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2014 National League MVP: Prematurely Listing the Top 10 Candidates

Jasper SchererAnalyst IIDecember 3, 2016

2014 National League MVP: Prematurely Listing the Top 10 Candidates

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    With the candidates for the American League MVP Award essentially determined already (Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera), let’s turn our attention to the National League. The award is wide open this year with no clear favorite standing out.

    Who will claim 2014’s National League Most Valuable Player Award? You can be sure it will be one of these players.

     

    All statistics are courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com, unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Yasiel Puig

    The Cuban sensation burst onto the scene last year, batting .443 in his first 27 games in the majors. Unfortunately for Puig, MLB pitchers figured him out, and the Dodgers right fielder finished at .319 on the season.

    Despite the drop off, the potential that Puig showed upon his arrival means he must at least be considered as a threat to win the MVP Award in 2014.

    Voters are also now aware of Puig's value to his team. He sparked the Dodgers' playoff run as they went 66-38 in games in which Puig played, 26-32 without him.

    It might not be likely, but would you really be all that surprised if Yasiel Puig made an MVP run in 2014? Me neither.

     

    Craig Kimbrel

    Four relief pitchers in MLB history have won the MVP Award, and the last time it was done in the National League was in 1950.

    That means the odds are against Kimbrel. Yet, the Braves closer is undoubtedly the best in the business right now. He has led the NL in saves for three consecutive years, and his ERA of 1.21 last year was a downgrade from his minuscule 1.01 total in 2012.

    Kimbrel also finished 11th in voting for the MVP Award last year, which came after he finished eighth in 2012. He will need to post a sub-one ERA and challenge (or even break) the all-time saves record to even be considered for the award, but playing for the likely NL East-champion Braves only helps his chances.

    Even so, it will take a miracle for Kimbrel to win the MVP Award.

     

    Buster Posey

    The 2012 NL MVP had a tough year in 2013 with his offensive numbers falling across the board.

    Looking ahead to 2014, however, Posey has a couple of advantages over some other candidates. His position as a catcher gives him extra value as his responsibility for handling the pitching staff means he controls much more of his team's fate than any other position player.

    Also, the Giants' pitching staff was a disaster in 2013. You can bet that if they rebound in 2014, a strong possibility with the addition of Tim Hudson and the loss of Barry Zito, Posey will get a great deal of credit.

    Don't forget, Posey is also still a fantastic hitter. He is prone to going on hot streaks at any time, as his second-half performance in 2012 indicated. If Posey can rebound offensively in 2014 and help the Giants contend for the NL West, he must be considered for the MVP Award.

10. Clayton Kershaw

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Kershaw was in the running for the MVP Award in 2013 until he fell off a bit near the end. That is not to take away from his incredible campaign, however, as he easily won the Cy Young Award and led all MLB pitchers in ERA, WHIP and WAR. However, the Dodgers ace will have to repeat his 2013 performance and then some to be considered for the award again. (He finished seventh in voting in 2013.)

    While Kershaw's numbers from 2014 could certainly end up matching those of 2013, it seems unlikely. Kershaw's 1.83 ERA was 45 points below his previous career low of 2.28, and it was also the lowest in the National League since Greg Maddux's 1.63 ERA in 1995.

    In short, years like Kershaw in 2013 don't come around too often. If anyone could repeat a near record-setting performance, however, Kershaw is the guy.

    There is also the potential pitfall that Kershaw might not be considered the MVP of his own team. If any one of the Dodgers' top batters (Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, etc.) has a big year, Kershaw's MVP case could be overshadowed by that of a teammate,  especially given that batters obviously have an advantage in the MVP race.

9. Freddie Freeman

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Freeman finished fifth in voting last year, and he would be higher on this list if he had a bit more experience under his belt. Predicting Freeman's performance next year is a bit of a mystery. The Braves first baseman batted .319 last year, but that was by far the highest total of his three-year career, having hit .259 in 2012.

    Even so, Freeman proved that he is now an elite player. He can hit with some pop (23 home runs), and he has a good eye at the plate (.396 OBP, sixth in the NL).

    Freeman also plays on the Atlanta Braves, the favorites to repeat as NL East champions. Playing on a playoff-caliber team is, of course, a huge advantage in the MVP race, and if Freeman can improve slightly on his 2013 campaign, he will enter the discussion for the award once again.

8. Hanley Ramirez

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The key for Hanley will be staying healthy. After his monster performance (1.040 OPS, 20 home runs in just 86 games) in 2013, we know what he can do when he is healthy.

    Or do we? There is no debating that Ramirez went off in his limited playing time, but can he repeat the performance in 2014? Hanley had a mediocre seasons in 2012 and 2011, batting .257 and .243 in those years, respectively. His last good full season came in 2010, and his last full MVP caliber season came in 2009.

    Even so, Hanley has shown what he is capable of. He can steal bases on two good legs, and he can hit for power and average. The key word for Ramirez is potential. Whether he can accomplish what he is capable of remains to be seen.

7. David Wright

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    If Wright can help the Mets make any type of run during the 2014 season, he should factor into the MVP discussion. However, considering the team lost 88 games last year and will play 2014 in the absence of ace Matt Harvey, that is a very big "if."

    Even so, Wright is still one of the best batters in the league. He has eclipsed a .300 batting average in all but two of his nine MLB seasons, excluding his 69-game 2004 season.

    Aside from his proficiency at the plate, Wright is no slouch with the glove either. Furthermore, he has never failed to reach 15 stolen bases in all of his full seasons.

    Also promising for Wright is the resurgence of his pop last year. In a season cut short due to injuries, Wright hit 18 home runs in only 430 at-bats. That translated to his highest slugging percentage since 2008.

    Wright also finished sixth in the National League in WAR last season, an incredible feat considering he only played in 112 games.

