Stating the Case for Each Top 2013 MLB MVP Candidate
MLB award talk is heating up here with just a few weeks remaining in the 2013 regular season, and this year's crop of MVP candidates in both leagues should bring about some good debate once again.
In the American League, it looks like we're headed for a repeat of last season with a two-horse race between Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
Things are much more wide open in the National League, and who wins the NL Central could play a big role in the voting. St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen are all in the running. Joining them are first baseman Freddie Freeman of the Braves Atlanta and Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. This should make for an interesting race over the final month.
With those eight candidates laid out as the current top choices for MVP consideration, here is the case for each of them to walk away with the award when all is said and done.
Why Chris Davis Is Not a Top AL MVP Candidate
Notably absent from the players I listed in the introduction is Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who leads all of baseball with 48 home runs and has posted a 1.031 OPS as perhaps the biggest breakout star of the 2013 season.
Davis' exclusion from this list is by no means a knock on the season he is having or how valuable he has been in the middle of the lineup for an Orioles team still vying for a wild card spot.
Instead, it's simply a matter of taking a realistic look at what the voters might be thinking when filling out their ballots.
The debate last season was between traditional counting stats and sabermetrics, with Miguel Cabrera claiming the Triple Crown in the AL but Mike Trout leading all of baseball in WAR. That will be the argument once again this season.
For those arguing for traditional stats, Cabrera bests Davis statistically across the board outside of home runs, where he trails him by five. Anyone who would be compelled to vote for Davis based on his counting stats really has no reason not to vote for Cabrera instead. The other side of the vote will once again side with Trout, who is again leading all of baseball in WAR.
As a result, I expect Davis to come away with zero first-place votes, taking him off the list of legitimate MVP candidates in my mind. He's had a great season and is a safe bet to finish third in voting, but he has no real chance of winning the award.
AL MVP Candidate: CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
137 G, .338/.435/.573, 68 XBH (23 HR), 84 RBI, 96 R, 32 SB
Case for AL MVP
After turning in perhaps the greatest rookie season in baseball history and leading all of baseball in WAR, Mike Trout finished a distant second to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in AL MVP voting, receiving six first-place votes to his 22.
As good as his 2012 season was, Trout's triple-slash of .338/.435/.573 is higher across the board than the .326/.399/.564 marks he put up last year, as he may actually be getting better, a scary proposition for AL pitchers.
With a 1.008 OPS as of now, he is on pace to become just the ninth player in baseball history to post an OPS over 1.000 in his age-21 season, meaning he was 21 as of June 30. He would join Ted Williams (twice), Mel Ott (twice), Jimmie Foxx, Alex Rodriguez, Eddie Mathews and Albert Pujols. Pretty good company.
He's the best power-speed threat in the game, plays fantastic defense and may be the most dynamic active player. In the end, however, he plays for a team that will be watching the playoffs from home and he's once again pitted against the best hitter on the planet.
AL MVP Candidate: 3B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
130 G, .356/.449/.673, 69 XBH (43 HR), 133 RBI, 96 R
Case for AL MVP
Miguel Cabrera made history last season when he became the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and he beat out Mike Trout for AL MVP honors by a sizable margin as a result.
His current .356/.449/.673 line is currently better across the board than last season, and he leads the AL in all three categories as well as runs (96) and RBI (133).
He trails Chris Davis by five home runs for a chance at becoming the first back-to-back Triple Crown winner ever. But even if he doesn't get there, a third straight batting title with a career-high .356 average makes for an impressive season.
Two more home runs and seven more RBI will give him career bests in both categories, which is saying something given the career that Cabrera has put together to this point. That at least cancels out the argument that Trout has put up better numbers this season than he did last year.
When it comes down to it, Trout is the better all-around player and brings more value to his team from a statistical standpoint as a result. However, Cabrera is the best hitter in the game and a deserving candidate. I think it will be a little closer vote this time around, but Cabrera will take home AL MVP honors once again.
NL MVP Candidate: 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
127 G, .307/.383/.483, 45 XBH (19 HR), 96 RBI, 73 R
Case for NL MVP
The Braves handed Freddie Freeman the everyday first base job as a 21-year-old in 2011, and after posting a .795 OPS in his first season and a .796 OPS last year, he has taken his offensive game up a notch this year.
His .866 OPS this season ranks ninth in the National League, and he is fourth in RBI behind only Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Phillips and Allen Craig.
The Braves offense has been streaky all season and dealt with a good deal of injuries as well, but Freeman has been a steadying force in the middle of the lineup throughout the year.
Despite their inconsistency at times, the Braves still have the best record in the National League, and if one person can be pointed to as their most valuable, it is undoubtedly Freeman.
Being the most valuable player on the league's top team is enough to make Freeman a legitimate candidate, albeit the dark horse of this NL group.
NL MVP Candidate: 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
143 G, .305/.432/.498, 53 XBH (22 HR), 66 RBI, 92 R
Case for NL MVP
While they have been chasing the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates for most of the season, the Reds are still very much in the running for the NL Central title, and they look like a lock to make the playoffs.
