NL MVP Rankings: Carlos Gonzalez Debuts, Joey Votto Ascends to Top

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterJune 7, 2012

NL MVP Rankings: Carlos Gonzalez Debuts, Joey Votto Ascends to Top

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    This week brings us a new front-runner in our National League Most Valuable Player rankings.

    There was going to be a new No. 1 regardless, as I took being fair to Matt Kemp as far as I could. But with him already missing two weeks and set to miss at least four more with his strained left hamstring, he's simply not playing enough to be considered anymore. Something else to consider is that the Los Angeles Dodgers have been winning a decent amount of games without him. 

    But everyone didn't just move up one spot in the updated rankings. There's been some shuffling at the top as well. And we also have one new player to fill Kemp's spot among the top five NL MVP candidates.

    Of course, if you believe other players that should be among the five NL MVP contenders or you think the rankings should be in a different order, please offer your suggestions in the comments. In the meantime, here is how our NL MVP rankings look this week.

5. Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants

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    Last week: No. 5.

    After making his debut in our NL MVP rankings a week ago, San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera holds down the fifth spot once again. 

    Cabrera leads the majors (tied with the Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko) with a .366 batting average. His 86 hits for the season are 11 more than the next closest big league batter. Cabrera's seven triples are also tops in the majors, showing that he's taking advantage of that spacious AT&T Park outfield. 

    If you're of the belief that an MVP candidate should also play for a contending team, the Giants have won eight of their last 10 games. Combined with the Dodgers' recent skid, the largest margin between first and second place has now become a race in the NL West. The Giants are four games behind the Dodgers going into Thursday's slate of games.

    Will Cabrera win the NL MVP? Probably not. He may be overtaken by Ryan Braun or Giancarlo Stanton by next week. But all the hits he's racked up can't be ignored.

    It almost feels like Buddy Ryan talking about Cris Carter. "All he does is score touchdowns."

    All Cabrera does is keep getting hits. If he keeps doing so, maybe he will end up challenging for the award by season's end.

4. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    Of all the players that were snubbed from last week's NL MVP rankings, commenters and Twitter followers gave me the most noise about Carlos Gonzalez. 

    So I admit that was an oversight. I can't resist pointing out that no one criticized me for not including Gonzalez among the top five NL MVP contenders until he went on his home run explosion last week. But enough about me. It's clear that Gonzalez belongs in the conversation.

    After hitting home runs in four consecutive plate appearances last week, Gonzalez ranks second in the NL with 14 bombs. His 45 RBI are one behind the NL lead in that category. And his .991 OPS is the third-best total in the league. 

    Surprisingly, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) doesn't view Gonzalez as favorably as you might expect, ranking him 20th among NL batters. That's something of a puzzle, one which I can't really explain. 

    Gonzalez's team would seem to be the largest obstacle between him and serious MVP consideration. The Rockies are tied for the third-worst record in the league and sit in fourth place in the NL West.

    Unless Gonzalez's eventual numbers are so spectacular that they simply can't be ignored, much as the case was Matt Kemp last year, he's probably going to fall short in MVP balloting. But given the Rockies' reputation as a second-half team, Gonzalez will probably be hanging out in these rankings for a while and could make an upward move. 

3. David Wright, New York Mets

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    Last week: No. 4.

    A week ago, David Wright was coming off a rough stretch, going 6-for-31 (.194) at the plate and kissing a chance at a .400 batting average goodbye. 

    But the New York Mets' third baseman rebounded nicely over his past six games, batting 7-for-22 with two homers and three RBI. Even with his brief skid, Wright still ranks second in the NL with a .359 batting average. His .461 on-base percentage and 1.039 OPS also place him second among NL hitters. 

    And if we're going by WAR, Wright's 3.5 makes him the best player in baseball. Yes, even above Josh Hamilton. 

    As Lucas Duda emerges as a power threat in the Mets lineup and Jason Bay soon returns to presumably provide some thump, Wright might begin seeing better pitches as the team's No. 3 hitter. 

    The Mets have tripped a bit in their past 10 games, going 5-5 and dropping to fourth place in their division. But in the tightly packed NL East, a sneeze can change the standings. The Mets are only 2.5 games behind the first-place Nationals going into Thursday's play, and a half-game behind the Braves and Marlins. As long as his team contends for a playoff spot, Wright will get some MVP love. 

2. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Last week: No. 2.

    With Matt Kemp essentially eliminated from MVP consideration, last week's runner-up is sure to move up to the top spot, right? Well...not so much.

    Carlos Beltran does lead the NL with 15 home runs, and his 42 RBI rank second. But after a week in which he batted 3-for-23 (.130), Beltran has a .275 batting average and is far down the list of league leaders. Of course, we know batting average isn't everything. And when Beltran hits, he clearly makes it count.

    But it's difficult to imagine winning MVP without batting .300. In fact, it hasn't happened since 1989, when Kevin Mitchell finished with a .291 average. (That capped off a streak of four straight MVPs who batted below .300.) 

    Beltran lags behind his fellow NL hitters in several other categories as well. His .367 on-base percentage ranks 20th in the league. His .589 slugging percentage places him 10th. And his .916 OPS is the 11th-best total among NL batters. 

    Yet Beltran has shown a tendency to break out with a big game or two whenever it's tempting to write him off and think he might be once again conceding to injury and age. Could that happen again in the week to come?

1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Last week: No. 3.

    Leapfrogging Carlos Beltran into the top spot of our NL MVP rankings this week is Joey Votto. The Cincinnati Reds first baseman has been a hitting machine over his past five games, going 10-for-18 (.555) with a home run and six RBI.

    That's pushed Votto's slash average up to .348/.475/.610. He ranks fourth in the NL in batting. His .475 on-base percentage leads the majors, 14 percentage points ahead of David Wright. (Adam Dunn has overtaken Votto for the most walks in the big leagues, but his 46 walks are nine more than Wright's total.)

    Votto's .610 slugging percentage is the best in the NL, due largely to leading the majors with 22 doubles. And his 1.084 OPS is also tops among NL batters. 

    With numbers like that, it shouldn't be a surprise that Votto is also near the top in WAR. His 3.4 is surpassed only by Wright's 3.5. 

    Votto's team is helping his MVP cause, too. The Reds have won six of their last 10 games and may be pulling away from the pack in the NL Central. Going into Thursday's play, the Reds have a three-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, nearly their biggest margin of the season. 

    Like his team, Votto may be pulling away from the rest of the pack in the NL MVP race as well. 

     

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