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First-third awards: 2011 NL MVP

Jun 2, 2011, 2:00 PM EDT

Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder AP

Now we’re on to the MVP awards. I’ll start with the more controversial of the two. Here are the league’s OPS leaders to date:

1.044 – Lance Berkman (OF STL): .329/.449/.595, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 0 SB in 158 AB
1.001 – Joey Votto (1B CIN): .338/.468/.532, 7 HR, 32 RBI, 4 SB in 201 AB
.975 – Matt Holliday (OF STL): .342/.433/.542, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 0 SB in 155 AB
.966 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL): .306/.402/.563, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 13 SB in 206 AB
.935 – Jay Bruce (OF CIN): .292/.355/.580, 17 HR, 46 RBI, 4 SB in 212 AB
.928 – Matt Kemp (OF LAD): .306/.382/.545, 13 HR, 40 RBI, 14 SB in 209 AB
.915 – Mike Stanton (OF FL): .267/.347/.568, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB in 176 AB
.904 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL): .316/.394/.510, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 0 SB in 206 AB
.883 – Carlos Beltran (OF NYM): .283/.369/.513, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 0 SB in 187 AB
.880 – Todd Helton (1B COL): .306/.371/.510, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB in 157 AB

So, the top 10 is nothing except first basemen and outfielders. That just won’t do. Here are the top guys at other positions:

.876 – Jose Reyes (SS NYM): .335/.382/.493, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 19 SB in 227 AB
.867 – Rickie Weeks (2B MIL): .291/.365/.502, 10 HR, 23 RBI, 6 SB in 223 AB
.857 – Ryan Roberts (3B ARI): .272/.380/.477, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 8 SB in 151 AB
.848 – Brian McCann (C ATL): .309/.374/.473, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 1 SB in 188 AB
.824 – Yadier Molina (C STL): .320/.365/.459, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 1 SB in 172 AB
.811 – Troy Tulowitzki (SS COL): .251/.328/.483, 11 HR, 31 RBI, 3 SB in 207 AB

I’m not so fond of what WAR has to say about the race. Here’s Baseball-Reference’s top 10:

3.6 – Roy Halladay (SP PHI)
2.9 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL)
2.9 – Kyle Lohse (SP STL)
2.8 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
2.8 – Clayton Kershaw (SP LAD)
2.6 – Jair Jurrjens (SP ATL)
2.5 – Matt Kemp (OF LAD)
2.4 – Cole Hamels (SP PHI)
2.3 – Andrew McCutchen (OF PIT)
2.3 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL)
2.3 – Josh Johnson (SP FL)

That’s a lot of pitchers. For what it’s worth, B-Ref has Braun, Votto, Kemp, Berkman and Reyes all credited with 2.6 WAR offensively (next highest is Hunter Pence at 2.2). However, it believes Reyes has been a horrible defensive shortstop and knocks him all of the way down to 1.7 overall.

How about the Fangraphs version of WAR:

3.3 – Roy Halladay (SP PHI)
3.0 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
2.9 – Jose Reyes (SS NYM)
2.6 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL)
2.5 – Rickie Weeks (2B MIL)
2.4 – Colby Rasmus (OF STL)
2.4 – Matt Holliday (OF STL)
2.4 – Cole Hamels (SP PHI)
2.3 – Daniel Hudson (SP ARI)
2.3 – Matt Garza (SP CHC)

I think Fangraphs is doing a better job of factoring in defense so far. It rates Reyes as a slightly above average shortstop and Braun as a poor left fielder. It’s also getting Rasmus into the top 10, partly on the strength of his defense. Of course, I d take issue with a system that thinks Hudson, who is 6-5 with a 4.22 ERA ERA, has been the NL’s ninth most valuable player to date.

One more list.  Since this an MVP discussion, I want to know who has come up big in the clutch.  WPA (win probably added) will show us that by assigning a value to the result of every at-bat.

6.49 – Prince Fielder (1B MIL)
6.46 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
6.36 – Matt Kemp (OF MIL)
6.15 – Hunter Pence (OF HOU)
6.06 – Ryan Howard (1B PHI)
6.04 – Martin Prado (OF ATL)
5.82 – Jay Bruce (OF CIN)
5.78 – Chris Young (OF ARI)
5.42 – Lance Berkman (OF STL)
5.40 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL)

So, if there’s one thing I’m sure of after looking at all of these numbers, it’s that there’s a long way to go before there’s going to be a clear cut favorite in the NL MVP race.

