Trout-Cabrera MVP debate will be settled but NL race is also close
Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera has been one of the hottest topics of the season
Cabrera won the Triple Crown but Trout had a season for the ages
Buster Posey should emerge from a strong field to win a close NL vote
The Baseball Writers Association of America concludes its awards week Thursday night with the announcement of the winners of the Most Valuable Player awards in each league.
If there has been a theme to the awards thus far it has been the close vote. Bryce Harper beat the Diamondbacks' Wade Miley by seven points for National League Rookie of the Year, Melvin beat Showalter by eight points for AL Manager of the Year and David Price beat Justin Verlander for the AL Cy Young by a mere four points.
It wouldn't be surprising to see a similarly close vote for both of the MVP awards, for which the lists of finalists expands from three to five men. In the National League, which will be announced first, any of four men could be said to be a deserving winner.
Meanwhile, the American League award has been one of the most hotly debated in recent memory and could be as close or closer than the AL Cy Young vote. One thing's for sure, the BBWAA got it right by making the AL MVP the last award they announce this week. Once the winner (or winners) of that award is revealed, the Internet may burst into flames.
Here, then, is one last look at the five finalists the MVP award in each league along with my take on who will win and my gentle suggestion as to who should.
Note: League leading statistics are in bold, major league leading stats are in bold italics.
Announcement: 6:17 p.m. ET
Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers
Season Stats: .319/.391/.595, 41 HR, 112 RBI, 108 R, 30 SB (81%), 159 OPS+, 6.8 bWAR
Braun, the defending NL MVP, was nearly as good in 2012 despite losing the protection of Prince Fielder hitting behind him. The impact of Fielder's departure is evident in Braun's 15 intentional walks (against two in 2011), but that masks an inferior plate approach, which might have been the result of knowing he didn't have Fielder behind him to pick up the slack. In 2011, Braun's strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio was 1.66. In 2012, it was 2.66. That less disciplined plate approach dropped his batting average (from .332), but the intentional passes kept his on-base percentage up and a healthier season goosed his home run total from 33 to a league-leading and career-high 41.
Braun, who the league in home runs, runs, total bases and OPS, was good enough to win this award in 2012, but it would be shocking if he did. Here's why: The top four contenders for the MVP in the National League are all effectively tied. Given that, Braun loses a series of tie-breakers that could drop him to third or fourth on the ballot.
First, he won the award last year when many thought Matt Kemp should have. Second, his Brewers won just 83 games, finishing a distant third place in the NL Central, 14 games behind the Reds and 13 games worse than in 2012. I don't believe that MVP voting should be tied to team performance -- player value is absolute -- but Braun won this award last year because his team out-performed Kemp's, and with the same voting body applying the same logic, he won't win it this year.
Finally, there's Braun's positive test for performance-enhancing drugs from last offseason. The test result was thrown out after Braun appealed, but for writers who still harbor doubts about what went on there and who are looking for an excuse to not vote for Braun, that saga provides one.
Chase Headley, 3B, Padres
Season Stats: .286/.376/.498, 31 HR, 115 RBI, 95 R, 17 SB (74%), 144 OPS+, 6.0 bWAR
The 28-year-old Headley's home-run stroke came out of nowhere this year. While his batting average, on-base percentage, doubles, triples and basestealing in 2012 largely replicated his 2011 or 2010 numbers, Headley's previous high in homers was 12 and he hit just four in an injury-shortened season in 2011.
Still he falls a bit short of the other four finalists here, and his team's losing record and fourth-place finish surely didn't help him with the old-school voters.
Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates
Season Stats: .327/.400/.553, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 107 R, 20 SB (63%), 165 OPS+, 7.0 bWAR
McCutchen, a supremely talented player, made the leap in 2012, his age-25 season. He set career highs in runs, hits (a league-leading 194), home runs, RBIs, all three slash stats, OPS (.953), OPS+, total bases (328) and, proving that the league noticed, intentional walks (13). As late as August, he was actually running away with this award, hitting .370/.430/.625 through Aug. 8. However, he fell into an extended slump after that, hitting a mere .240/.341/.408 over the remainder of the year.
That the Pirates' season took a similar shape likely torpedoed McCutchen's chances in this voting. Pittsburgh was fighting for first place in the NL Central in July and a wild card spot in early August before finishing in fourth place, 18 games out in the NL Central and four games below .500. McCutchen was second in the league in wins above replacement and OPS+ and it's hard to find a reason to find a reason to leapfrog him over the man who led in those categories.
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals
Season Stats: .315/.373/.501, 22 HR, 76 RBI, 65 R, 12 SB (80%), 137 OPS+, 6.7 bWAR
Molina is an interesting case. He clearly belongs in this group, but he also clearly turned in the weakest performance at the plate. That's relative, of course. For a catcher to put up the numbers he did in 2012 is tremendous, but what put Molina neck-and-neck-tattoo with the other four was the combination of a strong performance at the plate and his elite eyebrow tweezing, I mean defense.
Molina's Cardinals made the playoffs, and with Braun and McCutchen both contending with a stigma, be it Braun's overturned drug test and questionable win in last year's vote or the Pirates' collapse, the path could be clear for him to finish second in the voting. Like McCutchen, however, he just won't get past the last finalist on this list.
Buster Posey, C, Giants
Season Stats: .336/.408/.549, 24 HR, 103 RBI, 78 R, 172 OPS+, 7.2 bWAR
Posey wasn't clearly better than Braun, McCutchen or Molina, but he did lead the league in wins above replacement and the majors in OPS+. Braun and McCutchen have the aforementioned strikes against them, and Posey's numbers sparkle in a superficially apples-to-apples comparison with fellow catcher Molina.
Posey played his home games in a more extreme pitchers park than Molina, but his raw hitting stats are markedly superior. Molina is clearly the better backstop, but Posey is no slouch behind the plate. Is Molina really so much better than an already above-average defensive catcher that his glovework could overcome the difference between his performance beside it and Posey's? There might be one or two writers who feel confident that that is the case, but chances are most don't and Posey will win, and deserve, this award.
Who Should Win: Posey
Who Will Win: Posey
Expected finish: Posey, Molina, McCutchen, Braun, Headley