/.511, 14 HR, 39 RBI, 3 SB in 319 AB
.930 – Paul Goldschmidt: .302/.380/.550, 20 HR, 69 RBI, 9 SB in 318 AB
.921 – David Wright: .306/.394/.528, 13 HR, 43 RBI, 14 SB in 307 AB
.916 – Buster Posey: .312/.390/.526, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 1 SB in 285 AB
.912 – Carlos Gomez: .311/.350/.562, 13 HR, 39 RBI, 17 SB in 299 AB
.889 – Yadier Molina: .351/.393/.497, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 3 SB in 302 AB
.883 – Carlos Beltran: .305/.346/.537, 19 HR, 50 RBI, 1 SB in 298 AB
.881 – Matt Carpenter: .320/.392/.489, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 1 SB in 325 AB
.875 – Shin-Soo Choo: .270/.419/.456, 12 HR, 27 RBI, 9 SB in 307 AB
.875 – Domonic Brown: .279/.326/.549, 22 HR, 60 RBI, 8 SB in 315 AB

Others

1.048 – Troy Tulowitzki: .347/.413/.635, 16 HR, 51 RBI, 0 SB in 222 AB
.856 – Jean Segura: .323/.359/.497, 11 HR, 33 RBI, 26 SB in 334 AB
.839 – Andrew McCutchen: .304/.355/.469, 9 HR, 44 RBI, 17 SB in 311 AB
.829 – Ian Desmond: .282/.323/.506, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 10 SB in 316 AB
.800 – Everth Cabrera: .305/.382/.418, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 31 SB in 275 AB

Baseball-reference WAR

5.4 – Clayton Kershaw
5.1 – Carlos Gomez
4.8 – David Wright
4.6 – Cliff Lee
4.4 – Andrew McCutchen
4.3 – Adam Wainwright
4.3 – Paul Goldschmidt
4.1 – Matt Harvey
4.0 – Carlos Gonzalez
3.7 – Troy Tulowitzki
3.7 – Yadier Molina
3.7 – Joey Votto
3.7 – Matt Carpenter

Fangraphs WAR

4.5 – David Wright
4.5 – Carlos Gomez
4.4 – Adam Wainwright
4.3 – Matt Harvey
4.1 – Matt Carpenter
3.9 – Troy Tulowitzki
3.8 – Andrew McCutchen
3.7 – Yadier Molina
3.6 – Carlos Gonzalez
3.6 – Everth Cabrera
3.5 – Jean Segura
3.5 – Cliff Lee
3.4 – Clayton Kershaw
3.4 – Buster Posey
3.3 – Paul Goldschmidt
3.2 – Joey Votto

So, as of July 5, the NL has different players leading in average (Molina), homers (CarGo), RBI (Goldschmdt), OBP (Vott0), rWAR (Kershaw) and fWAR (Wright). Plus, there’s a shortstop in Tulowitzki who would be leading the league in OPS, only he’s hurt and is about 20 plate appearances short of qualifying for the title. If Tulo had played in 75 games with his rate of production, rather than 61, he’d probably be the clear choice here. As is, he’s a down-ballot pick at best.

Molina makes for an interesting choice again. He’s hitting even better than last year, and he’s thrown out 13 of 29 would-be basestealers while starting 77 of the Cardinals’ 84 games behind the plate. Posey is having a similar season offensively, but he’s started 11 fewer games at catcher (plus eight at first base) and he’s just 11-for-54 throwing out runners. I think it’s a given that Molina has to rank higher than Posey here, though that doesn’t necessarily means he comes in first place.

Among those who have avoided DL stints, Gonzalez has pretty clearly been the league’s best hitter. He leads the NL in homers, slugging and runs scored. Especially impressive is that he’s been even better on the road (.312/.365/.610) than at home (.280/.360/.600) this season. He’s also 15-for-16 stealing bases, and while he’s never had very good defensive numbers in the massive Colorado outfielder, I think  he’s an above average left fielder. Cuddyer, on the other hand, is a below average right fielder. That and the 25 missed games hurt him here.

At first base, the Votto-Goldschmidt battle has to go to Goldschmidt at the moment. It’s not Votto’s fault that he has such a modest RBI total to go along with his outstanding OBP, and he’s probably worthy of a place in the top 10. Goldschmidt, though, has come up huge in big situations. He’s hitting .338/.394/.689 with runners on and .387/.449/.760 with RISP, plus he’s 3-for-5 with two homers with the bases loaded. That’s not something the Diamondbacks can expect to carry forward, but it’s given him a ton of value through 84 games.

And then there are the two position players WAR prefers. Gomez is seventh in the NL in OPS and is justifiably rated as the game’s best defensive center fielder. That makes him one of the league’s most valuable players even if he does play for a last-place Brewers team. Wright has been the Mets’ bright spot, ranking fifth in OPS. He’s playing quality defense, and he’s 14-for-15 as a basestealer.

That’s five paragraphs down and still no mention of anyone from the league’s most successful team. McCutchen is the Pirates’ MVP once again (sorry Mason Grillicon), but he’s also sported a sub-.800 OPS for good chunks of the year. He’s been worse than Gomez offensively, and he’s not quite in Gomez’s league with the glove. He’s worthy of a spot in the top 10, but he can’t come in ahead of Gomez just because his team has been so much better.

Finally, there are the pitchers. Kershaw’s shutout this week propelled him past Gomez into the NL lead in WAR, according to Baseball-reference. Meanwhile, Fangraphs still has Wainwright and Harvey out in front. They’re all close and they’re all worthy of down-ballot consideration, but I think I’m just going to go with the bats this time around.

NL MVP picks

1. Molina
2. Gomez
3. Gonzalez
4. Wright
5. Goldschmidt
6. Carpenter
7. McCutchen
8. Posey
9. Tulowitzki
10. Segura

Molina and Gomez are probably two of the NL’s three most valuable players defensively (with Andrelton Simmons occupying the other slot). That they’ve been top-10 hitters so far as well makes them very difficult to beat here. Both may well tail off in the second half and get passed by bigger bats, but right now, they’re one-two in my mind.

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

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On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.