Buster Posey ranks fifth in the NL with a .328 batting average.
As we said at the beginning of last week's NL MVP rankings, a new candidate seems to emerge—or explode—into the discussion each time a new list of contenders is put together.
Two weeks ago, it was the Arizona Diamondbacks' Jason Kubel who pushed his way into the race. Then, it was the St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Holliday who swung his way into consideration for the MVP award.
This week, the player who can't be ignored is San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. Posey was on the fringes of our top five, while some of us argued in the comments as to who was the better or more important offensive player for the Giants. Was it Posey or teammate Melky Cabrera?
Before we begin, the Joey Votto disclaimer. A few commenters asked why he wasn't included among the top contenders, though I felt like I explained why. Votto has now missed 23 games for the Cincinnati Reds.
Though his numbers still rank among the NL leaders, I didn't want to just keep Votto stationary at the No. 2 spot until he returned. Nor did I want to move him around. Based on what? Someone had a better week than him? Of course someone did—Votto didn't play. So when he comes back, he will very likely return to these rankings.
With all that out of the way, these five players look like the current leading contenders for the NL MVP award. Please leave your responses and suggestions in the comments. Your feedback is definitely considered when putting this list together each week.
All the statistics mentioned here are current as of Aug. 7.
Last week: Unranked.
Rocketing up the charts this week to make his debut in our NL MVP rankings is Buster Posey, whose bat has been explosive in the second half of the season.
Since the All-Star break, Posey has hit .448/.495/.805 with eight home runs and 30 RBI. He's hit safely in 21 of his previous 23 games, which includes an 11-game hitting streak as of Aug. 7.
In his past five games (since last week's rankings), Posey batted 11-for-23 (.478) with four home runs and 11 RBI.
That surge has sent Posey's season slash average soaring to .328/.394/.542 with 18 home runs and 73 RBI. His .328 batting average ranks fifth in the NL, while his .394 on-base percentage and .542 slugging both put him among the league's top-10 batters. Posey's RBI total is also tied for the fourth highest.
The Giants catcher also excels behind the plate. Posey has allowed one passed ball all season. That's one inning for the Rockies' Wilin Rosario. Only three catchers have allowed fewer than Posey's 17 wild pitches in the big leagues this season.
Perhaps he could be better at throwing out opposing base runners. Posey has caught just 21-of-58 attempted base-stealers this season. Those 58 attempts might indicate that Giants pitchers don't do a great job of holding runners, however.
Last week: No. 5.
Back-to-back Giants on this list? That's how it shakes out this week.
In his past six games, Melky Cabrera hit 10-for-22 (.455) with three doubles, two triples, one home run and four RBI. That's an excellent week by anyone's standards.
Cabrera leads the majors with 152 hits, six more than the next closest competitor. His 10 triples are the second-most in the NL.
With a .353 batting average, Cabrera ranks second in the NL, while his .399 on-base percentage is tied for fifth and his .929 OPS is the league's 10th-best mark. He's also been remarkably consistent, hitting .353 in the season's first half and batting .355 in the second half.
The intriguing question is whether Cabrera or Buster Posey is more valuable to the Giants this season. Without Cabrera getting on base, Posey doesn't have as many runs to drive in. But Posey is also hitting for more power and producing more runs as a result.
Perhaps the Giants are unwillingly motivating Cabrera to continue his torrid hitting. According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the Giants have offered the free-agent-to-be a contract close to the three-year, $27 million deal Carlos Quentin just received from the San Diego Padres. Cabrera is surely looking to cash in big-time, so that offer probably won't cut it.
Last week: No. 3.
So why David Wright over Melky Cabrera, Giants fans may be asking.
San Francisco is 60-50 and leads the NL West. The New York Mets are 53-57, 14 games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East. Shouldn't the player on the better team be a stronger candidate for MVP?
That should be a consideration, but Wright still leads Cabrera in several offensive categories. Obviously, not in batting average. Cabrera leads Wright by 30 percentage points, .353 to .323.
Wright has a higher on-base percentage (.418 to .399) and slugging (.537 to .530), which subsequently leads to a higher OPS (.955 to .929).
Cabrera has more hits and triples than Wright, but the Mets' third baseman has more doubles, home runs and walks. Interestingly, both have 12 stolen bases.
When things are that close, perhaps the Giants' win-loss record should give Cabrera the edge over Wright.
But what about Wins Above Replacement? According to both Fangraphs (5.5 WAR) and Baseball-Reference (5.7 WAR), Wright is the second-best player in the NL. Maybe we don't have him ranked high enough here.
Last week, someone suggested I factor OPS+ into these rankings. As explained by Fangraphs, OPS+ takes into account a player's home ballpark and the league he plays in. By that metric (as you can see here), Wright is also the better player.
I prefer to keep it a bit simpler, however.
Last week: No. 4.
Doesn't Matt Holliday look like a mirror image of the MLB logo in our accompanying photo? Just a random observation.
Holliday's 132 hits are the third-most in the NL, resulting in a .323 batting average that ranks seventh. His .403 on-base percentage is fourth among NL batters, helping him to a .954 OPS that is the league's seventh-best mark.
With 21 home runs, Holliday is tied for the fourth most in the NL. His 76 RBI are second only to teammate Carlos Beltran, which highlights how many run-producing opportunities each batter gets playing in a potent lineup like the one the St. Louis Cardinals have assembled.
Since we opened the WAR door with Wright, how does Holliday measure up in that category? Fangraphs rates him as the fifth-best player in the NL at 4.9 wins above replacement. Baseball-Reference has him tied for fourth with a 4.6 WAR.
The Cards are also playing their way into a better position to contend for the playoffs. St. Louis is currently 5.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central. But more importantly, the Cardinals are 2.5 games back in the NL wild-card race.
Could the winner of the NL Central or a wild-card playoff spot end up determining the NL MVP?
Last week: No. 1.
The Pittsburgh Pirates' centerfielder remains the front-runner for NL MVP.
In five games since last week's rankings, Andrew McCutchen hit 6-for-18 (.333) with one double, one home run and three RBI. That kept McCutchen's batting average at .372, easily the best in the majors (he leads Melky Cabrera by 19 percentage points).
McCutchen is second in the big leagues with a .431 on-base percentage, yet leads baseball with a .629 slugging mark. Joey Votto is just a shade ahead of McCutchen for the major-league lead in OPS, 1.069 to 1.060.
With 23 home runs, McCutchen is tied for the third most in the NL, while his 69 RBI are in the league's top 10.
Almost a one-man show, the Pirates have brought in reinforcements to lessen McCutchen's burden to produce offense. Starling Marte and Travis Snider should give McCutchen more RBI opportunities. That pushes incumbents Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones behind McCutchen in the order, which should protect McCutchen and give him better pitches to hit.
However, McCutchen is hitting so well that opponents may just pitch around him anyway.
The Pirates are holding steady in the NL Central race, three games behind the Reds for second place. Pittsburgh also currently holds one of the NL's wild-card playoff spots.
So either way, the Bucs are in good position to reach their first postseason since 1992. How many of the other MVP contenders can say they broke a 20-year playoff drought?
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