NL MVP Rankings: Joey Votto Wobbles, but Still Leads Crowded Field
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The front-runner in our National League MVP rankings had a sub-par week. Meanwhile, the other leading contenders for the award put up strong numbers. Was that enough to cause big changes among our top five?
One thing is certain: It's getting difficult to reduce the list of NL MVP contenders to five players. The field hasn't thinned out yet. So we kind of cheated. Last week, we included a handful of candidates as honorable mentions. These players definitely deserve consideration, but just can't quite crack the top five.
If you disagree with the order of our rankings or feel a particular player was snubbed, please voice your opinions in the comments. Your suggestions really do make a difference when putting this list together, even if it doesn't always show in the latest rankings.
I could change my mind on the order of this list an hour after publishing it, depending on which numbers I look at. (I changed my mind at least three times while writing this.) But for now, Here are this week's five leading candidates for National League MVP.
Melky Cabrera leads the majors with 105 hits.
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Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants
OK, Giants fans. Let me have it. Here's the player I had the most difficult time trying to place in this week's rankings.
Leading the majors with 105 hits is extremely impressive, but his batting average has slipped a bit over the last few weeks. Going into Wednesday's play, he's fourth in the NL with a .352 BA.
Cabrera is also playing for a winning team, one that's just one game out of first place in the NL West. His home run was the decisive blow in Tuesday's 2-0 win over the Dodgers.
But I just don't know if Cabrera is really having an MVP season across the board when you stack his numbers up against the other top hitters in the league.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
I feel like the Brewers sitting in fourth place, 8.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds, should hurt Braun's MVP chances. But then I look at his numbers and think he has to be considered.
Braun is tied for the NL lead in home runs with 20. His 52 RBI rank fourth in the league, while his .596 slugging percentage ranks third. Braun's .988 OPS is the fifth-highest among NL batters.
Fangraphs has him ranked as the third-best player in the NL at 4.1 wins above replacement.
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Of all the players mentioned in this week's rankings, no one had a better week than McCutchen. In his past seven games, the Pirates center fielder hit 11-for-26 (.423) with three doubles, a triple, a home run and seven RBI.
McCutchen's .341/.397/.579 average puts him among the top 10 NL batters in each of the "triple slash" categories.
However, his candidacy will be hurt if the Pirates don't stay in playoff contention. The Bucs are only three games back in the NL Central, but just let the Cardinals leapfrog them into second place.
5. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
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Last week: No. 4.
Moving Carlos Gonzalez down a spot might not be fair. In seven games since last week's rankings, he batted 8-for-27 (.296) with two doubles and three RBI. But he did strike out eight times as well.
With 17 home runs, Gonzalez is tied for second among NL batters. His 54 RBI rank third. His .603 slugging percentage is the second-best in the NL and fifth best in the majors.
But despite Gonzalez putting up those kinds of numbers, his team is having a miserable season. The Rockies are in fourth place, 14 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. Every day seems to make things worse with changes to the starting rotation and coaching staff.
If not for Gonzalez in their lineup, the Rockies might be the worst team in baseball.
4. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
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Giants and Brewers fans might take issue with putting Carlos Ruiz into this week's top five. But the Phillies catcher is definitely putting up MVP-caliber numbers.
His .361 batting average is tops in the majors. Only Joey Votto has a higher OPS than Ruiz's 1.006. His .427 on-base percentage ranks third among NL hitters, while his .579 slugging percentage is tied for fifth. Fangraphs rates Ruiz as the fifth-best player in the NL, worth 3.8 wins above replacement. Baseball-Reference has him even better, ranking him third at 3.7.
Let's also give Ruiz credit for playing excellent defense at catcher, baseball's most demanding position. He's only allowed three passed balls this season, tied for the second-lowest total among big league catchers. And just one catcher (the Marlins' John Buck) has allowed fewer wild pitches.
Ruiz has also thrown out 22 base stealers, ranking second at his position. For the season, he's nailed 65 percent of runners attempting to steal.
3. David Wright, New York Mets
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Last week: No. 3.
With four consecutive losses heading into Wednesday night's play, the New York Mets seem on the verge of falling out of contention. If they lose to the Cubs and get swept, things could get pretty ugly for the Mets with a three-game series against the Dodgers up next.
However, David Wright is still playing at an MVP level. In his past six games since last week's rankings, he batted 9-for-24 (.375) with two doubles and four RBI.
Only Carlos Ruiz has a higher batting average than Wright's .354 in the NL, and only Joey Votto has a higher on-base percentage than Wright's .448. His 1.002 OPS is topped by just two other players. Yes, Votto and Ruiz.
2. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals
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Last week: No. 2.
Carlos Beltran isn't going to make it easy for Joey Votto to win the NL MVP award. For the second straight week, the Cardinals outfielder has put up outstanding numbers, continuing to chip away at Votto's front-runner status.
In his past seven games, Beltran batted 10-for-27 (.370) with two doubles, a home run, six walks and 10 RBI. He only struck out three times as well.
Beltran's 20 home runs are tied for the league lead. His 58 RBI are tops in the NL, and he's climbing up towards the lead in the triple-slash categories. Beltran's .987 OPS is the sixth-highest mark among NL batters. His .585 slugging percentage and .402 on-base percentage both rank fourth in the National League.
With five straight wins, Beltran's team appears to have turned itself around. The Cardinals hopped over the Pirates for second place in the NL Central, two games behind the Reds. That certainly won't hurt Beltran's MVP candidacy.
1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
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Last week: No. 1.
Joey Votto has maintained such an excellent level of play in recent weeks that it's surprising when he struggles a bit.
Of course, it was unrealistic to expect Votto to keep churning out 12 hits and batting over .400 every week. But a 3-for-19 stretch is a bit jarring, especially given how well Votto had been hitting.
Despite the bad week, Votto still ranks near the top of the majors in virtually every offensive category. Fangraphs ranks him as the best player in baseball, worth 4.8 wins above replacement. Baseball-Reference has him at 4.3 WAR, tops in the NL.
Votto's .353 batting average is third among NL batters, while his .478 on-base percentage, .643 slugging percentage and 1.121 OPS all rank tops in the National League. His 14 home runs and 47 RBI put him among the top 10 in the NL as well.
As we near the halfway point of the season, it's too early to say that Votto's front-runner status is insurmountable. That's hardly the case, especially with great hitters also making a strong case for MVP consideration. Carlos Beltran is knocking on that door, Mr. Votto.
But at this point, he still looks like the best player in the National League.