    The only factor holding Wright back in 2014 is his team. If he can help them make an improbable playoff run, he will factor into the MVP discussion.

6. Matt Carpenter

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    David Welker/Getty Images

    Carpenter came out of virtual anonymity last year to lead the Cardinals to the World Series. He led the majors in runs, hits and doubles while batting out of the leadoff spot for the NL champs. In addition, Carpenter slugged a respectable (but perhaps not MVP-worthy) .481 while drawing 72 walks, ninth in the league.

    In addition to continued offensive production, we should see a major improvement in Carpenter's defense this year. He played second base last season out of necessity as the Cardinals badly needed a second baseman. Now, with David Freese gone, Carpenter can move back to third base, his natural position.

    Unfortunately, Carpenter's lack of power (11 home runs) hurts his MVP candidacy as voters tend to favor hitters with power. But, Carpenter is the dark horse to win the award, especially if some of the favored candidates underperform.

5. Carlos Gonzalez

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Don't forget; Gonzalez was a legitimate MVP contender before he went down due to injury last year. Like Wright, however, Gonzalez's candidacy is hurt because he plays on a non-contending team. He also has the added benefit of playing half of his games at Coors Field, a hitter's paradise; voters will not overlook that fact.

    Despite his shortened season last year, Gonzalez managed to pick up his second consecutive Gold Glove Award, his third in four seasons.

    Also, in case you forgot, Gonzalez contended for the MVP Award in 2010. He led the league in average (.336), hits (197) and total bases (351) that year, finishing third in voting.

    Injuries have prevented him from reaching that level of production since; he has yet to play in more than 135 games since 2010. However, when healthy, Gonzalez is one of the best all-around players in the league.

    CarGo is undoubtedly a five-tool player. He hits for average (.300 career BA) and power (18.3 at-bats per home run from 2010-2013), steals bases (at least 20 steals from 2010-2013) and fields his position, as indicated by his three Gold Gloves.

    The two questions looming are whether Gonzalez can remain healthy and whether his current situation (playing in a hitter's ballpark on a non-playoff team) will be too much to overcome.

4. Yadier Molina

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    It's hard to believe that Molina will repeat last year's performance, when he set career highs in batting average, RBI, hits, runs and doubles. However, if he can produce like last year, he will by all means be a serious candidate for the MVP Award once again.

    Molina was actually hitting around .350 before he fell off a bit as the season wore on. There is no doubt that can be partially attributed to the wear and tear that comes with playing catcher, but Molina's position should actually prove to be an advantage come voting time.

    For the better half of last season, voters had it drilled into their heads that Molina was a worthy MVP candidate because of his duties handling the Cardinals' top-notch pitching staff. In addition, he is widely considered the best defensive catcher in baseball with his six consecutive Gold Glove awards.

    Therefore, Molina's candidacy is contingent upon his ability to successfully help the Cardinals pitchers and maintain his defensive dominance, on top of continuing his offensive production. It will take a lot for Molina to surpass some of the other MVP candidates who produce more impressive offensive numbers. However, if the Cardinals again make a playoff run in 2014, Molina will surely be in the mix for the award once again.

3. Paul Goldschmidt

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Goldschmidt would have had a strong case to win the MVP Award last season had his team made the playoffs, but he had to settle for second place in the voting.

    Goldy led the National League in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS. He also finished fourth in OBP and won the Gold Glove award at first base.

    Goldschmidt's lack of experience prevents him from ranking higher than third on the list as there is always the potential for a drop off from an inexperienced player. The Diamondbacks also have little chance of reaching the postseason with such a crowded contingent of teams vying for the playoff spots.

    The positive side of this is that, if Goldschmidt can lead Arizona to the playoffs, it will be hard to ignore his case for the award.

2. Andrew McCutchen

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    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    McCutchen won the NL MVP award last year, and that was after compiling worse numbers than he had the previous year.

    Throughout the past two years, McCutchen has established himself as the best outfielder in baseball not named Mike Trout. He is the complete package; he hits for average (.322 BA during the past two years) and power (52 homers during that span), steals bases (125 steals in five career seasons) and fields his position better than almost anyone (2012 Gold Glove winner).

    McCutchen does not post astronomical numbers as his 21 home runs and 84 RBI were very atypical of an MVP winner. He also has reached double-digit caught stealing totals in each of the past four seasons.

    But, that's just nitpicking. McCutchen is a five-tool player, and there is little reason to doubt his chances of repeating as the award winner in 2014.

1. Joey Votto

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    This will be the year for Votto. One of the most consistent players in baseball for the past five years, few players in the league can reach base quite like the Reds’ first baseman. In fact, nobody can as he has ranked in the top-five in on-base percentage in each of the past five years with the exception of 2012, when his .474 OBP would have led everyone by far had he qualified.

    He has also led the league in OBP in three of the past four years. The fact that Votto had a bit of an off-year in 2013 yet still managed to finish fifth in the NL in WAR speaks volumes about his true potential.

    Votto also has power, and he will likely have to prove that to win the MVP award. He hit 66 combined home runs in 2010 (in which he won the NL MVP) and 2011 but hit only 24 in 2013. The incredible rate at which Votto walks inevitably takes away a great deal of his at-bats (and thus chances to hit home runs), but much of his value centers around his ability to reach base anyway.

    In addition, Votto will have to prove he can lead the Reds past the Cardinals and the Pirates in the NL Central. This is a very legitimate possibility, with the Reds returning essentially their same lineup minus Shin-Soo Choo. Speedster Billy Hamilton figures to start in center field, and Tony Cingrani (7-4, 2.92 ERA) should pitch for the entire season. The Reds are set to make a run for the NL Central, and Votto will lead the way.

     

    Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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