Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011 National League MVP Race

So far this season, I haven't read an article discussing NL MVP candidates, but I've heard chatter for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Troy Tulowitzki, Reyes, McCutchen, defending winner Votto, and... I guess that's about it. Maybe there was a Michael Morse mention here or there also.

As a different perspective of this usually trivial question, let's look at MVP candidates by team before checking any league stat boards.

NL East
Phillies: Roy Halladay
Braves: Brian McCann
Nationals: Jordan Zimmermann
NY Mets: Jose Reyes
Doc keeps building Hall of Fame cred
Marlins: Mike Stanton

Shane Victorino has a case as the MVP of the Phillies, while Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels deserve Honorable Mention. Halladay is clearly the best pitcher on that amazing staff, worthy of all the praise that is sent their way.

The Braves have a well balanced attack. To demonstrate, they have five separate players (McCann, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurgens, Craig Kimbrell, and Johnny Venters) with at least 2.9 avWAR. That leaves some very good players on the Braves who have not had very good seasons, but could be dangerous in October. We're talking about players like Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, and hero of past autumns: Derek Lowe.

Ryan Zimmerman would be the Nationals MVP if he hadn't missed so much time due to injury.

At the bottom of the division, Reyes and Santon clearly outshine their teammates.

NL Central
The Brewers have lots
of Pitching & Power.
Brewers: Ryan Braun
Cardinals: Matt Holliday
Reds: Joey Votto
Pirates: Andrew McCutchen
Cubs: Aramis Ramirez
Astros: Clint Barmes (?!)

The Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds show tremendous balance, with numerous players playing well, but the Brewers' pitching is the reason they are in the driver's seat. Oh yeah, and Ryan Braun, too. Ryan Braun is undoubtedly one of the brightest shining stars in professional baseball.

Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are two of the best free agents, who weren't the Most Valuable Players on their own teams, of all time. Lance Berkman also deserves an honorable mention in St. Louis. Big Puma is a very good choice for NL Comeback Player of the Year.

A quick look at Win Probability Added in St. Louis:

2011 Cardinals WPA Leaders
1. Lance Berkman, RF 3.58
2. Matt Holiday, LF 3.31
3. Albert Pujols, 1b 3.07
4. Daniel Descalso, IF 1.31
5. Fernando Salas, RP 1.29
6. Lance Lynn, P 1.11
7. Allen Craig, OF 1.09
8. Chris Carpenter, SP 0.86
9. David Freese, 3b 0.72
10. Eduardo Sanchez, RP 0.67

Johnny Cueto has been a force in Cincinnati's rotation. It's a shame for the Reds that the rest of their pitching didn't pan out enough for them to be in better standing.

Don't be shocked if you see this
face on your box of Wheaties.
In Pittsburgh, Andrew McCutchen is a burgeoning star. He will be in MVP discussions for future seasons.

As a frame of reference for the WPA blurb above, McCutchen's fWAR is a robust 5.5, and his WPA is 1.85.

The Cubs are terrible and simple to figure. Their best player this season was 33-year old Aramis Ramirez. Their most valuable "keeper" is 21-year old Starlin Castro. Jim Hendry's parting gift to Cubs fans, Matt Garza, didn't lead the team to contention but has thrown well. On point, earlier today, I saw a nifty stat in a Ben Badler tweet:
"Matt Garza has one more strikeout than he did last season despite facing 229 fewer batters"
The doormats of the National League this year, not surprisingly are the youthfully exuberant and transitioning Houston Astros. How bad is it for them that they can hardly even field a contestant for the discussion of MVP. Their most productive players, namely Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, have been traded. Even their slightly above average players, like Jeff Keppinger, were shipped out by ought-a-be lame duck GM, Ed Wade. Alright, alright, you twisted my arm enough. Let's have some WPA fun with the last-placed Astros. Former Astros, as described above, will be shown with strikethrough.

