Since the MVP results were announced last Thursday, it seems all anyone wants to talk about is Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Didn’t we already go through all this last year? Trout’s the best player in baseball and should have won the award. Case closed.
What I found more surprising was that, over in in the National League, Yadier Molina finished in front of teammate Matt Carpenter. It was a foregone conclusion that Andrew McCutchen was going to walk away with the trophy, but Carpenter (and Paul Goldschmidt) were both legitimate candidates with compelling cases. Molina had a great year, too, but was he really more valuable than Carpenter?
I don’t think so. Matt Carpenter might have been the Most Valuable Player in the National League this year. He led all of baseball in runs scored (126), hits (199) and doubles (55) while batting .318/.392/.481. The Cardinal’s leadoff hitter for most of the season, Carpenter was an on-base machine at the top of the order and a big reason why St. Louis led the NL in runs scored this year.
Molina was a key cog in the Cardinals’ offense as well. He batted .319/.359/.477 while providing his typically stellar defense behind home plate. FanGraphs and BR both agree he was worth a bit more than five and a half wins above replacement this year. Matt Carpenter, on the other hand, was worth closer to seven. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s not an unsubstantial one either.
Since their offensive numbers are eerily similar (check those batting lines again), I suspect the difference in value is probably due to their discrepancies in games played. Molina played 136 games which is a good amount, especially for a catcher, but it also means he missed 26 games — about a month’s worth of time. Carpenter, who played 157 games, was out there almost every day.
That matters. Unless a player is so ridiculously productive on a per-game basis that you have to forgive time lost to injury (Mickey Mantle in 1962 is a perfect example of this) then playing time really should be a factor. It’s part of the criteria used to select MVPs because, unless you’re a crappy player, you can’t help the team by sitting on the bench.
So, with Matt Carpenter holding advantages in hitting, playing time and base running, the only way Molina comes out on top is if you give him a big boost for his contributions on defense. I’m more than comfortable giving Molina extra credit for not just handling catching duties, but for being probably the best defensive catcher in the game today (those six straight Gold Gloves speak for themselves). I’m just not sure the difference between he and Carpenter is all that great. After all, it’s not like Carpenter’s a first baseman or a corner outfielder. He primarily played second base, a premium position, and also spent some time at the hot corner. That kind of versatility — the ability to handle multiple tough-to-play positions — is special, too.
I’m not trying to take anything away from Molina here. He’s a tremendous player, one of the best, and is clearly worthy of serious MVP consideration. I had him eighth on my imaginary awards ballot, which in retrospect feels a bit too low. But I had Carpenter third and was debating whether he or Goldschmidt deserved to be runner-up behind McCutchen. I think if you asked people who was the most valuable player on the Cardinals this year, the majority would probably respond “Matt Carpenter.”
It’s close. Both are indispensable. But when push comes to shove, there’s no getting around the fact Matt Carpenter had the superior season.