Votto is the NL’s best hitter right now, but he has just seven homers and he’s tied for 14th with 32 RBI. Only recently have Reds opponents really started to pay for pitching around him, as Bruce has caught fire and taken over the league lead in both homers (17) and RBI (46).

The Brewers have three players who all appear to belong on the ballot in Braun, Fielder and Weeks. Still, I’d hesitate to put any of them in the top spot, since none has overwhelming numbers or adds a lot of value with the glove.

Who would have thought the Cardinals could have a couple of MVP candidates and none of them would be named Albert Pujols? Berkman is the league OPS leader, but he gives back defensively and he’s played in fewer games than the competition. Holliday is third in OPS, but in just 44 games, compared to 55-56 for most of the rest of the candidates. I don’t think Rasmus, with his .815 OPS quite measures up, especially given the fact that he’s hitting .232 with runners on and .200 with RISP. He has just 20 RBI as a result.

Reyes deserves to be on the ballot. Kemp too. I think Halladay, not Howard, is the Phillies’ top candidate. Howard has 42 RBI, but that’s pretty much it. He’s hitting .252, and he’s second in the league in strikeouts.

The Diamondbacks are in first place, but they don’t have a real candidate. Roberts has been their best hitter. Stephen Drew rates as their best player, and he has a case for a down-ballot vote.

So, I’m not really feeling it, but I guess I have to do a top 10 anyway. Here goes:

NL Most Valuable Player
1. Votto
2. Braun
3. Halladay
4. Reyes
5. Bruce
6. Kemp
7. Fielder
8. Weeks
9. Berkman
10. Sanchez

I could change my mind on Votto tomorrow.  But he probably is the circuit’s best player at the moment.  It’s hardly his fault he has only 32 RBI: he’s hitting .381 with runners on and .419 with RISP.

Honorable mention to McCann, Pence and McCutchen. I think we’ll see Tulo get back into the race, but his struggles were a big reason why the Rockies were awful last month. My other prediction is that the award will ultimately go to the best player on the team that wins the NL Central, whether it be Votto, one of the Cards or one of the Brewers.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    Jay Bruce is the MVP of the first-third. Everything else is sabremetric mumbo-jumbo.

    • heyblueyoustink - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:17 PM

      Linda is the Fiorentino MVP….the rest are also mumbo jumbo ;-p

      • Chris Fiorentino - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:33 PM

        She’s my cousin…and she is 100% the Fiorentino MVP, although we did have an outfielder in the Orioles organization for a while named Jeff. I was told he was a distant cousin, but I didn’t see the resemblance…especially since they called him screech after that nerdy dude on Saved by the Bell.

      • jwbiii - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:43 PM

        Jeff was just promoted to the Gwinnett Braves. Only a pulled hamstring and a cabride away from The Show.

    • uberfatty - Jun 2, 2011 at 3:33 PM

      He is definitely the MVP of May, but including April I think there are better choices.

    • thefalcon123 - Jun 2, 2011 at 3:37 PM

      Agreed, the home run and RBI leader should always get the MVP. Clearly Ryan Howard was more valuable than Pujols in 08 and Tony Armas got hosed in ’84. Clearly Howard’s RBI advantage proves he was much better at hitting when it mattered!*

      *and had nothing to do with the fact that Howard came up 351 times with men on base and Pujols came up 322 times. Or that Howard had 47 more PA’s with runners in scoring position. Or that Pujols was intentionally walked 18 more times with RISP. Or that Pujols had 40 fewer at bats with a runner on 3rd. Or that Pujols hit .339/.523/.678 with RISP and Howard hit .320/.439/.589 Go back to your mom’s basement is you think of such sabmetric nonsense!

  2. spudchukar - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    Where was this “only played” parameter yesterday in regards to Jurrjens and Johnson?

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:17 PM

      I thought it was very much in evidence. That’s why neither ranked above Halladay despite superior ERAs.

      • spudchukar - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:29 PM

        Not enough to knock Jurrjens out of the #2 spot though.

  3. kopy - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    I like Braun here.

  4. Matthew Pouliot - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    I didn’t put it in the article, but I thought this was interesting. Bruce is one of the very few players you’ll see actually doing better in games that his team loses. 11 of his 17 homers have come in losses.

