There are lots of post season awards predictions around these days and Braves fans are very vocal about the lack of Freddie Freeman’s name in the MVP discussion. He’s certainly been the RBI man for the Braves this year and in spite of sabermetrics dislike of his glove he’s played a good first base. What do the numbers say about him and his most named opposition?
You’ve probably heard the names circulating amongst the talking heads and columnists for MVP, but in case you haven’t they are in alphabetical order: Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen and Yadier Molina.
Clayton Kershaw is as Vin Scully says in his oft repeated XM Radio promo, quite simply the best they have and was indeed the best pitcher in the game this year. I’m not discussing that because it’s a fact.
The numbers is bold indicate league leadership. He started the most games had the lowest ERA and WHIP, struck out the most batters, posted the highest ERA+, and tied with James Shields for the MLB lead in the so called quality starts with 27. Those who’ve read my posts for a while will know that I don’t think much of the quality start stat and prefer a Nolan Ryan quality start – seven innings and two runs or less. Kershaw led MLB in those starts this year with eleven; Cliff Lee had ten and Adam Wainwright eight. Kershaw is without question the Cy Young winner in the National League but will not be the MVP.
If sabermetricians were giving the award Goldy would be high up their list. His slash line of .303/.402/.555/.957 and 7.1 WAR (6,5 fWAR) demand his mention. His .252 ISO leads the NL as do his 36 home runs and 124 RBI. He will win the under valued by fans and under publicized by media Henry Aaron award but he won’t be MVP. Much to the chagrin of those who think this is the “best player in the league award” players on non-contending teams rarely win and this year the race comes down to the following trio.
Molina is simply the heart if the Cardinal team. The Cards are 82-51 when he plays and a below .500 12-14 record when he doesn’t. That tells you in a nutshell that he’s definitely the most valuable Cardinal even if Matt Carpenter’s 6.1 rWAR (7.2 fWAR) is higher than Molina’s 5.1 rWar / 5.4 fWAR. Molina’s presence on the field is like having the pitching coach out there. He’s the best defensive catcher in the game, shuts down base stealing attempts and has turned into a force at the plate as well as behind it. His slash of .316/.356/.473/.829 leads all catchers and Cardinal fans will tell you they want him at the plate in clutch situations. Without Yadi the Cardinals are a middle of the table team and likely not in the playoffs at all.
McCutchen started the year by getting his face on the MLB video game and is finishing it by solidifying his position as the face of the Pirate franchise. They really knew what they had when they dumped Nate McLouth in favor of the raw rookie back in 2009. Cutch stamped his style on the team that year and it is now Cutch’s team. His 8.0 rWAR (7.9 fWAR) put him at the top of the WAR list on both sites. His slash of .317/.404/.503/.907, 20 HR, 96 RBI and 27 stolen bases show a well above average offense and while his defense may not be the best in the league (he takes some odd routes at times) he’s certainly a gold glove caliber center fielder.
Freeman slash of .317/.396/.502/.898 this morning put him right behind McCutchen at sixth in the NL standings. So far he’s accumulated 27 doubles, 2 triples, 23 home runs, 103 RBI, 87 runs scored and 172 hits. He’s second in the league behind Goldschmidt in WPA (win probability added) 5.8, REW (base out wins added) 6.2 and RE24 (base out runs added) 63.1. Like all Atlanta fans I will tell that having watched all but a hand full of games this year and seen him in action, with runners on base I want Freeman at the plate no matter who’s pitching. While the rest of the lineup’s bats bobbed up and down like yo-yos and Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton were at or below replacement level all year, Freeman put the Braves on his back and carried them to the division title.
A Statistical Summary
Just some numbers and some sabermetric stats for the three main contenders. I tried to use the most mainstream sabermetric stats and if I missed your personal favorites I’m sure you’ll tell me. All of these except obviously fWAR come from the superb folks at baseball-reference.com. Leaders are in bold
|BA with RISP||.282||.445||.368|
|BA with 2 out RISP||.245||.418||.309|
|BA Late & Close||.278||.275||.279|
|BA High Leverage||.317||.420||.417|
|BA Bases loaded||.000||.700||.500|
|McCutchen 0-5 with bases loaded|
|Freeman 7-10 with bases loaded|
|Molina 2-4 with bases loaded|
There’s not enough room to spit between the traditional counting stats and a .011 difference in OPS between Freeman and McCutchen is just a couple of hits. The big difference comes in the RISP stats. That’s important because scoring runs is how you win and how well a player produces in that situation – particularly when the averages and OBPs are as close as they are – has to be taken into account.
Sabermetric folks who rely on WAR as the single definitive stat will point to that and say it accounts for all of those RISP numbers. They’ll argue for McCutchen though our new best friend Carlos Gomez also put up an 8.0 rWAR. In fairness I point out that Gomez’ fWAR was only 4.9. That variation itself shows why a statistic can’t encompass everything particularly when there are multiple ways of calculating it. I saw a chat where someone pointed out that the numbers between Freeman and McCutchen are very close. David Schoenfield’s answer was, “Sure if you don’t count base running or defense.” Okay let’s look at defense.
It is widely acknowledged that defensive stats are in their infancy and by no means an absolute guide. For example, UZR is notoriously bad at rating first basemen and catchers so we turn to a more mature statistic, defensive runs saved. Looking at DRS we see Cutch and Freeman both have seven which seems to say they’re about equal defensively.
If base running is speed alone then it’s no contest. Freddie carries that piano on his back every time he runs while McCutchen is naturally much faster and can certainly put run Freddie. Base running however is as much about how you use what you have and I don’t recall though someone may, Freeman making a base running blunder. I have seen him take an extra base when the chance arose and go first to third on balls hit to right. I don’t watch the Bucs often so I’ve never seen McCutchen make a mistake either either but as a base stealer he’s 10 for 37, a 73% success rate in an area where 80% is generally considered the standard for success. I’ll concede that McCutchen is a better option on the bases than Freddie but, he’s not two plus wins better because of that.
That’s A Wrap
All of these players are worthy of being in the conversation as is Matt Carpenter who did his best Martin Prado impression all season for the Cards and put up a 6.7 rWAR in the process. Carpenter won’t win however and Molina’s injuries and related recent drop off in offense combined with the loss of some votes to Carpenter might well cost him the title too. According to a post over at The Cardinal Nation one major odds maker thinks the race is tight but in reality over.
“With just around 20 games left we are not re-opening our MVP or Cy Young odds as I cannot see how anyone but Cabrera, Scherzer, and Kershaw can win. McCutchen may be the only one who is not a sure thing, but with the fact that the Pirates are having their best season in 20 years and that he is such a complete player, this one is also a no-brainer.”
Well maybe so and Cutch is certainly a nationally known player after the contest for video game cover player last winter and popularity among the minimally informed – as so many members of the BBWA show themselves to be every year during Hall of Fame voting – is a powerful thing. Cutch will get most if not all of those votes.
After watching him all year I know Freeman should be a gold glove winner and the NL MVP. The gold glove is certainly possible because managers vote for it. The question is will the BBWA writers do their due diligence or jump on the easiest bandwagon. We’ll know in a couple of weeks.