2013 MLB MVP Award: Top 10 Candidates at the Quarter Mark

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2013

2013 MLB MVP Award: Top 10 Candidates at the Quarter Mark

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    The race for the MVP award doesn't really start until August, at the earliest, but it is always fun to see who the early-season contenders are. 

    A lot of things can and will change over the next five months, so it is best to take any awards favorites right now with a grain of salt. That said, we are not so stubborn that we can't at least acknowledge the quarter-season MVP winners in both the American and National Leagues. 

    For these rankings, we take a look at the most value that a player has added on the field. We don't look at team record or playoff status—two things that really shouldn't factor into any MVP race—but rely on good old-fashioned analysis of the numbers and what they are telling us. 

    We are going to rank, in ascending order, the top five candidates in both leagues. Starting with the American League and shifting to the National League, here are the players with a legit case to be made as the quarter-season MVP. 

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted

AL MVP Candidate No. 5: Baltimore Orioles 3B Manny Machado

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    G AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB K-BB WAR
     38  .331  .370  .521  54  14  1  5  24  4  26-10  2.4

     

    Everyone wants to put Manny Machado in the same company as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper because he debuted last season at the age of 20, but isn't it time we just let players be who they are going to be on their own?

    Who Machado is right now is really, really good. Even better than the most optimistic projections had him. Rare is it that a 20-year-old steps in and hits .331 with a slugging percentage over .500 and outstanding defense. 

    If Machado were still playing his natural position of shortstop at the level he currently plays the hot corner, he might be a little higher on this list because of positional value. But there is certainly nothing wrong with being No. 5 on an MVP ballot right now with 120 games left to play. 

    The sky is the limit for Machado, who is emerging as the next great young superstar at a point where there isn't a lot of room in that group. Sometimes elite talent just wins out, and Machado is definitely an elite player already. 

AL MVP Candidate No. 4: Texas Rangers SP Yu Darvish

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    GS W-L IP ERA H HR R ER BB K BAA WAR
     8  6-1  52.2  2.73  30  5  16  16  18  80  .163  1.5

     

    After being a dark-horse Cy Young contender last year, Yu Darvish has taken the leap to full-fledged ace this season. I know there is some reluctance to throw that word around until you prove it late in September or in the postseason, but we can make an exception when talent demands it. 

    Darvish has been nothing sort of brilliant in 2013. It started with his near-perfect game against Houston—admittedly, not the most difficult lineup--and has continued ever since. 

    To illustrate just how dominant Darvish has been, his 80 strikeouts are 14 more than the No. 2 pitcher in the AL (Anibal Sanchez), his 13.67 strikeouts per nine innings is more than two better than the second-place pitcher (Max Scherzer at 11.6), his xFIP of 2.16 is one-tenth of a point better than Sanchez. 

    Assuming Darvish keeps up his current pace, he will finish the season with 341 strikeouts in 222.2 innings pitched. That would be the most punchouts for a pitcher in a single season since Randy Johnson had 347 in 2002. 

AL MVP Candidate No. 3: Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria

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    G AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB K-BB WAR
     37  .333  .403  .610  47  10  1  9  26  0  31-16  2.2

     

    The only thing really holding Evan Longoria back from winning an MVP award—or at least being seriously in the discussion—has been injuries. He hasn't played more than 133 games in a season since 2010 and only broken the 150-game barrier twice in five years. 

    With a healthy Longoria in the middle of Tampa Bay's lineup, the former Rookie of the Year is up to his old tricks. In fact, when you factor in offense, defense and baserunning, he has a strong case to be made as the best third baseman in baseball. 

    Longoria currently ranks third in baseball in wRC+ (180) and seventh in in wOBA (.430). His defense has been predictably great, with two runs saved already and a UZR of 3.8 that factors out to 18.5 for 150 games. 

    Hopefully Longoria can maintain this current level of play, because he is a truly special talent that can be the centerpiece of a franchise when healthy. 