    28 wins – .279/.352/.505, 6 HR, 26 RBI
    26 losses – .307/.358/.663, 11 HR, 20 RBI

    • TheNaturalMevs - Jun 2, 2011 at 7:37 PM

      Glad you didn’t include it in the article. They all count.

  5. Jonny 5 - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    Votto… Pitchers FEAR him. Most int walks, Most walks. Highest OBP. These things usually don’t fade too much, I see him having another HOF caliber season.

    • bleedgreen - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:25 PM

      Wilson Valdez doesn’t fear Joey Votto or Jay Bruce. :)

    • yankeesfanlen - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:37 PM

      Jonny, I agree. If only we needed a first baseman……..

    • Chris Fiorentino - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:38 PM

      The thing is that Jay Bruce isn’t being paid to get on base. He is being paid to knock men in. If that means himself when there’s nobody on base, then so be it. The thing I don’t like is that Votto gets credit for his higher BA and OBP when as a #3 hitter, it is part of his job to get on in front of Bruce. Bruce’s job is not to walk. It’s his job to knock men in and he is doing that better than anybody in baseball right now. Least that’s my opinion. I know the sabremetric guys will say that Votto has to get on in front of him to get knocked in…and I agree with that. However, if Bruce doesn’t knock him in, then that walk just helps Votto’s OBP and doesn’t help the team.

      • paperlions - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:48 PM

        Huh, I thought each was being paid to do whatever they can to help the team win, including playing defense, running the bases, etc. I had no idea that the Reds had no interest in Bruce not making outs or that they would be annoyed with Votto for making so few outs while hitting #3.

        The most important thing any hitter can do, within the context of contributing to winning baseball games, no matter what his skill set at the plate happens to be, is to not make an out by whatever means possible. Not only do you increase your chance of scoring to some non-zero likelihood of scoring, but you win your team an extra AB.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:55 PM

        That is just a robotic way of looking at it, paper. In the NL, if the #8 hitter is up with first and third and 1 out, would it be better for him to try to lift a fly ball deep to get in a run or take a walk? You would probably say the walk, since he is getting on base. If there were 2 outs, I would rather he try to get a hit instead of walking to bring up the pitcher.

        When you look at things robotically, you forget that there is a game being played. A game that has many variables. Jay Bruce is not there to have a high OBP. He is there to hit the ball and hit the ball far. Same with Ryan Howard. He gets hurt because of his strikeouts, but I’ll take 200 Ks and 55 home runs over 100 Ks and 20 Home Runs every day of the week and 6 times on Sundays.

        But that’s just me. My opinion. I also believe there ought to be a Constitutional Amendment outlawing Astroturf, the Designated Hitter, WAR, Dewans, and xFIP.

      • Jonny 5 - Jun 2, 2011 at 3:42 PM

        Chris, I get your point, but it’s off a little I think as Votto still has more hits for the season in less at bats on top of leading mlb in walks and int. walks. So in retrospect I feel Votto has done more in less AB’s. Bruce is having an awesome season though and is all star mat’l up till now.

      • thereisaparty - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:36 PM

        Please explain to me how getting on base is not always better than making an out? And concerning your hypothetical, you would rather a player try to get a hit than get a walk if the pitcher is up next? Of course you would take a hit over a walk. No one would dispute this. Neither of these outcomes are certain. But a walk is far better than an out, regardless of who is up next. This is fact. And with your Ryan Howard hypothetical you are getting rid of 125AB. Consider (hopefully using some math) what would likely happens in those, and re-evaluate your proposal. It is not a simple as you make it out to be.

      • umrguy42 - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:51 PM

        Chris, unless of course, it’s a LaRussa-managed team, in which case, your #8 hitter might *be* the pitcher :p

  6. spudchukar - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    Can we really take Fangraphs WAR seriously, when they rank Hudson and Garza 9th and 10th best players so far in the NL?

    • paperlions - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:49 PM

      At least for pitchers, no, we probably can’t.

    • AK47 - Jun 2, 2011 at 2:50 PM

      B-R has Kyle Lohse ranked 3rd…

    • uberfatty - Jun 2, 2011 at 3:31 PM

      Think of Fangrpahs WAR as more of a predictive tool for pitchers, since it uses FIP rather than ERA. It’s hard to look at WAR for pitchers to determine MVP due to this, but using K, BB, and HR rates is probably a better indication of a pitcher’s “true” performance than ERA, and certianly it is better than W-L record.