2011 Astros WPA Leaders
1. Hunter Pence, RF 2.62
2. Michael Bourn, CF 1.58
3. Wandy Rodriguez, SP 0.98
4. Matt Downs, IF 0.72
5. Fernando Rodriguez, RP 0.59
6. Brian Bogusevic, OF 0.56
7. J.D. Martinez, LF 0.26
8. Jimmy Paredes, 3b 0.21
9. Brett Wallace, 1b 0.20
10. Jose Valdez, RP 0.18

NL West
Diamondbacks: Justin Upton
Giants: Tim Lincecum
Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
Dodgers: Matt Kemp
Padres: Cameron Maybin

Tulo, Upton, and Kemp will spend the next month fighting it out in this division, and perhaps for the entire league, as these seem like the top 3 hitting candidates.

Matt Cain and Big Panda Pablo Sandoval get honorable mention out of the Bay Area.

Carlos Gonzalez has basically turned into Denver's baseball version of Scottie Pippen... in a good way. Meanwhile, their talented General Manager, Dan O'Dowd, could be looked at as the most valuable member of the Rockies organization. I think people will be talking about the masterful job he did this season, trading Ubaldo Jimenez for Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, and two other lottery tickets.

Maybin brings energy and
skill to all facets of the game.
Cameron Maybin has been a revelation in San Diego, and it's great to see. Here was a very young player who failed to live up to lofty expectations in Detroit and Florida. It's great for the game that he has figured things out because he is a dynamic talent.

It could be fascinating to see what happens with starting pitchers like Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander vying for MVP in both leagues. Clayton Kershaw has an argument for the NL Cy Young award, as well, but the average between Wins Above Replacement (WAR) on Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs show Halladay as the more productive starting pitcher.

2011 NL avWAR Leaders
1. Matt Kemp, Dodgers 6.8
2. Roy Halladay, Phillies 6.4
3. Ryan Braun, Brewers 6.1
4. Joey Votto, Reds 5.7
Shane Victorino, Phillies 5.7
6. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies 5.6
7. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 5.5
8. Cliff Lee, Phillies 5.2
9. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates 5.1
10. Cole Hamels, Phillies 5.0
11. Matt Holliday, Cardinals 4.9
Justin Upton, Diamondbacks 4.9
13. Jose Reyes, Mets 4.8
14. Tim Lincecum, Giants 4.3
Mike Stanton, Marlins 4.3
16. Prince Fielder, Brewers 4.2
17. Matt Cain, Giants 4.1
Albert Pujols, Cardinals 4.1
19. Pablo Sandoval, Giants 4.0
20. Lance Berkman, Cardinals 3.9

Just a few more quick ones:

2011 NL SIERA Leaders
Roy Halladay, Phillies 2.52
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 2.67
Cliff Lee, Phillies 2.68
Cole Hamels, Phillies 2.86
Anibal Sanchez, Marlins 3.06

2011 NL WPA Leaders (Pitchers)
Cole Hamels, Phillies 4.03
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks 3.88
Roy Halladay, Phillies 3.46
Cliff Lee, Phillies 3.22
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 2.96

I'd feel pretty good as a Phillies fan right now.

2011 NL WPA Leaders (Hitters)
Joey Votto, Reds 6.33
Prince Fielder, Brewers 5.61
Matt Kemp, Dodgers 4.18
Ryan Braun, Brewers 4.06
Lance Berkman, Cardinals 3.58

2011 NL wOBA Leaders
1. Ryan Braun, Brewers .432
2. Joey Votto, Reds .419
3. Matt Kemp, Dodgers .414
4. Shane Victorino, Phillies .411
5. Lance Berkman, Cardinals .409
6. Matt Holliday, Cardinals .409
7. Prince Fielder, Brewers .404
8. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks .395
9. Michael Morse, Nationals .393
10. Jose Reyes, Mets .389
11. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies .388
12. Albert Pujols, Cardinals .383
13. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs .379
Todd Helton, Rockies .379
Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies .379
16. Mike Stanton, Marlins .378
17. Carlos Beltran, Giants .377
18. Hunter Pence, Phillies .371
19. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates .370
20. Brian McCann, Braves .369

There is no clear cut favorite, but some things can be sorted out. It'll take another strong month from one of these follows to wrap up the award. With about four and half weeks left, I'd say the favorites are Kemp, Braun, and Doc Halladay, with Votto, Upton, and Tulowitzki still within striking distance.

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