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2012 midseason awards: NL MVP

Jul 7, 2012, 12:50 AM EDT

Joey Votto AP

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

  1. randygnyc - Jul 7, 2012 at 1:13 AM

    Yankees should just take him. Additional compensation for AJ Burnett. What could the Pirates really do to stop them? It’s the Yankees were talking about. Pirates should be flattered that we even know who they are. (this is plan B, if we can’t take Cargo. Plan C is Span. Plan D is J Upton)

    • dan1111 - Jul 7, 2012 at 2:57 AM

      “What could the Pirates really do to stop them?” I love that bit. The Yankees are going to send their thugs over to Pittsburgh, throw McCutchen in a van, and drive off. Sorry, nothing you can do about it, Pirates!

      McCutchen is a better player than Cargo (he of the .750 OPS away from Coors field). And Justin Upton is far more valuable than Span. Not that it matters, since the real plans start at E.

    • Jeremy T - Jul 7, 2012 at 2:06 PM

      See, it’s posts like this one that lead me to believe that you’re actually just a brilliant satirist

      • madhatternalice - Jul 7, 2012 at 2:26 PM

        No, he’s just a self-entitled idiot. Ignore him :)

        It’s gotta be McCutchen. No one else on the Pirates is even close to performing at his level: Stark had a great column writeup about this this week.

  2. florida76 - Jul 7, 2012 at 1:41 AM

    Uh, no. Cutch isn’t going anywhere, ergo the long term contract he signed before the season. As for the midseason MVP rankings, I always get nervous whenever people only go by stats to determine the leaders. One must factor in the protection in the lineup, and Votto has more help in that regard than Cutch. I also get nervous when people don’t watch enough baseball and go by questionable statistics, Andrew is definitely an above average centerfielder.

    • thefalcon123 - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:49 AM

      Lineup protection is a myth
      Re: anyone of 8the billion studies on the subject

  3. nightrain42 - Jul 7, 2012 at 2:00 AM

    I agree….Cutch is the MVP of the first half at least. Easy

  4. btwicey - Jul 7, 2012 at 3:01 AM

    Darwin Barney’s name was in this post. I skip straight to comments .

  5. whodeytn - Jul 7, 2012 at 7:23 AM

    How great would it be if Votto had a real hitter or two before him in the lineup? God I hate Dusty.

    • Jeremy T - Jul 7, 2012 at 2:08 PM

      Wouldn’t that be more on the GM?

  6. btwicey - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    You can pretty much say that about half the beast hitters in the league… Granted cozart and his 15 walks a year don’t help…

  7. mj1818 - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    EXACTLY. You don’t watch the pirates every night, he is NOT an average defensive center fielder. I don’t care what numbers say, put cutch in left and someone else in center and the downgrade would be detrimental to the betterment of the team. He is an above average center fielder, he just doesn’t get the exposure because of the market he is in. I have watched almost every game to know how much the defense would suffer if he wasn’t in center.

    • paperlions - Jul 7, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      This is akin to saying, “Ryan Theriot is an above average offensive 2B. I don’t care what the numbers say, you don’t see his quality at bats and how tough an out he is.”

      Yes, there are better statistical estimates of offensive production than of defensive production, but the defensive metrics currently used “see” far more than you do and are far better estimates of defense than “seeing a player every day” (especially because most fans see only 1 of the 30 defenders everyday and generally have little basis for comparison).

      Ignoring the best available information, which is imperfect but far far better than the fan eyeball t est, in lieu of personal opinion is called willful ignorance.

      • madhatternalice - Jul 7, 2012 at 2:29 PM

        One could also say it’s the equivalent of one sticking their own fingers in their ears and going LA LA LA when someone tries to give them facts. You’re spot on, PL.

  8. otis52gsh - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    Cabrera do t even belong in this conversations

  9. tyler200829 - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    Guys this is isn’t even close….it’s votto all the way no doubt about it. Reds will win the division pirates will fall apart, they’re just on a cute little streak hop off hismd piece and give it to the best hitter in the game….with no help

    • madhatternalice - Jul 7, 2012 at 2:30 PM

      Must have missed the part where “MVP” was renamed “Most Valuable Player for a Team That Makes the Postseason.”

