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Monday, October 8, 2012

A First Look at the 2012 NL MVP Vote

With the Baseball Bloggers Alliance award voting coming up, I’ve been trying to determine how I should vote. The NL Most Valuable Player looks like it’ll be a fun debate for this Awards season. I would even say the most fun; the AL MVP is hogging all the attention, with Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. The AL race is just people shouting at each other, with neither side moving; what should count more, the Triple Crown, or pitching, defense, and accounting for home park? Each side has their opinions, and neither is really budging at this point.

The NL race is an actual, honest-to-goodness debate. You know, with multiple sides and ambiguity and all that jazz. So, before I post my official ballot (by Friday), I figured I would look at who I consider the top six candidates.

All six are position players. Not that I have anything against pitchers winning if they’re the best player, in general. It’s just that no NL pitcher has really come close to the top position players.

Buster Posey tops both Fangraphs’ and Baseball-Reference’s versions of WAR. B-R put him at 7.2, while Fangraphs has him at 8.0. Those marks put him only 0.2 and 0.1 ahead of the second places, though, so he’s well within the margin of error. As a catcher, you could definitely make the argument that he’s undervalued, as catcher defense is still murky (especially things like pitch framing and game-calling). His offense isn’t at all in question, as his .336/.408/.549 (average/OBP/slugging) puts him first, second, and fourth in those categories. He was also the NL leader in OPS+, at 172. Weighted runs created (wRC+), which works like OPS+ but includes base running and properly weights on-base percentage, puts him second in the league at 161. 24 home runs is also solid. He’s probably the best hitter in the league.

The arguments against? Well, he’s a catcher. He only played 114 games behind the plate, with the other 32 coming at first base and designated hitter. Even if catcher is a harder position, WAR accounts for that, and it does mean that he plays fewer games, also accounted for in WAR. Also, WAR is by no mean exact; one- or two-tenths of a win is definitely not a definitive lead.

Andrew McCutchen placed well in both versions of WAR as well, of course, coming in second (7.0) in bWAR and fifth (7.4) in fWAR. His .327/.400/.553 line puts him second, third, and third, so again, no question about his hitting. That also translates to the second-best OPS+ in the NL, at 164, and the third-best wRC+, at 256. His 31 homers and 20 steals show that he can combine power with speed.

The interesting thing is that both versions of WAR seem to think that he’s a bad fielder, something that is not commonly thought true. Being rated as just an average fielder could bump him up by half win or more. With as unreliable as fielding metrics can be, that’s at least a fair point to bring up.

Ryan Braun probably has an even better case this year than when he won the MVP last year. He leads the NL with a .987 OPS+, although with park accounted for, it’s a 159 mark that places him third. He can obviously hit; he has a .319/.391/.595, which places him third/fourth/second, as well as a league-leading 41 home runs. But did you realize that he also had 30 steals this year, good for ninth in the league? I never really think of him as fast for some reason, but I should. That running helps push him to first in wRC+, with a 165 mark. He also places second in the NL in fWAR (7.9) and third in bWAR (6.8).

Yadier Molina is definitely the Cardinals’ MVP this year. He led the team in fWAR (6.5, sixth) and bWAR (6.7, fourth). His batting line doesn’t quite match up to Posey’s (.315/.373/.501, fourth/tenth/fourteenth), but he did still manage a 137 OPS+ (seventh) and a 140 wRC+ (sixth). He has all of the pro-catcher arguments as Posey (also the negatives, though), but on top of that, he has twenty extra games as a catcher. And, while some aspects of defense can be hard to account for, Yadier has historically been an absurdly-good pitch framer (better than even Posey). Posey has the more tangible pluses, but I think there’s definitely room in the argument for Yadi.

David Wright bounced back in a big way this year, posting 6.7 bWAR (fourth) and 7.8 fWAR (third). Wright gets a lot of value from his good glove at third, but he wasn’t too shabby with the bat either. He hit .306/.391/.492 (ninth/fifth/nineteenth), which becomes a 143 OPS+ thanks to Citi Field. His 138 wRC+ is eighth in the league as well. If you’re into righting past wrongs, he also has the 2007 MVP voting, where he finished fourth. Granted, I don’t think that should be a deciding factor, but it is something.

The only other player who finishes in the top seven in both WARs is Padres third baseman Chase Headley. His 6.0 bWAR (seventh) and 7.6 fWAR (fourth) may seem odd considering his .286/.376/.498 (twenty-fourth, eighth, sixteenth) batting line and 31 homers. But the NL RBI leader plays in Petco Park, meaning his OPS was 44% above league-average (fourth). wRC+ also lists him fourth in batting, with a 146 mark. His fielding rated out as solidly above-average, but it may well be a fluke based on the unsteady nature of fielding stats; in past years, he’s been rated anywhere from slightly below that to much, much better.

There you have it. That’s more or less how I see the NL race. I’m still not even positive who I’m going to vote for. I like that better though; it’s never a bad thing to have more good players in the league.

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