AL MVP Candidate No. 2: Detroit Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera

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    G AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB K-BB WAR
     36  .369  .441  .584  55  9  1  7  40  1  21-18  1.8

     

    First, how great have the third baseman in the American League been this season? In addition to the players we have already talked about, there is Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson and Kyle Seager all having very strong starts. 

    Now, on to the matter at hand. Cabrera has been, as hard as this is to believe, exactly what we figured he would be. He remains the best pure hitter in baseball, ranking second in the AL in average, first in on-base percentage and fifth in slugging percentage. 

    Cabrera also ranks second in the league in wOBA (.437) and fourth in wRC+ (178). But overall, he just misses the mark because he diminishes some of his value by being well below-average—or bad, to put it bluntly—defensively and doesn't contribute anything on the basepaths. 

    Through his first 36 games, Cabrera ranks second from the bottom among AL third baseman in UZR (-4.7) and defensive runs saved (-4). It is a part of the game that you have to acknowledge is not a strength for him, regardless of how good he is with the bat. 

    That's not a knock on Cabrera, because it is something we have known about him for years. But it does keep him just out of the top spot in the AL MVP rankings right now. 

AL MVP Candidate No. 1: Cleveland Indians C Carlos Santana

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    G AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB K-BB WAR
     32  .321  .421  .598  36  10  0  7  16  1  26-21  1.4

     

    Perhaps a surprise choice here, but Carlos Santana certainly has the numbers and performance so far this season to back up his MVP candidacy.  

    First, the fact that Santana has played 202.1 innings as a catcher with his offensive production immediately makes him a top-tier player in baseball. We are talking about Joe Mauer during his peak years in Minnesota with the bat. 

    Santana, while he has slowed down after getting off to a .380 start, ranks first in all of baseball with a 186 OPS+. His Isolated Power (ISO) of .277 is tied with Evan Longoria for ninth in baseball and ranks ahead of Prince Fielder (.267), Robinson Cano (.255) and well ahead of Miguel Cabrera (.215). 

    He also leads the AL in wRC+ (181) and is third in wOBA (.435). Anytime you have that level of production from a catcher, you are talking about a potentially special season. 

    Defense as a catcher is always hard to measure, but Santana has been only slightly below-average (-0.6). But the value added on offense and his ability to hold his own behind the plate is what puts him squarely in this race and, for now, at the top of it. 

NL MVP Candidate No. 5: New York Mets 3B David Wright

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    G AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB K-BB WAR
     35  .295  .412  .516  36  6  3  5  24  7  23-25  1.7

     

    Is it possible to fly under the radar in New York? Thanks to the Mets' inability to put a quality team around him, as well as the emergence of Matt Harvey in the starting rotation, David Wright has gotten overlooked a bit this season. 

    Make no mistake about it, though, Wright is far removed from the days when Citi Field gave him problems. He leads the league in triples with three, is an excellent baserunner and doesn't get enough credit of being able to steal bases. 

    Wright doesn't have the gaudy offensive stats that players like Justin Upton and Bryce Harper do, but he might be more valuable all-around than either one of them. His wOBA of .401 and wRC+ of 161 are outstanding, even though they rank just 10-20 range among all players right now. 

    But because Wright also adds value on the bases and with the glove, he deserves an honorable mention in the MVP race right now. 

NL MVP Candidate No. 4: Washington Nationals OF Bryce Harper

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    G AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB K-BB WAR
     35  .303  .400  .622  36  6  1  10  21  1  23-20  1.7

     

    It is one thing to be the most-hyped player in draft history. It is quite another to debut in the big leagues at 19, win Rookie of the Year and continue to show marked improvement at the age of 20. 

    Bryce Harper has somehow managed to make every glowing report written about him before he was drafted seem tame based on how well he has adjusted to the big leagues. He has also not learned that the warning track is there to prevent you from hitting the wall. 

