(BaseballStL) – As baseball speeds wildly toward a nailbiting and ever-changing conclusion, fans have taken to the diversion of the NL MVP debate.
Cardinal supporters see two MVP candidates on the roster in Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter, Dodgers fans cry Clayton Kershaw and the Steel City contingent sees a runaway win for Andrew McCutchen.
There’s a few other candidates getting serious looks in Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, but the final horses will likely be Kershaw, McCutchen and a Cardinal.
For the mental sake of Redbird Nation, I am making a proclamation: Andrew McCutchen is going to win the NL MVP, and everyone should be ok with that.
Matt Carpenter has had a tremendous year as a converted second baseman and superb (if unorthodox) leadoff man. Molina has once again asserted himself as the best catcher in the league. They are both instrumental to the team, but the fact that they compete for votes says more than any stats ever could (we’ll get to this in a moment).
Clayton Kershaw, all but assured the NL Cy Young, has had an unbelievably dominant season on the mound. But for all his supremacy at his position, one could make the case he is not the most valuable player.
Much has been made of Kershaw’s miniscule ERA, and it has led the Dodgers to an MLB-best 3.11. Plugging in a league-average pitcher with an ERA of 4.04, instead of Kershaw’s 1.94, takes the team ERA up to a staggering… 3.6.
It wouldn’t even knock them out of the top 10. Removing his two shutouts would still put them tied for first with 17.
He is no doubt instrumental to the team’s success, proven by his pitching WAR of 7.1. There are plenty of in-depth stats that make the case for The Claw as the best hurler in baseball. But in the context of how valuable he is to the Dodgers, the success of the rest of the rotation makes his argument a bit tougher.
His absence would not decimate their fortunes as thoroughly as McCutchen’s would those of the Pirates.
McCutchen has a WAR of 7.9, first in the NL, and second only to Mike Trout in the MLB. You take those eight wins away and the Pirates are 79-73. They’re 10 games back of first and two games back of the Nationals for the second wild card spot.
Worse still, they have an outside chance of finishing under .500 for yet another year. Taking Kershaw’s seven wins away keeps the Dodgers 2.5 wins ahead of the Diamondbacks in the NL West.
McCutchen has had a monster second half, posting a .367/.457/.609 slash line. He’s in the top four in the NL in all three categories on the year.
He’s created 120 runs, for an average of 8.2 runs created per 27 outs. There is, in my opinion, no other player as instrumental to his team’s success.
Molina and Carpenter are both MVP caliber statistically, but they will undoubtedly cannibalize each other’s votes and prompt a fair question: If there’s a debate as to whether or not you are the most valuable guy on your team, then how can you be the most valuable guy in the league?
Simply put, if Cardinal fans can’t decide which player is the most important, then neither of them are clear-cut NL MVP candidates.
Add the fact that the Pirates are not only shedding their two-decade blanket of futility, but are a lock for a playoff spot and chasing a possible division title, and McCutchen will have more exposure than any other candidate.
Whether narrative should factor into MVP voting is moot. It almost always does, and the Dread Pirate has the best storyline in the game.
He’s young, energetic, a leader in the clubhouse, and single-handedly carrying the Bucs from the cellar to the penthouse.
The NL Central is giving fans one of the most intruiging races in recent history and that’s because the Pirates are a factor again. The reason they refuse to go away, despite a .525 winning percentage since the break, is because Andrew McCutchen is having the best all-around second half in the league.
Sounds pretty compelling doesn’t it? McCutchen is firmly in command of the MVP race, and he deserves it both objectively and on narrative. If nothing else comes of the Pirates’ first season back among the baseball living, the league should recognize how important their young star has been to their resurrection.