    • escapingexile - Jul 8, 2012 at 3:44 AM

      You didn’t get that memo? It went out last year when Braun beat out Kemp.

  10. taskforcefreddy - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    Although other players are having better numbers, you have to respect what Ryan Braun is doing this year after having his name destroyed last season. No one in the league is being subjected to the number of random drug tests as Braun (as many as 4 per week at times) and he continues to produce incredible numbers.

  11. Reggie's Bush - Jul 7, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    D Wright, hands down

  12. paperlions - Jul 7, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    I’d vote for Ruiz. He’s putting up those numbers as a catcher and defensive metrics for catchers remain pretty bad and generally are thought to undervalue catcher defense.

    Still, there are a lot of great candidates at this point, Votto, Cutch, Ruiz, Braun, Wright, all have good cases at the mid-point. There is no “hands down”, “no doubt about it”, “easy”, or “clear” choice at this point.

  13. scatterbrian - Jul 7, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    “…followed by Alfonso Soriano in fourth. So, ahh… yeah.”

    Soriano earned his reputation as a poor defender at 2B, but he’s rated well in most defensive metrics since moving to LF.

  14. brewcrewfan54 - Jul 7, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    So fangraphs and baseball reference both have their own version of WAR. How can WAR be taken seriously as a statistic when 2 different stat sites have a different formula to it?

    • paperlions - Jul 7, 2012 at 4:13 PM

      That is like asking how can batting average be taken seriously when values for OBP and SLG are different than for AVG. Or how can RBI be taken seriously when the guy with the most RBI isn’t the guy with the best average or SLG or OBP. They are different estimates of value, that’s it. It isn’t that hard.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Jul 7, 2012 at 5:15 PM

        Give me a break. Batting average is batting average no matter what stat site you look at. A guy is batting .305 whether you look at it on ESPN or CBS. Why is WAR different? I know you think youre smarter than everyone else here but you’re wrong here.

      • paperlions - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:45 PM

        Again, if you aren’t going to bother to learn, why comment?

        Currently, there are two approaches to estimate total value of all contributions of players. They use slightly different metrics (especially for defense and for pitchers). Again, they are two estimates. Neither is perfect. Each is far better than using traditional statistics in isolation or in combination.

        When a person considers a group of traditional stats, they use their own personal and inconsistent algorithm (that they generally are completely unaware of) to view the totality of information and ascribe value. For example, if you saw two player stat lines, you would look them over and decide which player you thought was better (i.e. more valuable). People can’t do that consistently across all stat lines….all WAR estimates are, are formalized linear combinations that ascribe values to player outcomes. The values for outcomes are based on the effect those outcomes have on scoring or preventing runs, and are standardized to a level called “replacement”, which is a calibration based on how that type of player typically performs when called up from the minors.

        All WAR estimates are, is a formalized version of what everyone already does in their head, it is just far more consistent and based on far more information than anyone has at their disposal.

  15. mungman69 - Jul 7, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    Too many stats. I never saw that first writers name in the Yankees box score.

  16. metalhead65 - Jul 7, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    I would love to see how these other guys who are better than votto bat with a guy hitting .250 and .212 in front of them. imagine how many rbi’s he would have if people were on base when he came up to bat. lots of respect to mcuthen but Votto is the know what you can do with your saber metrics that say otherwise.

    • paperlions - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:46 PM

      They would bat exactly as they do now.

    • scatterbrian - Jul 8, 2012 at 3:45 PM

      The fact that Votto has guys hitting .250 and .212 in front of him, and that he “only” has 47 RBIs is precisely why RBIs are a poor indicator of individual player value.

      And just for the record, it’s RBIs, not RBI. Whenever you pluralize an acronym, you add an “s” at the end. You don’t rewrite the acronym.

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