Sep 24, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA;Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman leads the team in RBI (107) is second in runs scored to the man who hits in front of him (87). hits .445 with RISP and .418 with 2 out and RISP Why exactly isn't he NL MVP? Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Braves Have the League MVP?


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?

The Candidates

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

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.

1.83 33 236 52 232 908 195 0.915 0.4 2 8.8 4.46

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.

Paul Goldschmidt

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.

Yadier Molina

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.

Andrew McCutchen

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.

Freddie Freeman

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 Leaders are in bold

Standard Stats McCutchen Freeman Molina
HR 20 23 12
AVG .317 .317 .316
OBP .404 .396 .356
SLG .503 .502 .473
OPS .907 .898 .829
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    
Advanced Stats McCutchen Freeman Molina
rWAR 8.0 5.4 5.7
fWAR 7.9 4.8 5.4
WPA 4.4 5.9 2.8
+WPA 14.8 14.8 10.6
RE24 38.7 63.1 30.3
REW 4 6.2 3.1
Clutch -0.79 1.52 1.06
WPA/LI 5 4.2 1.8
DRS 7 7 13

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.

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  • Josh Barnhill

    I think McCutchen will probably win, but Freddie should be a close second. To me RISP is what being valuable is all about and Freeman blows them away, it’s not even remotely close.

    • fireboss

      I agree and I think Cutch’s numbers are a little hollow for an MVP.

      • JosephLS

        Hollow? He has the best hitting stats in the NL all while playing an above average CF and running the bases well.

        • fireboss

          Uh no. he doesn’t have “the best hitting stats in the league” he is near the top in the traditional stats to be sure and the post reflects that. Hollow referred to his RISP numbers as reflected in his Clutch of -1.0 on BBR which ties him at 517th in the league. Fangraphs has his clutch at -0.95 , 52 on their list of 64 qualified players.
          This not to say I don’t believe McCutchen is a fine player simply that when compare to the other players being discussed he is less effective with RISP

          • Brandon_Woodworth

            Uhh, so we’re leaving an MVP debate up to situational hitting statistics? Ignoring a body of work to focus on a statistic that is not only out of the hitters control to even qualify for, but to discredit the very type of player McCutchen is? Andrew McCutchen can’t help if and when runners get on ahead of him. I can’t believe this is even a thing. Kershaw, McCutchen, Goldschmidt; those are your top 3 MVP candidates. Freeman will be lucky to crack the top 5, and his batting average is the only thing that will keep him above Andrelton in votes.

  • Chris Headrick

    You’re right, MVP unfortunately is really MPV* (provided you’re in contention), but it shouldn’t be. Goldschmidt should win hands down with the numbers he’s put up in the NL. 124 RBIs and 36 homers alone is ridiculous. Outside of that reality, it could go either way, but I’d have to give the key numbers and my vote to Freeman, objectively I might add. I think whether Cutch wins will depend on how well they fare in the WC, and then if the Braves beat them later should they win the WC. Freeman has a good shot if things go Atlanta’s way.

    • fireboss

      I think votes have to be in Monday – first day after regular season and before the Pirates/Reds play

      • Chris Headrick

        Oh yes, you are correct sir. I had forgotten that little tidbit. With that said, I might still have to give it to Freddie then because their numbers are so close, and afterall the Braves did clinch their division.

        • fireboss

          lets schedule the presentation then!

          • Chris Headrick

            Well, what are you waiting on!

          • fireboss

            Hello Joe? Put Bud on the phone I need to arrange an award ceremony…

  • JosephLS

    The reason people discount RISP stats is that they are not statistically meaningful. What I mean by that is that we can’t actually use those stats to conclude that Freeman is a better hitter with RISP. As a perfect example, last year, Freeman hit .252 with the bases empty and .219 with RISP. Certainly doesn’t look like he has a particular talent for hitting with RISP, it’s just yearly variation.

    As for defense, let’s say McCutchen and Freeman are both +7 run defenders at their position. Does that mean they are equally valuable on defense? No, because CF is harder to play than 1B. It takes a higher skill level to be an average CF than to be an average 1B. That’s another big reason why McCutchen’s WAR is so much higher. They are both above average, but McCutchen provides more value by doing it at a harder position. As a result, it is easier to build a team around him, because it’s easier to find good-hitting 1B than good-hitting CF.

