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NL MVP Candidate: Matt Carpenter

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It’s the time of year when everyone begins prematurely making arguments for who the MVPs of each league are, and I’d like to join the fun. I have thoughts about the AL (hint: it’s not Miguel Cabrerra), but I really only care about the National League and I want to make a case for a name that hasn’t been mentioned much.

Matt Carpenter.

I want to begin by saying that I love Yadier Molina. I was a catcher growing up, I fell in love with Yadi then, and I remain firmly entrenched in my adoration. He is my favorite player. I firmly believe that he has been the most valuable player in all of baseball for at least a couple of years and that he ought to get a lot of consideration.

That said, I’m not sure if he has actually been the most valuable player for the Cardinals, and thus in baseball, this season, and I think a very strong case can be made for Matt Carpenter’s role.

Think about it: if he hadn’t learned to play second, we’d be seeing Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma on a nightly basis, with Ryan Jackson subbing in periodically, and Jon Jay would still be our lead-off hitter.

Are those bad things? Yes. Yes they are. I don’t have to remind you of how poorly Descalso and Kozma have been at the dish (and Jackson has looked pretty awful, too), and Jay is a .273 career hitter at the lead-off spot, as opposed to a .309 hitter in the 5-8 spots.

You may be able to make an argument that Carpenter is the reason that the Cardinals are in the thick of a playoff race. According to Fangraphs, Carpenter has been worth 5.9 wins above replacement this season. Descalso (his probable replacement), has been worth -0.5 WAR.

If the Cardinals had lost the six games that Carp has been worth to them, their record would be 75-66 and they would be trying to cling to the second wild card spot instead of fighting for first place.

But you already knew that Carpenter has been a valuable player for the Cardinals, and I probably won’t get many arguments from you guys. That’s no fun, though; I want to start controversies. I’m saying that Matt ought to be in serious contention for the NL MVP award this season. He’s not just good and valuable to the Cardinals, he’s one of the best players in all of baseball.

Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, and Clayton Kershaw are generally being considered the MVP candidates, and they are all very good players.

Kershaw causes the most problems because he’s a pitcher. He has been amazing this year. They might as well give him the Cy Young right this minute, because it’s his, and I don’t think he can be bad enough to lose it.

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But I don’t think he’s an MVP caliber pitcher. I cried bloody murder when Justin Verlander won the MVP in 2011, because it isn’t a pitcher’s award, and being a good pitcher shouldn’t be enough to win it. Being a great pitcher shouldn’t be enough. You should have to be literally unbelievable.

Only ten pitchers have won the MVP since the introduction of the Cy Young award. They have been phenomenal in those seasons. For example, Bob Gibson earned the MVP when he won 22 games, had a 1.12 ERA, and 268 strikeouts. That was MVP worthy. Sadly, I don’t think that a 1.89 ERA, 14 wins, and 201 strikeouts is.

So I’m going to say that Kershaw should not win the MVP and remove him from my conversation.

That leaves McCutchen, Molina, Goldschmidt, and Votto.

Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto are the odd men out in this conversation. Goldschmidt has 31 home runs and leads the league with 106 RBIs, but because the Diamondbacks probably won’t make the playoffs and because his batting average sits below .300, he probably won’t win the award. On the other hand, Votto has the best OBP at .421, but has only 22 home runs and 66 RBIs, which means that he probably won’t get it either.

Although Yadier has the lowest fWAR of the four players (4.7), he boasts a .320 batting average, a .358 OBP, 11 home runs, 64 RBIs, and 57 runs. Really, his offensive statistics aren’t what make him worthy of contention. It’s his intangibles. Everyone admits that WAR sort of screws over catchers, because it doesn’t capture all of things that make a catcher so valuable. So Molina is clearly a front-runner, but how well he does in the voting will depend in large part on how well the Cardinals finish. Winning the division may mean an MVP for Yadi.

Andrew McCutchen leads the charge with a 7.0 fWAR, boasting a .320 batting average, a .401 OBP, 19 home runs, 76 RBIs, and 87 runs. In short, he’s had a very good season and ought to be in serious contention for the award. He does it all for the Pirates. If his team is able to win the division, then he will probably win the MVP award.

But Carpenter presents an interesting option. In terms of fWAR, he’s currently at third in the NL (5.9), behind only McCutchen and Carlos Gomez. He ranks sixth in batting average (.317), eighth in OBP (.385), first in hits(172), first in runs (109), first in doubles (47), fifth in triples (7), and second in extra base hits (64) in spite of only hitting 10 home runs. He also leads all lead-off hitters with 68 RBIs this season.

In addition, Carpenter has the tenth highest BABIP (batting average on balls in play), behind McCutchen and Votto. This means that, although his batting average is lower than both those players, he’s not getting as lucky as they are.

Finally, Carpenter is hitting an even .400 with RISP, third to only Allen Craig and Freddy Freeman. He also leads all of baseball with a .407 average with runners on. That simply means that Carpenter always gets a hit when his team needs him to.

Although Matt Carpenter isn’t getting a lot of public acclaim (yet), he’s having an amazing season. If he keeps this pace, he will end the season with at least 200 hits, 50 doubles, and 120 runs. Impressive, to say the least.

Again, since he filled the gaping hole that the Cardinals had at second base, his achievements are doubly important to St. Louis. That fact alone deserves to put him in contention for this year’s MVP.

When you add in his other numbers, however, he becomes a front-runner by any standard. Not only does he do everything for the Cardinals, he is simply the best rounded player available. No other batter out there is excelling in so many  areas as he is.

No offense Yadi, but I’m afraid that my vote would have to go to Matt Carpenter this year.

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