Who's the NL MVP?

Since the powers that be have decided to fill the playoffs with off days I thought we could start debating awards. Despite the capriciousness of the official voters I'm always interested in these. I have little inclination to try to predict the horserace or to engage in semantical arguments about value (although if that's your cup of tea, have at it).

This year there will be no Morneau-over-Jeter/Mauer for statheads to rally behind. The pool of candidates in the NL is very even and any could make a good choice. Whichever player you favor, another bests him some way.

I'm looking at what I consider to be the 10 leading candidates (with apologies to Jake Peavey). I've included their slash stats (AVG/OBP/SLG), OPS+ to give some indication of park factors, Runs Created and Value Over Replacement Player to account for playing time and positional adjustment, Win Shares (THT) and Wins Above Replacement Player (level 1) to tie it all together and Jinaz's +/- runs translations of the Hardball Times fielding data (that's DEF below. I wanted to included mgl's UZR, but I couldn't find the numbers for a couple players). I'll also mention stolen bases when relevant. The candidates in alphabetical order:

Miguel Cabrera
320/401/565 OPS+ 152 RC 135 VORP 71.4 DEF -10.8 WS 30 WARP 9.1

Cabrera turned in an awesome season. If he were a strong defender he would be poised to take this, but he's a first baseman in waiting. He's near the top of the advanced metrics, but there's no compelling reason to favor him over other candidates. Also his team sucked and the player to his immediate left on the infield steals some of his thunder.

Prince Fielder
288/395/618 OPS+ 157 RC 126 VORP 69.1 DEF -11.0 WS 28 WARP 6.9

Prince took a huge step forward this year, but he looks a little outclassed among this year's top seasons. His offensive production is below some on this list and he plays a bad first base. He's the Brewer candidate and a few weeks ago it looked like he might win. Given that Milwaukee missed the playoffs he'll probably get little love now.

Matt Holliday
340/405/607 OPS+ 151 RC 125 VORP 75.0 DEF +8.3 WS 30 WARP 10.1

By powering the Rockies run to the playoffs Holliday fits a nifty story angle, but he's a solid pick even without that. He's a good defender (that brutal play in the play-in game notwithstanding) and he was worth 7-10 wins for a team that needed them all. If you like batting average that .340 is mighty tasty.

Ryan Howard
268/392/584 OPS+ 145 RC 117 VORP 53.6 DEF -7.8 WS 26 WARP 6.4

The defending champ won't likely repeat. Howard missed some time this year and saw his rate stats drop. Like Fielder he's a statue at first. He still put up a very solid season, but there's probably two teammates ahead of him.

Chipper Jones
337/425/604 OPS+ 166 RC 117 VORP 76.0 DEF +13.3 WS 26 WARP 8.7
This one surprised me. I wouldn't have included Chipper until I saw him second on David Gassko's ballot. Turns out he led the league in OPS. He's still a good defender which might make him a better choice than fellow third baseman Cabrera. The Braves' continued fall from relevance likely hurts him.

Albert Pujols
327/429/568 OPS+ 158 RC 123 VORP 72.1 DEF +30.3 WS 32 WARP 11.3

How's this for a surprise? All we heard all year is that this is a down year for Pujols, but really look at him. He saves a ton of runs with his glove, even playing first. He leads the league in WARP. His slugging is down (hurting all the fantasy players who took him first) but that could be because of New Busch Field. The Cardinals fell from their lofty 83 wins of last year which likely removes him from the discussion. But take your favorite pick for NL MVP and really compare him to down-year Albert and your guy probably comes up short.

Hanley Ramirez
332/386/562 OPS+ 147 RC 127 VORP 89.5 DEF -22.0 WS 29 WARP 8.7 (51 SB 14 CS)

Hanley put up first baseman level offense as a shortstop, which is why he kills everyone in VORP. That's balanced out by his atrocious defense--he's the Derek Jeter of the NL. However unlike Jeter Hanley isn't on a winning team. If you don't mind his D he's a solid choice.

Jimmy Rollins
296/345/531 OPS+ 122 RC 122 VORP 66.1 DEF -3.0 WS 28 WARP 9.4 (41 SB 6 CS)

Rollins seems to be the choice for people who want to celebrate the Phillies overtaking the Mets. His offense isn't close to Hanley's, but his defense is better. Even with Chase Utley's missed time it's debatable who was more valuable to their team.

Chase Utley
332/410/566 OPS+ 147 RC 108 VORP 68.8 DEF +20.2 WS 28 WARP 9.6

If Utley hadn't broken his hand in July he wouldn't probably be tops. Despite only playing 132 games he might have outproduced Rollins. He puts up great offensive numbers while playing the best second base in the league (ok, maybe it's Brandon Phillips).

David Wright
325/416/546 OPS+ 152 RC 136 VORP 81.1 DEF +28.8 WS 34 WARP 11.2 (34 SB 5 CS)

Wright leads the league in Win Shares and Runs Created. He trails only the defensively challenged Hanley Ramirez in VORP. Pujols edges him in WARP by 0.1. He plays great defense. He steals bases at a fantastic rate. But the Mets collapse will likely cost him the award, even though Wright OPSed over 1000 during the September swoon. He's my choice.


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