In the American League, there isn't much of a debate about who will bring home the MVP this season but on the NL side things are a little more interesting. And, once again, it's going to come down to the meaning of the word "valuable".
There are a few different types of awards races. There's the Miggy vs. Trout type of debate where traditional statistics are compared to new ones and whatever the decision is, both guys are likely deserving. And then there's the type of awards race where we really have to pick and choose what value means and, with all due respect to the players that are in the running, elevate a few guys to MVP status.
Andrew McCutchin, Paul Goldschmidt, Clayton Kershaw, Joey Votto and Matt Carpenter are my top five right now, but I'm not excited about any of them. They're all quality players who have had nice years, but each player's case for winning MVP has holes in it.
Let's start by eliminating a few guys. Joey Votto has had another excellent season and continues to be a perennial MVP candidate, but sorry, Joe, this isn't your year. His .433 OBP and his 126 runs created are both tops in the NL. He's third in OPS and fourth in runs scored, but he isn't really doing much to impress observers that already knew he was an on-base machine. His OBP, OPS, batting average, and slugging % are all down from last year but he'll likely finish higher in MVP voting just because no one else is running away with the award. He does get bonus points for being the best player on a team that is likely going to make the playoffs.
Clayton Kershaw is running away with the NL Cy Young but he is also fading in my internal MVP discussion. His 1.94 ERA and 0.928 WHIP are nasty, but I just can't give the award to a guy whose 14
ins make up less a sixth of the team's 86 total wins. Call me old-fashioned, but this award has to be reserved for someone that has an impact every day. I'd sooner give it to a closer than a starting pitcher, even if he's having a crazy good season.
Matt Carpenter is also having a nice season but the only reasons he's in my top-5 are that I reward playoff-bound teams and his is a team without a clear star. He's leading the NL in hits, ranks second in offensive WAR, fifth in total bases, fourth in runs created, and top-10 in several other categories, but his season just doesn't scream MVP at any level. His numbers aren't much different than Shin-Soo Choo's, but he will be in the MVP discussion simply because his teammate, Yadier Molina, fell out of the discussion and someone from St. Louis needs to be in it.
So that leaves McCutchen and Goldschmidt as my two favorites to bring home the award.
McCutchen has a strong case, anchored by his NL best 7.7 WAR. That number--the go-to stat for many people these days--reflects his overall skill set. He's in the top-10 in a whole range of categories: batting average, OBP, slugging, runs scored, hits, total bases, walks, steals, singles, runs created, etc. but he isn't dominating any category. He is, however, having a tremendous all-around year for a team with a great story that will be playing October baseball.
Goldschmidt, on the other hand, is making a name for himself as the premier power hitter in the NL. He's
leading the NL in slugging (Carlos Gonzalez doesn't have enough at bats to qualify), OPS, total bases, HR, RBI and has really good speed and defensive numbers to compliment the power. But he may not make the playoffs! True, but it's not like this is Alex Rodriguez winning the 2003 MVP for a 71-loss Texas Rangers squad. The D-Backs have been in the hunt for much of the season and they've played meaningful games, largely because of Goldschmidt. If that's not value, I don't know what is.
In the end, I'm going with Goldschmidt. He is the best in the NL at a certain skill (hitting with power) and his overall game is excellent, making him much more than just a power hitter. He's made a huge difference for a team that's sniffed playoff contention and, even if his team's narrative isn't as powerful, he's got my vote.
That being said, no one has run away with the award yet and it really could go in a number of different directions. I wouldn't be particularly shocked if Kershaw ends up winning because the position players split votes. It will be interested to see how the Baseball Writers of America interpret the word "value" this time around.