Nov 14, 2013, 7:00 PM EDT
One of the great perks — and daunting responsibilities — of serving as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is the opportunity to vote on MLB’s major postseason awards. The BBWAA annually hands out four awards in each league: MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year, and I’m always proud to be able to participate in this exercise.
Especially in a year when there was a compelling race for National League MVP.
Sometimes, these things are no-brainers. Sometimes, they’re incredibly complicated. I’d suggest this year’s NL MVP race fell somewhere in between the two extremes. There was no singular, historic performance by any individual (aside, perhaps, from Clayton Kershaw, and I’ll get to him later on). But there were several really, really good seasons put forth by guys who to varying extents elevated their teams’ overall performance.
In the end, there appeared (at least in my mind) three obvious top candidates: Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina and Paul Goldschmidt. I could make a legitimate case for any one of them to win. And then there were a whole lot of other guys worthy of consideration for Top 10 votes.
Yes, voters are instructed to include 10 names on their MVP ballots, and sometimes those last few spots make for more difficult decisions than who should be listed No. 1.
Below is my entire ballot, plus a few more players who just missed the cut. But first, a quick refresher on the voting procedure, for those who don’t know…
Two writers from each local chapter of the BBWAA vote on each of the awards. Though occasionally a writer will vote on multiple awards in a given year, generally it’s limited to one award per writer. For chapters in which there are two clubs (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles-Anaheim, San Francisco-Oakland and Baltimore-Washington) there are twice as many voters, two for each award in each league. In other words, our local chapter has two writers voting for NL MVP and two different writers voting for AL MVP.
All ballots must be turned in before the start of the postseason. So, only regular season performances are taken into consideration.
Here are the specific guidelines given to each voter on the MVP ballot:
There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
As you can see, there’s a lot of wiggle room in there, especially when it comes to determining what makes a particular player more valuable than another. I won’t get into a full-on, old-school narratives vs. new-school stats argument here, except to say that I consider both sides when voting. Actual stats matter quite a bit, and in recent years we’ve been given outstanding new tools to measure a players’ complete performance and compare them with others. But I also still believe in the idea of intangible measurements, about the significance of a particular player to his particular team that goes beyond stats.
So with that, here is my 10-man ballot for NL MVP…
1. ANDREW McCUTCHEN, OF, Pirates
McCutchen really was the complete package this season. He hit for average (.317). He reached base (.404). He hit for power (64 extra-base hits, .508 slugging percentage). He ran the bases well (27 steals, 97 runs, took the extra base 64 percent of the time). He excelled in the field (11 outfield assists, ranked fourth in the NL in range). He was second in the league in WAR (8.2). He delivered down the stretch in a pennant race (hit .318 with a 1.001 OPS after the All-Star break). And he was the face of a Pirates franchise that not only snapped a record 20-season losing streak but also reached the postseason for the first time since Barry Bonds won Pittsburgh’s last MVP award. McCutchen meant so much to the Pirates, and that (to me) is the true definition of “valuable.”
2. YADIER MOLINA, C, Cardinals
Molina has the stats (.319 batting average, 80 RBI, yet another Gold Glove Award) but those who follow the Cardinals closely know his value goes well beyond those numbers. There’s no better catcher in baseball, and there are few players in baseball who mean more to their team than Molina. I would have had no problem with him being named MVP, but in my mind, McCutchen edged him out just a smidge.
3. PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT, 1B, Diamondbacks
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t get to see Goldschmidt play as much as others, and probably didn’t fully appreciate how good he was until season’s end. There’s nothing not to like about this guy. He led the NL in homers (36), RBI (125), slugging (.551) and OPS (.952). He won the Gold Glove at first base. He even stole 15 bases. For a .500 Arizona ballclub that unfortunately didn’t have as much at stake down the stretch as Pittsburgh and St. Louis did. That’s not to say I wouldn’t pick an MVP from a non-contender, if he was heads-and-shoulders better than everybody else in the league. Goldschmidt was right there alongside McCutchen and Molina, but I wouldn’t say he was overwhelmingly better than those two.
4. JOEY VOTTO, 1B, Reds
Gets on base at an astounding rate (.435) and in today’s game, there’s no more important skill. And he plays every day. I mean, every single day. Votto and Hunter Pence were the only guys in the NL to play in all 162 games, and he led the league with 726 plate appearances.
5. FREDDIE FREEMAN, 1B, Braves
Other members of Atlanta’s lineup may get more attention, but Freeman was their best all-around player this season. He hit .319 with a 396 OBP, drove in 109 runs and played a solid first base.
6. MATT CARPENTER, 2B, Cardinals
Carpenter truly had a remarkable season for St. Louis, leading the league in runs (126), hits (199) and doubles (55). That doubles total was especially impressive, because it was the third-most in Cardinals history, bested only by Joe Medwick in 1936 and 1937.
7. JAYSON WERTH, OF, Nationals
Had he only been healthy the entire season, Werth would have had a legitimate case for MVP. As it was, he still merited a spot in the Top 10 based on his .318/.398/.532 slash line, 25 homers and prolonged stretch in which he carried a Nationals lineup that struggled to score runs.
8. CARLOS GOMEZ, OF, Brewers
Twenty-four homers, 10 triples, 40 stolen bases and Gold Glove defense in center fielder left Gomez as the NL’s WAR champion (8.4). I have a hard time believing he actually was the league’s best player, especially on a terrible Milwaukee team, but there’s no questioning his superb year.
9. SHIN-SOO CHOO, OF, Reds
A .423 on-base percentage (second only to fellow Red Votto), combined with both power and speed out of the leadoff spot, made Choo one of the offseason’s best acquisitions.
10. HANLEY RAMIREZ, SS, Dodgers
Everyone raved about Yasiel Puig, and there’s no debating his significance to the Dodgers’ midseason turnaround. But guess what: Ramirez was even better. Had he accrued enough plate appearances to qualify, he would won the batting title (.345) and OPS title (1.040). He hit 20 homers and drove in 57 runs in only 86 games. And he somehow racked up a 5.4 WAR despite playing only slightly more than half a season.
So, who didn’t make the cut? Well, the next two guys on my ballot would have been Clayton Kershaw and Craig Kimbrel. It’s always a struggle trying to figure out how pitchers should be viewed in the MVP race, because it’s so difficult to compare them to position players who appear in so many more games.
Kershaw obviously had an historic season, worthy of a near-unanimous Cy Young Award vote. In the end, I couldn’t get over the fact that he appeared in only 34 of the Dodgers’ 162 games and that L.A. somehow only went 18-14 in those games. I know much of that was out of Kershaw’s control, we’re talking about the league’s MVP here. Kershaw was without a doubt the NL’s best pitcher in 2013. But was he one of the 10 most valuable players in the league? In my mind, he just missed that cut.
Kimbrel, too, had an absolutely dominant season for the Braves and was the NL’s best relief pitcher. But I was surprised to note that only 13 of his 50 saves came in 1-run games. And again, it’s hard to put a pitcher who appeared in fewer than one-half of his team’s games and threw only 4.6 percent of his team’s total innings among the top 10 most valuable players in the league.
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