    The patience and discipline Harper has shown, especially considering that he sees the fourth fewest fastballs of any hitter in the big leagues, is off the charts for a 20-year-old. But that doesn't tell us much about his MVP case. 

    What does is the fact that Harper's isolated power of .319 ranks second in the NL, third in wOBA (.428) and sixth in wRAA (12.7). Time will tell if he can maintain this current pace, but right now it is time to acknowledge that the hype for Harper might have been well worth it. 

NL MVP Candidate No. 3: Atlanta Braves OF Justin Upton

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    GAVGOBPSLGH2B3BHRRBISBK-BBWAR
     39 .285 .398 .635 39 7 1 13 23 3 42-26 2.2

     

     

    After his red-hot start to the season, Justin Upton has cooled off in May. He is hitting .256/.389/.419 this month, still getting on base at a very good rate but not contributing much in the power department, so he does get dinged a bit. 

    But to illustrate just how good Upton has been in Atlanta through the first six weeks of the season, all you need to know is that he has nearly tied his WAR total, per Baseball Reference, from last year when he played 150 games (2.3). 

    Upton was always a special talent and had shown flashes of becoming one of the best players in baseball in the past. He leads the National League with 13 home runs, a .635 slugging percentage and 87 total bases. His isolated power of .350 trails only Baltimore's Chris Davis for the major league lead. 

    Always a solid baserunner throughout his career, Upton has added 2.3 base runs (BsR) for the Braves already this season, good for fifth in the NL. Playing a different position, at least when Jason Heyward is healthy, he has been solid in left field with two defensive runs saved and a 2.3 UZR. 

    But clearly Upton's bat is his calling card right now, and he is using it extremely well. 

NL MVP Candidate No. 2: Milwaukee Brewers SS Jean Segura

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    G AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB K-BB WAR
     35  .368  .412  .588  50  6  3  6  16  13  19-10  2.3

     

    If I were to ask you who leads the National League in batting average, hits and stolen bases, how long would it take before you got to Milwaukee's Jean Segura?

    A well-regarded prospect coming through the Angels' system, Segura was part of the Zack Greinke trade last July and appears to be adjusting to playing shortstop—something not everyone assumed he could do—very well. 

    Segura has been incredible, ranking fifth in the NL in wOBA, fifth in wRC+, 18th in Base Runs and 22nd in isolated power. He is also second in Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement. 

    At shortstop, Segura has saved three runs and has a UZR of 0.8. Positional value count for a lot in these races, and other than catcher there is no position more difficult to find offense and get a quality glove at than shortstop. 

    Segura's solid performance with the glove and tremendous offensive prowess makes him the runner-up for NL MVP, just behind someone he knows quite well.

NL MVP Candidate No. 1: Milwaukee Brewers OF Carlos Gomez

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    G AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB K-BB WAR
     35  .367  .409  .633  47  10  3  6  17  8  27-6  2.7

     

    Carlos Gomez has been the best player in baseball for the first quarter of the season. It is a close race between the Brewers center fielder and the nine other players on this list—as well as a few others—but he stands out above the rest. 

    What is interesting about Gomez is that he has always had the talent to be a dynamic offensive player, but really struggled with his approach at the plate to reach that ceiling. His approach this year hasn't gotten dramatically better, though he is making much harder contact now than ever before. 

    And right now Gomez is up there with even the best power hitters in the game. His .633 slugging percentage ranks just behind Chris Davis and Justin Upton. He leads all of baseball with a .444 wOBA and 187 wRC+. 

    Oh yeah, Gomez is also the best defensive center fielder in baseball. He is tied with A.J. Pollock for the league lead with seven defensive runs saved, has a rRAR (Range Runs Above Average) of 6.6 and UZR of 5.6. 

    Even though the rest of the Brewers aren't doing much around them, Gomez and Segura have at least given the franchise something to hand their hat on this season.

     

    For more MVP debates, or anything else you want to talk about baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.