Their offense has been among the best in the National League all season, and at the center of it all has once again been star first baseman Joey Votto.
The 29-year-old currently leads the NL with a .432 on-base percentage, a category he has led the league in three of the past four seasons, and he has done that on the strength of a career-high 116 walks.
He doesn't have prototypical first baseman power, and he has been criticized at times for being overly patient at the plate. But in a lineup that also features sluggers Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips among others, his on-base skills have been invaluable to the team.
Knee surgery cut into his second-half production last year, or he may have taken home MVP honors then. He's managed to stay healthy this season and is the superstar face of a legitimate title contender.
NL MVP Candidate: C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
118 G, .323/.362/.486, 50 XBH (11 HR), 64 RBI, 59 R
Case for NL MVP
He may not have the eye-popping numbers of the other candidates on this list, but there may be no player in baseball who means more to the success of his team than Yadier Molina.
He's the premier defensive catcher in the game and has done a fantastic job handling a Cardinals pitching staff that has had to deal with the losses of Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia in the rotation and a very young and inexperienced group in the bullpen.
Always an elite defender, Molina has stepped his offensive game up since 2011, and as a result, has become the best all-around backstop in the game.
He's currently third in the NL batting title race, trailing Chris Johnson (.330) and Michael Cuddyer (.328) after finishing fourth last season with a career-high .315 average.
He missed some time due to injury, which hurt his stock a bit but also helped demonstrate how much he means to the Cardinals. They went just 6-8 during his time on the DL despite the fact that they were 20 games over .500 at the time of the injury.
NL MVP Candidate: 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
139 G, .294/.398/.537, 62 XBH (31 HR), 107 RBI, 90 R, 13 SB
Case for NL MVP
It seems that every year, there is an MVP candidate who has the numbers to contend for the award but finds himself playing on a non-playoff team and sees his candidacy take a hit as a result. This year, that player is Paul Goldschmidt.
An everyday player for the first time last season, the 25-year-old posted an .850 OPS with 20 home runs and 18 steals, and he was expected to take the next step at the plate this season. He's done that and then some to this point.
He currently leads the NL in OPS (.934) and RBI (107) and trails Pedro Alvarez by one in the home run race. His 10 second-half home runs trails only Jayson Werth, as he's continued to be a driving force in the middle of the Diamondbacks lineup.
Allen Craig and Joey Votto have been great, and Adrian Gonzalez remains a consistent producer, but it's hard to argue against Goldschmidt being the best first baseman in the National League this season.
For what it's worth, the Diamondbacks have not been terrible, sitting at 72-69 on the year. That won't be enough for them to be suiting up in October, though, and that will be a big strike against Goldschmidt when voting rolls around.
NL MVP Candidate: SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
29 GS, 14-8, 1.89 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 201 K, 209 IP
Case for NL MVP
Since Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley captured AL MVP honors while pitching for the A's in 1992, only one other pitcher has won the MVP award, with Justin Verlander hoisting the trophy in 2011 when he went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts.
The drought for the next pitcher to win the award may not be nearly as long, as Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has an awfully strong case for the award this year.
His 14-8 record is certainly not the most impressive in the league, but his 1.89 ERA and the fact that opponents are hitting just .195 against him speaks to just how dominant he's been.
He was snubbed for NL Cy Young honors last season despite leading the NL in ERA for the second straight year, and while he looks like a lock to take home that award this season, he's in a position to take home both in a wide-open NL race.
The 25-year-old left-hander has gone 6-2 with a 1.70 ERA in nine starts since the break, and the two closest pitchers to him in ERA are Jose Fernandez (2.23 ERA) and Matt Harvey (2.27), both of whom will see their seasons end well short of 200 innings. The fact that he is so far ahead of every other pitcher in the game right now, much like Verlander was in 2011, makes his case a strong one.
NL MVP Candidate: CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
138 G, .322/.402/.514, 58 XBH (19 HR), 76 RBI, 87 R, 27 SB
Case for NL MVP
The NL leader in WAR according to both Baseball Reference (7.2) and FanGraphs (7.1), Andrew McCutchen certainly looks like the front-runner for the sabermetrics crowd, but he's had a great season no matter what numbers you look at.
After single-handedly keeping the Pirates offense afloat in the first half last year and entering the break as the favorite for NL MVP, McCutchen fell off in the second half and wound up finishing third in the voting behind Buster Posey and Ryan Braun.
This season has been a different story entirely, as he's been an absolute beast in the second half, hitting .360/.449/.600 with nine home runs and 27 RBI. He's no doubt had more support around him this year, and that has helped him emerge as arguably the best hitter in the NL right now.
Winning the NL Central title would certainly help his case, but with all five tools very much on display this season and the Pirates finally breaking through with a winning campaign, he has to be considered the favorite at this point.
Clayton Kershaw has been great, but when all is said and done, McCutchen is my pick for NL MVP as he looks to lead the Pirates into uncharted October territory.
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