NL MVP: The case for co-MVP
There are a lot of candidates being proposed for this year’s NL MVP, most of them deserving of mention in some way.
In Los Angeles, Yasiel Puig rejuvenated a team that was floundering to the point where its manager was thought to be weeks from replacement. Also in Los Angeles, Clayton Kershaw has gotten NL MVP mentions for his staggering season as the team’s ace (not to mention an unexpected source of hits). But two players, both centerpieces who anchor their teams offensively and defensively, have separated themselves from the rest of the pack: the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt.
The problem is, who to choose? While it’s only happened once, a co-MVP is not without precedent in Major League Baseball. I think this year should be the second time, and McCutchen and Goldschmidt should share the NL MVP. Let’s compare:
Both Andrew McCutchen and Paul Goldschmidt have had outstanding years on offense, despite bringing slightly different things to the table. Both are good, smart hitters who produce runs from the middle of the order, and both play for teams that have at times struggled to produce offense.
Their batting averages are comparable: McCutchen is batting .319 while Goldschmidt is batting .303. Goldschmidt’s power and run production numbers are more impressive–he’s got 102 runs scored, 36 homes runs and 124 RBI compared to McCutchen’s 95, 20 and 83, respectively–but Goldschmidt also plays for a team that scores more runs. The Diamondbacks are 13th in baseball in runs scored, 8th in batting average, 10th in on base percentage and 16th in slugging percentage, while the Pirates are 20th, 22nd, 18th and 19th respectively in those categories.
Of course, one could argue that these team scoring differences are partly due to Goldschmidt’s impact, but it can’t be ignored that runs scored and RBI are more team-dependent statistics (calm down, I’m far from sabremetrics-happy). One stat that’s less team-dependent is home runs, in which Goldschmidt has a sizable lead, but McCutchen has a sizable lead another such category: stolen bases, of which McCutchen has 27 and Goldschmidt 15. As for on-base percentage, get this: they’re tied at 404.
Both players have hit well late in games and contributed to winning rallies, and they’re close in game-winning RBI, Goldschmidt leading McCutchen 19 to 15. They’re even close in doubles and triples: Goldschmidt has 35 doubles and 3 triples, whereas McCutchen has a slight lead in both with 38 and 5. If you had to give an overall advantage to one player here, I’d say it’s a slight nod to Goldschmidt, with his gaudier power numbers and run production as well as a few more game-winning RBI (and a handful of walk-off home runs). But the NL MVP isn’t only about offense, is it?
Paul Goldschmidt is a very good defensive first baseman. He’s athletic and quick with the glove, has solid range, and picks throws from the infield very well. And I believe in the importance of a good defensive first baseman, however undervalued it might be by many. But Andrew McCutchen is an excellent defensive center fielder, with speed and improved range, who’s worked to address his deficiencies in the field after winning the Gold Glove in 2012. All things considered, center field might be the most important defensive position besides shortstop; though Goldschmidt and McCutchen are fairly comparable in terms of defensive prowess, McCutchen gets the nod here because he plays a more high-impact position. But again, as a guy who grew up watching Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly I’m not discounting the value of defense at first base!
All things considered, if you asked me which guy I’d want to build a team around, it would be hard to say. Both are excellent defenders at their position; center field and first base are both important positions, but the former is probably where defensive excellence is more essential. Goldschmidt has the edge in power and run production, and he’s faster than advertised, but McCutchen is a more prolific base-stealer, which puts pressure on the opposition. But either way, the NL MVP isn’t necessarily about who the best player is, so much as who the move valuable player is. Even in this regard, it’s hard to figure.
Paul Goldschmidt is, increasingly, the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks. But Andrew McCutchen has been the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates since they weren’t this good. This, combined with the the fact that he’s taken them from a laughing stock to their first playoff appearance in 20 years, would seem to give McCutchen the slight nod in this regard, especially since the Diamondbacks faded down the stretch and the Pirates locked in and are in playoff position. But then again, the Pirates also made major acquisitions down the stretch, trading for Justin Morneau, John Buck and Marlon Byrd…this might swing the argument back in favor of Goldschmidt, as it could be argued that the Diamondbacks are more dependent on him for their successes.
Some people tend to side with the candidate whose team made the playoffs; I don’t agree with this as a general policy, as playoff teams rarely do it on the strength of one player–especially in baseball. On the other hand, some people tend to go with the player who’s the best run producer, ignoring defense and intangibles; I disagree with this as a general policy, as well. Sometimes a player can rejuvenate a team on offense and defense, and be more deserving than even a Triple Crown winner…but I digress, as neither of those factors are at play here.
Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew McCutchen are too close to call in a variety of categories. One is a slightly better power hitter and run producer, the other plays a slightly more essential position defensively. One is, in a literal sense, probably more valuable to his team’s success, but the other has been the epicenter of his franchise for years, and is still the epicenter as they break a two-decade run of losing seasons and may win their division. If you were building a team around either guy, you couldn’t go wrong. And for the NL MVP, in my opinion, it’s a draw.