Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The NL MVP Race- What It Should Be, What It Will Be

I suppose in order to choose an MVP, I first have to set out a series of guidelines that will determine how these players are rated. As we established yesterday, having a reasonable image of WAR helps, but I don’t think that’s all a player needs. First of all, I look for players who provide their value in a multitude of situations, both offensive and defensive. I generally don’t like to call a 40 home run guy an MVP candidate if he’s not OBPing well along with it, and even then a first baseman or a mediocre defensive player probably won’t get my vote. My MVPs are guys who provide large amounts value with both the glove and bat, while playing premium defensive positions. However, this player must also be an asset to the team in the clubhouse and in the dugout. I’m never going to give Manny an MVP, no matter what he does on the field, because I think his presence as an off-field distraction detracts from his value to his ballclub. So that’s the criteria: a good hitter, a good defender (likely at a premium position, or if not, a gold glove-caliber fielder at first or an outfield corner), and a good guy who seems to bring out the best in his teammates. Of course it’s a bit subjective, but considering it’s a voting process, I believe it’s meant to be up to the voters how they determine which player provided the most value to his team. So with that, let’s get to pickin’.

The NL (Fangraphs) WAR leaderboard, which we looked at yesterday, now reads Zimmerman (7.2), Votto (7.1), Holliday (6.5), Pujols (6.3), and Tulowitzki (6.1). Just behind are both Gonzalezes and then a pair of Giants: Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff. Zimmerman and Tulo, as well as Carlos Gonzalez and Andres Torres, all play premium defensive positions. Zimmerman and Torres play theirs extremely well, while Tulo is a slightly above average fielder and Gonzalez is slightly below. I’m going to scrap Gonzalez because of the defense, and Torres because he’s missed time (he didn’t start the year as an everyday player, and he’s been absent for the last few games because of injury). In the non-premium positions, each of the remaining players on the board have been above average at their position, but lose points because their defense isn’t nearly as valuable as the leather Zimmerman provides at the hot corner or Torres does in center. However, as was touched on yesterday, UZR isn’t an infallible statistic by any means, so I’m willing to cut Pujols some slack, as he’s proven to be a fantastic fielder throughout his career. Votto’s probably about in line with his UZR, potentially slightly above average but probably not a world-class fielder. However, he has been better with the bat than any other player in the league. For me, that’s not quite enough, though Votto does have quite a strong argument. So between Pujols, Tulo, and Zimmerman, I think I’m going to go with WAR on this one and say Zimmerman should be the recipient of the NL MVP. He’s a true leader on a young team, and he’s been extremely valuable both with the bat (32.1 batting RAA) and with the glove (15.9 fielding RAA). Throw in the fact that he plays third, and it’s enough to put him over Pujols’ otherworldly bat (48.2 batting RAA) and Tulo’s up-the-middle defense and late-season contributions in a playoff race.

However, who I think should win is a completely different question than who will win. For voters, there’s a completely different set of criteria. First of all, it’s pretty much a given that your team must be headed to the playoffs. That means sayonara to Zimmerman, Holliday, and Pujols. Second, a premium defensive position helps, but the skill with which that position is played is usually not a huge factor (outside of, potentially, fielding percentage). Third, it seems like they’re looking for “good guys,” much like I am. The true contenders, in that case, are Votto, Tulo, and potentially one of the Gonzalez or Giants pairs. Votto and Tulowitzki will likely end up one-two, and unless Tulowitzki can propel the Rockies into the playoffs while continuing to hit like a man possessed, I don’t even know that he’s got a shot. Sure, he’s been great lately, but he’s missed a ton of baseball (he’s played 110 games, whereas Vottomatic played his 142nd last night). I don’t think he can overcome that. The Reds have been the most surprising team in baseball,  (Well, surprisingly good. The Mariners surprised me the most.) and their star Canuck will take home the MVP trophy for his part in that. The voters won't be wrong, either. Votto's had a fantastic season, and as good as Zimmerman's been, Votto's neck and neck with him on my ballot. Remove Zimmerman because he's going to be golfing his way through October, and there hasn't been a better player in the NL, in my mind.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a (hopefully equally detailed) look at the AL MVP race. 

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