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

Tony Clark thinks front offices have too much of an impact on baseball

AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post spoke to MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, who said he feels that front offices have too much of an impact on the game of baseball. Clark said, “You hear players saying it’s even hard to recognize how the game is being played. If those on the field see it and experience it, then those who are watching it will notice, too. It’s not to suggest I don’t like home runs or strikeouts or walks. I like all those things. But I also like more of the strategy and the dynamics that have always determined the outcomes in our games.”

Clark continued, “The decisions that are being made are changing the game. When you’re in a climate where the decisions about how the game is being played are being made less by the players who are playing and the coaches and managers who are coaching and managing it, we find ourselves in a climate that seems to be focused in on what everybody’s calling the three true outcomes: the home run, the strikeout and the walk. I would argue that there are two true outcomes: whether you win or you lose. … I’m not saying data is a bad thing. I’m saying it’s morphed our game and its focus quite a bit.”

Clark also discussed tanking, saying, “This isn’t a player problem. It’s reflective, I believe, of very deliberate business decisions. Players as a whole compete on every pitch and every at-bat. Our industry is predicated on competition from the top down. … What it appears that we are seeing in that regard is teams withdrawing from that competition for seasons at a time. It becomes challenging when it’s more than a couple of teams that are going that route, whereby you have a considerable chasm between those that are competing at one level and those that are competing at another.”

The current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2021, so the union and the owners will have three more years of talking about these issues before they are concretely addressed. The tanking issue seems like it will almost certainly be addressed.

Clark’s concern over the impact of front offices may not be misplaced, but it’s difficult to envision any kind of rule making a difference. Limit what data teams can access? Centralize the data? The “scienceification” of baseball, if you will, was an inevitability, an evolution. In order to go in a different direction, the game will need to evolve again. Trying to tamp down data usage in baseball is akin to playing whack-a-mole with various ways with which teams will find advantages over other teams.

Major League Baseball could try to cut into the ever-increasing three true outcomes rate by changing certain things about the game without touching the data. Back in 1969, the pitcher’s mound was lowered to encourage more offense. In a similar vein, to encourage more doubles and triples and fewer home runs, stadiums could be adjusted to have the fences back to a certain distance (e.g. at least 340 feet down the lines, 410 in center). The pitcher’s mound could be moved back a few inches, lessening the impact of higher velocity, which has been a big factor in the ever-increasing strikeout rate. There are surely other ideas that smart people can come up with to bring the game towards a more active, enjoyable experience. We still have three years to go so we’ll certainly be seeing some interesting suggestions.