      • spudchukar - Jun 2, 2011 at 3:54 PM

        I’ve been down this road a number of times, and while it is the path least taken, it is worth the view. Including SOs as an indicator of a pitcher’s worth can be misleading. While most of the SO leaders are quality pitchers, history has shown there are exceptions. Lohse is a prime example. He pitches to contact. This elevates, or actually lowers his BABIP, which leads some to the conclusion that he has been lucky. But until BABIP, qualifies each particular BIP, the stat will continue to cast a negative shadow on those who do not stress strikeouts, but prefer to enduce harmless grounders and popouts.

      • normb11 - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:33 PM

        Lohse’s career babip is .302. Seems pretty normal.

      • jwbiii - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:41 PM

        Wow. Lohse’s BABIP has gone from .364 last season to .230 so far this season. His LD%, GB%, and FB% have all stayed about the same; the Cardinals’ overall defensive numbers have stayed about the same. His at ’em ball is getting it done so far this season.

      • uberfatty - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:56 PM

        I don’t get the argument that a strikeout, said another way a *guaranteed* out, is somehow worse than pitching to contact. I think this is an example of forming your opinion and then cherry-picking players that conform to that opinion. When we think of top pitchers in the majors Lohse probably isn’t in the top 50, due in part to his low strikeout rate. He thus relies more on his defense to get batters out. If you can show me that these “pitch to contact” pitchers really do have the ability to put up a better than average BABIP, then I’m willing to listen. But as normb11 stated, Lohse’s is .302 career and has wildly fluctuated from season to season, so it is unlikely that he possesses some sort of skill at turning balls in play into outs.

  7. uberfatty - Jun 2, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    re: WPA, I’d rather see the leaderboard for overall WPA rather than just the sum of the positive at bats. The list as it currently stands only shows results when an at bat results in a positive WPA. Adding on the negative gives a better picture of the true “clutch” performance that a player has had, as it would include things like strikeouts with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth, and other clutch screwups.

  8. TheNaturalMevs - Jun 2, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    As someone who watches every game the Reds play, the MVP of the NL is not Joey Votto, it’s Jay Bruce. And it’s not that close.

    • spudchukar - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:36 PM

      I only saw the replay of Votto’s homer last night. Anyone know the distance? It was a monster.

      • thereisaparty - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:51 PM

        If I remember correctly, the Reds announcers said 431ft. I would wait for to update for a more accurate measurement. It was an absolute moonshot.

    • thereisaparty - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:48 PM

      As someone who watches a considerable amount of Reds games, the MVP of the Reds and the NL is the guy that has managed to reach base in all but 2 games this a year, and has an OBP over 100 points higher than Jay Bruce. More importantly Votto’s wOBA is 30 pts higher than Bruce’s. Votto hits with power and still walks considerably more often than he strikes out (19.4% vs 17.4%).

    • thefalcon123 - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:48 PM

      Edit, it should read: “As someone who watches the Reds play and was hit on the head causing brain damage that prevents me from remembering anything that happened in the month of April, the MVP of the NL is not Joey Votto, it’s Jay Bruce”.

      Not to shit on Bruce who is has been fantastic, but it appears to “not be close” because Bruce has had an insane *month*. He was pretty lousy in April and his OBP is 113(!) points lower than Votto.

      • uberfatty - Jun 2, 2011 at 4:57 PM

        ^^^ what he said

      • TheNaturalMevs - Jun 2, 2011 at 7:40 PM

        So not to shit on Bruce, but to shit on Bruce.

      • grizz2202 - Jun 3, 2011 at 12:05 PM

        So then we all agree that someone should shit on Bruce? Time for a Cincinnati Steamer!

  9. goldensombrero3000 - Jun 2, 2011 at 7:33 PM

    Jay Bruce has been the best player in the league in May and he’s also been the best defensive right fielder all year to boot. He throws stikes to 3rd and home everytime and has tremendous effort on tough flyballs. Its a nice thing when you have a 24 year old ex-center fielder playing right. Votto’s not really going get a chance to dazzle at first. I have a kinship with Bruce because we both never have to shave.

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