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

Watch: Christian Yelich continues to make a case for NL MVP repeat

Christian Yelich
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Christian Yelich simply can’t be stopped. The Brewers outfielder (and defending NL MVP) entered Saturday’s game with a league-leading 11 home runs after swatting two against the Dodgers on Friday night, then clubbed another two homers in the first six innings of Saturday’s game.

The first came on a 2-1 pitch from the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu, who lobbed a changeup toward the bottom of the strike zone before it was lifted up and out to center field for a solo home run in the third inning.

While Chase Anderson and Alex Claudio held down the fort against the Dodgers’ lineup, Yelich prepared for his second blast in the sixth inning — this one a 421-foot double-decker on a first-pitch curveball from Ryu.

Yelich’s 13 home runs not only gave him a stronger grip on the league’s leaderboard, but helped him tie yet another franchise record, too. Per MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, he’s tied with Prince Fielder for the most home runs hit by a Brewers player in a single month, and sits just one home run shy of tying Álex Rodríguez’s 2007 record for most home runs hit within any club’s first 22 games of the season.

It may be far too early to predict which players will finish first in the MVP races this fall, but there’s no denying Yelich has already set himself apart from the competition. Through Saturday’s performance, he’s batting .361/.459/.880 with a 1.329 OPS and MLB-best 31 RBI across 98 PA so far.