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.

Hunter Strickland says he doesn’t have an anger problem

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Giants closer Hunter Strickland struggled in the ninth inning Monday against the Marlins, surrendering three runs en route to a 5-4 loss. Strickland took issue with Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, who tied the game with a single and celebrated as he rounded first base. When Strickland was yanked from the game, Brinson was on third base, so Strickland had some parting words on his way to the dugout. Then, in the clubhouse, Strickland punched a door in anger, breaking his pitching hand. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result.

Strickland posted to his Instagram on Tuesday, taking responsibility for his actions. He wrote, “To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal.”

Speaking to the media for the first time since breaking his hand, Strickland said (via Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports), “I don’t think I have an anger problem, but sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me.”

Well, if that emotion is anger, and you let it get the best of you, then you have an anger problem. This isn’t an isolated incident.

In the 2014 NLDS against the Nationals, Bryce Harper had Strickland’s number. In Game 1, Harper hit a solo home run ioff of Strickland, putting the Nationals on the board trailing 3-1. Strickland gave up another home run to Harper in Game 4 which tied the game at 2-2. Though the distance made it a no-doubt home run, the ball went down the right field line, so Harper was watching the ball in the air and didn’t immediately run the bases, which irked Strickland. The Giants still went on to win the game and advance to the NLCS, but Strickland carried the grudge with him into the 2017 season. The 2017 season! It just so happened that Strickland never faced Harper at all in the 2015-16 seasons, which makes sense because the two clubs only meet for two series per season and Strickland only pitches one inning per game if he gets into one.

The Nationals and Giants met in San Francisco at the end of May last year. In the first game of the series, Strickland entered with the Giants trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning. He got two quick outs, bringing up Harper for their first meeting since Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. With his first pitch, Strickland nailed harper on the hip with a 98 MPH fastball. Harper didn’t like it, so he charged the mound and the two threw punches at each other as the benches and bullpens spilled onto the field.

In the 2014 World Series, Strickland had a beef with Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Strickland gave up a double to Perez, then a two-run home run to Omar Infante. As Perez crossed home plate, Strickland started yelling at Perez. He appeared to yell, “Get in the dugout, boy.” The term “boy” carries a racist connotation when used by white people towards men of color. It’s unclear why Strickland was upset with Perez, but Perez said Strickland started jawing at him when he was on second base after hitting his double.

So here’s what we know about Strickland:

  • He gets angry when players look at their home run balls in the air, even if that player is unsure if it will stay fair
  • He gets angry if you get a double off of him in an important game
  • He gets angry when players pump their fists and yell in celebration after getting a big hit in the regular season
  • He gets angry a lot
  • He sometimes gets violent when he’s angry

Short of hitters not showing any emotion at all and not getting hits off of him, it’s not clear what kind of behavior satisfies Strickland and won’t make him angry. So, essentially, anything a batter does could potentially set Strickland off. I’d call that an anger problem. If this weren’t in the context of sports, Strickland’s behavior would be problematic.

Strickland’s behavior doesn’t come off as particularly unique because he’s far from the only player to injure himself punching something in anger. He’s far from the only player to get ticked off when batters get a hit off him and celebrate. This anger is part of baseball culture, part of sports culture at large, and embedded in masculinity — what it means to be a man. We teach men, particularly athletes, to repress a wide range of emotions. As a result, many men resort first to anger — one of the few emotions we allow men to express openly — when dealing with any type of adversity.

If Strickland were a well-adjusted person with high emotional intelligence, he would realize that throwing a baseball close to 100 at someone with the intent to injure them is not a good way to resolve a conflict. Strickland could have gone to the Marlins’ clubhouse after the game and had a level-headed chat with Brinson, saying, “I felt embarrassed and emasculated when you got a hit off of me and celebrated the way you did. Perhaps in the future, you could tone it down.” But we don’t teach men and allow them to discuss and express their emotions in healthy ways, so Strickland lashes out at Harper and Perez and Brinson instead.