The MVP race in the American League has fans, reporters and analysts drawing lines in the sand over the meaning of "valuable" as determined by traditional numbers versus advanced metrics.
With the National League, there is no such debate in the MVP race. That's not to say there weren't other strong contenders, however.
Ryan Braun had an excellent season for the Milwaukee Brewers, leading the NL with 41 home runs and finishing second with 112 RBI. Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen ranked in the league's Top Three in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.
However, Buster Posey was clearly the NL's Most Valuable Player this year, providing his team with more value than any of the other top players in the league.
First of all, there are the offensive numbers. Posey led MLB with a .336 batting average. His .408 on-base percentage was the best in the NL. He also finished among the league's Top Three with a .549 slugging mark and .957 OPS.
With 24 home runs and 103 RBI, Posey led the San Francisco Giants in both of those categories. (Hunter Pence had 24 homers and 104 RBI, but accumulated seven home runs and 45 RBI with the Giants after being acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies.)
As a catcher, Posey also plays the most demanding position in baseball.
The first job of a catcher is to guide the pitching staff. He guides one of the best, led by Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. (Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito preferred Hector Sanchez behind the plate, however. You can't please everyone.)
A catcher's second responsibility is to play good defense behind the plate, blocking pitches in the dirt and controlling opposing runners on the basepaths. Posey allowed two passed balls, the fewest in MLB this season. Only one other catcher allowed fewer than his 26 wild pitches.
Posey threw out 30 percent of opposing base-stealers. That doesn't look terribly impressive, compared to someone like the St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina who gunned down 48 percent.
But consider that 87 stolen bases were attempted against Posey, as Giants pitchers don't hold runners very well. He threw out 38 opposing base-stealers, more than any other catcher.
If there was any doubt as to how grueling it is to play catcher, Posey provided us with a chilling example last year when he was knocked out for the season in a collision at home plate. He was performing yet another job of a catcher: Block the plate and prevent a run from scoring.
Posey suffered a broken leg and three torn ligaments in his ankle, one of the more gruesome injuries baseball has seen in recent seasons.
The play compelled arguments over whether runners should be allowed to run into catchers or catchers should be prohibited from blocking the plate. Posey's future at the position was questioned. Should he move to first base for the sake of his career?
With Posey's return this season, Giants pitchers had a steady hand and strong leader behind the plate again. The lineup had its cleanup hitter back, someone who may not be a classic slugger but is the team's most consistent power hitter.
Actually, Posey might hit 30 home runs if he didn't play his home games at AT&T Park. The Giants' ballpark is the most pitcher-friendly park in the NL, according to ESPN.com's park factors. It's the most difficult park to hit a home run (though San Francisco's excellent pitching might play a role in that). As could be expected, Posey hit 17 of his 24 home runs on the road this year.
But the Giants' performance this season speaks to how important Posey's presence is.
San Francisco won the NL West by eight games, overcoming and then staving off the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers. Posey got even better in the second half of the season, when more was at stake as the Giants made a run at a division title and postseason berth.
After the All-Star break, Posey had a triple-slash line of .385/.456/.646. His 1.102 OPS was the highest in MLB during the second half. When the Giants won, Posey had a .375 average with a 1.082 OPS, 17 home runs and 72 RBI.
That sounds pretty valuable, doesn't it?
Posey was the best player on the best team in the NL. The Giants finished behind the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds for the best record in the league, but of the five NL MVP finalists, Yadier Molina was the only other one who played for a playoff team.
A team's performance isn't supposed to matter in MVP voting. But it clearly does with the balloters. It especially matters for Posey, as the Giants are obviously a better team because of him. (The fact that San Francisco went on to win the World Series is even further affirmation, but the postseason isn't a factor in voting for the award.)
This is the definition of "most valuable." Nobody else fulfilled the objective and subjective criteria better this season. Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference rated Posey as the best player in the NL based on wins above replacement.
Posey embodied the spirit and intent of the NL MVP award in 2012. There was no other choice to make.
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