With one month of the 2012 regular season left things have gotten absolutely chaotic in the chase for the NL MVP award. The frontrunner for the award has fluctuated throughout the 2012 season, so much so that baseball fans might feel like they’re riding a roller coaster due to all the ups and downs on the leader board. First up was Joey Votto, who was in the midst of a potentially historic season before succumbing to an injury that’s had him riding the pine since mid-July. Next up was Andrew McCutchen who, much like his team, has been mired in a nasty slump of late. The Pirate centerfielder is hitting just .245/.324/.316 with 1 homer, 4 doubles, and 13 RBI in his last 111 plate appearances (28 games). He’s firmly entrenched in this race however, because even with the slump McCutchen still leads all NL hitters in OPS+, runs scored, and hits. But his struggles of late have opened the door to a new crop of potential MVP candidates, all of whom boast strong numbers and nearly every player is on a competitive team. Let’s take a look at the field of candidates and break down their odds of taking home the hardware at the end of the season. Bold numbers indicate the player leads the league in the statistic
Andrew McCutchen- .341/.405/.559, 164 OPS+, 24 HR, 80 RBI, 91 runs, 168 hits, 6.4 oWAR, 5.8 WAR, 16/27 in steals
As I mentioned above, the Pirates have struggled over the last month, going just 11-19 since the calender turned to August, while sliding behind Atlanta, St. Louis, and Los Angeles in the race for a Wild Card spot. The pitching staff has begun to falter a little bit and McCutchen in particular is starting to look a little worn down from carry the Pirates offense this season. Even with the slump, He still ranks in the top-3 in the NL in most major offensive categories, and his defense has been markedly above average as well, due to his excellent speed and his 9 assists from centerfield. And if you decide to focus on a player’s value to his specific team, it’s pretty easy to argue that McCutchen has the weakest supporting cast for any player on this list, and since the Pirates have been competitive for the first time in forever, that argument is in play as well.
Andrew McCutchen’s chances of winning the MVP award: 35%
Ryan Braun – .311/.388/.605, 162 OPS+, 37 HR, 96 RBI, 90 runs, 150 hits, 4.8 oWAR, 5.8 WAR, 22/28 in steals
To put it bluntly, Braun has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning back-to-back MVP awards. The BBWAA isn’t going to award the left fielder the MVP, even if he improbably leads Milwaukee back to the postseason while hitting over .500 with 10 homers. They just won’t give the award away to a player who nearly missed 50 games this year to an elevated level of testosterone. It’s kind of a shame too, because Braun has been tearing it up of late, hitting .348 over the last 2 weeks (12 games) with 4 homers, 5 doubles, and 12 RBI.
Ryan Braun’s chances of winning the MVP award: 1%
Buster Posey – .330/.405/.533, 166 OPS+, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 62 runs, 142 hits, 5.5 oWAR, 5.0 WAR, 1/2 in steals
By becoming the hottest hitter on the planet since the All-Star break, Buster Posey has kept the Giants rolling since the loss of Melky Cabrera. His numbers since the break: .396/.476/.654 with 9 homers and 42 RBI. Posey also gets extra credit for playing a premium defensive position in 96 of his 122 games played, although his catching skills are slightly below average for a Major League backstop. If he continues on this torrid pace, Posey will be very, very difficult to beat out for the MVP award. Buster plays an important position on a division-leading ball club, his production has improved when the Giants needed it most, and quite frankly he’s turning into a dominant offensive force behind the dish, putting up numbers that are unobtainable for most Major League catcher’s in baseball history.
Buster Posey’s chances for winning the MVP award: 40%
Yadier Molina – .322/.372/.504, 137 OPS+, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 52 runs, 136 hits, 3.9 oWAR, 5.3 WAR, 11/13 in steals
It doesn’t make much sense to me personally that Buster Posey is considered one of the favorites by the media to win the award while Molina’s candidacy is on the back burner, but that’s the way these things tend to work. Molina is far and away the best defensive catcher in all of Major League Baseball, and his behind the plate skills are lightyears ahead of Posey. The Cardinal backstop has also turned into quite the offensive force this year as well. There is a very good chance that by the time the season is finished, Molina will have put up career-highs in nearly every offensive category, and his 11 steals prove that his game is extremely balanced as well. As long as the Cardinals finish in the money, Molina should finish in the top-3 in the MVP vote.
Yadier Molina’s chances for winning the MVP award: 19%
David Wright – .311/.402/.501, 149 OPS+, 17 HR, 79 RBI, 79 runs, 151 hits, 4.3 oWAR, 5.9 WAR, 12/22 in steals
Wright doesn’t stand much chance of winning the MVP award, and barring a massive final push, he won’t. He’s having an excellent season, playing his usual trademark excellent defense while regaining his power stroke a little bit. Along with RA Dickey, he’s been a driving force behind the Mets surprising season, and a top-5 finish in the voting will be much deserved.
David Wright’s chances of winning the MVP award: 5%
If I was offered the chance to vote for the MVP award today, my ballot would probably have McCutchen at the top, followed by Molina, then Posey, with Braun and Wright rounding out the top-5. The big story for most of the season has been the renaissance in Pittsburgh, and the driving force behind that improvement has been Andrew McCutchen. He’s also been the best offensive force in the National League, ranking in the top-3 in most major offensive categories. There are other deserving candidates who could sneak into the top-5 including: Joey Votto (missed too many games, but has otherwise been outstanding), Johnny Cueto (best pitcher in the NL thus far, but not dominant enough to win the MVP), Michael Bourne (great season, speed and defense guys never win though), and Matt Holiday (Molina’s more important on that team) among others. Ideally all of the above mentioned players will have a hot streak over the next month, which would catapult this MVP race from intriguing to must-see-TV.