NL MVP Rankings: Is This the Week Buster Posey Busts Out as the Front-Runner?

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterSeptember 12, 2012

NL MVP Rankings: Is This the Week Buster Posey Busts Out as the Front-Runner?

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    With the rise of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild-card standings, the NL MVP race may no longer be a two-man competition between Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey. 

    Ryan Braun's numbers this season absolutely deserve MVP consideration regardless of how his team is performing. But going by last season's results, in which Braun beat out the Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp for the award, team success is obviously a factor in the voting. 

    While there's no change among the players listed in this week's rankings, we did try to give mention to other players that might be deserving of consideration, such as the Cincinnati Reds' Jay Bruce, Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton and especially the San Diego Padres' Chase Headley. One or more of those players could break into our top five before the end of the season. 

    With that said, here are the five leading contenders for the NL MVP award in our view. All the statistics mentioned here are current as of Sept. 12. 

    If you have any responses or suggestions for these rankings, please share them in the comments. You can also reply to me on Twitter, My address is at the end of this article. That feedback very often influences how this list is assembled each week. 

An Appreciation of Chase Headley

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    Chase Headley is not going to win the NL MVP Award. He might not deserve to be rated among the top eight to 10 candidates.

    But the San Diego Padres third baseman has been so good in recent weeks that he deserved a mention here, honorable or otherwise.

    I'm kind of surprised no one shouted a comment or called me a name for not including him here. 

    During his past six games since last week's rankings, Headley hit three home runs with nine RBI. He only batted .240 (6-for-25), however, which is one reason why he's not drawing strong MVP consideration.

    In August, Headley hit .306/.345/.611 with 10 home runs and 31 RBI. Thus far in September (up until Sept. 12), he has a .341/.396/.705 triple-slash average with five homers and 19 RBI. 

    As a result of his late summer surge, Headley leads the NL with 102 RBI, overtaking Ryan Braun in that category. He doesn't rank with the league's top hitters in other categories with his .282 batting average and .850 OPS.

    But 27 homers (10 at home) from a guy playing his home games in Petco Park is pretty impressive. So is 102 RBI for a team that's 13th in the NL with 573 runs scored. 

5. David Wright, New York Mets

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    Last week: No. 5.

    With a .257 batting average and .583 OPS thus far in September, David Wright's narrow chances at winning the NL MVP Award may be slipping away for good. 

    Honestly, I thought Wright should be bumped from the list of top five candidates this week, but I didn't see anyone that should replace him. 

    Fans of Jay Bruce, Giancarlo Stanton and Chase Headley might be slapping their head at that last statement, but despite big home run and RBI numbers from those players, I still feel that Wright's overall body of work is better.

    We're talking about a player whose .312 batting average ranks among the NL's top five. His .400 on-base percentage is the third best in the league and his .895 OPS is the NL's seventh-highest mark.

    Wright is also the best defensive third baseman in the NL, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. He's saved more than 10 runs above the league average at his position.

    As the Mets continue to slide down the NL East standings and Wright himself struggles through the season's final weeks, perhaps he won't finish among the top five NL MVP candidates. But as of right now, I believe he still belongs in the discussion.

4. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Last week: No. 4.

    Those who feel Jay Bruce or Giancarlo Stanton deserve a place among the NL's top five MVP candidates could point to Matt Holliday's place on this list as a suitable slot. 

    Stanton has more home runs, along with a higher slugging percentage and OBP. But Holliday still has a higher batting average and on-base percentage. His higher RBI total is obviously a product of hitting in a stronger lineup and playing for a better team. 

    But as I said last week, I think there's something to be said for putting up big numbers under the pressure of a playoff race. Right now, the St. Louis Cardinals are fighting for their postseason lives, holding a slim one-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers and a 2.5-game margin over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL wild-card standings. 

    The Cardinals have a chance to create some space between them and the Dodgers with a four-game series at Chavez Ravine this week (Sept. 13-16). A strong performance from Holliday in that series could provide a nice boost to his candidacy for NL MVP. 

3. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Last week: No. 3.

    If we were to list the statistics from the top NL MVP candidates, without any mention of name or team record, I wonder if Ryan Braun would be the consensus pick for the award. 

    The Milwaukee Brewers left fielder leads the NL with a .980 OPS. (He's just one percentage point behind the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera for the major league lead.) His .595 slugging percentage ranks second in the league and his .309 batting average and .385 OBP both place him sixth among NL hitters. 

    Oh, and Braun leads the NL with 38 home runs. There's that too. He even ranks among the league's top 12 hitters in stolen bases with 23. 

    Now that the Brewers have reached .500 at 71-71 and are only four games away from an NL wild-card playoff spot, perhaps Braun will draw even stronger MVP consideration. He could certainly move up these rankings. 

    But then there's the nagging question of whether or not MVP voters will hold a grudge against Braun for last winter's PED-testing controversy.

    Though Braun's performance this season—which is exceeding his MVP-winning totals from a year ago—should erase any doubt as to whether he's a product of excess testosterone, a cloud still likely hangs over him among those who decide these individual awards. 

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Last week: No. 1.

    Andrew McCutchen might fit the true definition of Most Valuable Player this season.

    Just where would the Pittsburgh Pirates be this season without him batting third and patrolling center field? Would the Bucs be anywhere near playoff contention?

    With McCutchen in their lineup, Pittsburgh is 2.5 games away from the second wild-card spot in the NL. His .338 average is second in the league, eight points behind Melky Cabrera and an embarrassing batting title for the MLB record books. 

    McCutchen's .406 on-base percentage is also the second-best mark in the league, as is his .965 OPS. His .559 slugging percentage ranks third among NL batters. 

    His production has fallen off significantly during the final two months of the season, however. In August, McCutchen hit .252/.347/.346. He appeared to be turning himself around in September, but is sliding back down to Earth again. He currently has a .263/.364/.474 triple-slash average so far this month. 

    In his past six games since last week's rankings, McCutchen batted 3-for-21 (.143), though he did hit two home runs. 

    By virtue of him being the Pirates' only consistent offensive threat (Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones might disagree), McCutchen is going to win a lot of support from those who feel the "most valuable" aspect of the MVP Award is the one that needs to be taken most seriously. But is he the best hitter in the NL at this point? 

1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    Last week: No. 2.

    Buster Posey might be the only player ranked among our top five NL MVP candidates whose team will make the playoffs.

    However, that's not why he's taken the No. 1 spot in these rankings. With Andrew McCutchen's late-season slide, Posey is now putting up the best numbers in the league.

    During the second half of the season, the San Francisco Giants catcher is batting .393/.471/.660. His 1.131 OPS is the best in MLB since the All-Star break. 

    With a .332 average, Posey is right behind McCutchen and could overtake him in the NL batting race. (Could he catch disgraced teammate Melky Cabrera's .346 average while he's at it?) He currently leads the league with a .408 on-base percentage, and also ranks among the top five in the NL in slugging percentage (.541) and OPS (.949)

    And the 25-year-old is doing this while playing the most demanding position in baseball extremely well. Posey has only allowed one passed ball this season and his 24 wild pitches allowed are the second-lowest total among qualifying catchers. He's also thrown out 32 basestealers, tied for the most in MLB. 

    The Giants' successful season does nothing to hurt Posey's case for MVP either. With a six-game lead in the NL West, a spot in the postseason is all but assured. 

     

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