    • Lee Trocinski

      I agree with most everything you say here. My only quarrel is not giving credit for clutch hitting. While you’re right to say that it’s not really a sustainable skill, I think you should still give extra credit when the hitter comes through (and vice versa). Awards are for past performance, so context should matter.

      • JosephLS

        Yeah it’s something I haven’t totally decided for myself. It certainly makes sense to reward the players for producing when it counts. I just don’t like the idea of rewarding a player for something that can’t be shown to be a result of their skill. Maybe Freeman happened to get better pitches to hit with RISP than McCutchen. We don’t know, but what we do know is that this year shouldn’t be taken as evidence that Freeman is a better clutch hitter than McCutchen.

        • Lee Trocinski

          WAR would lose some predictability with this, but I think using context is better for retrospect. I was going through a wOBA * leverage for each PA, but I think that skews it too much in the clutch direction. Thinking something like the square root of leverage will be better.

          Back to the original point, Freeman was a better clutch hitter THIS YEAR. He should be rewarded for that, but not too much. There is some value in creating clutch situations, so I don’t want to get too caught up in RISP numbers alone.

        • fireboss

          Don’t believe anyone said that was the case I just said that’s what happened.

    • fireboss

      I completely understand the theory that clutch doesn’t exist as a talent but that isn’t what this discussion is about. Awards are designed to reward past [performance; about what was done this year for the team not theoretical projections of the future. What Freeman did last year and what he does next year do not matter for this year’s award consideration. This year Freeman delivered at a significantly high level with RISP and in high leverage situations from April through September. McCutchen did not.
      DRS has determined -considering positional scarcity and difficulty – that both players saved the same amount of runs – 7 – for their team.

      I love Cutch and he will likely win because his individual fame but he was not the NL MVP this yea

      • Lee Trocinski

        McCutchen hit .317/.418/.508 in high leverage PAs, so he did come through, just not at the insane level Freddie did. Also, high-leverage only accounts for 1/4 of all PA for a season, so don’t put too much stock in that small portion of his season. Also, Freeman “only” hit .282/.408/.333 in “Late & Close” situations. I’m working with a BtB writer on a combination linear weights/leverage wOBA to help determine true offensive value, so I’ll be sure to let you know how much it affects these two.

        DRS does not include positional scarcity, so McCutchen gets about 15 extra runs of value for being the same skill level at CF as Freddie is at 1B.

        • fireboss

          I never said Freddie’s late and close was better than anyone’s in fact I noted that Molina’s numbers were better by highlighting it in the table. McCutchen’s late and close was slightly higher but not significantly higher than Freddie’s. Across the whole spectrum of what i will call clutch situation at bats Freeman was the best period. McCutchen was significantly worse.

          You can’t fiddle with a stat because you don’t agree with the way it’s determined. Giving Cutch 15 more runs because he plays center field may be something you’d like to do or feel that DRS should do but it does not. The number was 7 for both players. This morning it’s 8 for Cutch but that isn’t enough of a difference to make up for his failure to deliver when his team needed him to do it. In 2013 in the clutch Cutch flopped and Freddie flourished.

          On a separate note, the idea that power hitting first baseman are easy to find is absolutely absurd. I know teams do it but traditionally but those teams made a choice to give up runs caused by bad play there in favor of runs created by the first baseman. If finding that good fielding power hitting first sacker is so easy why doesn’t every team have one? Looking around the leagues I see a lot of power hitters standing at first but few are really good first basemen. Yet around MLB I see well above average defensive center fielders who can hit in abundance; the Indians start three most days, the Yankees have two – Gardiner and Granderson – who play center at a high level, Oakland has 2 or 3 and there are more. That they aren’t playing center and thus sabernetrically they are ignored doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It simply means the team has more than one. Freddie Freeman makes CJ, Simba and Uggla better simply by being there. His wingspan and stretch make plays that UZR first base darling Mike Napoli wouldn’t get a glove on and the penalty for not gloving it would go to the thrower not Napoli. This isn’t a shot a Napoli, it’s just a fact.

          • JosephLS

            It’s not fiddling with the stat, it is applying the difference in value between CF and 1B. DRS rating only applies to their place within their own position. *It is not intended to be used to compare players across positions, and using it that is way is in fact going against how the stat is intended.*

            Yes, it is easier to find good-hitting first basemen. Look at the average hitting stats for first basemen vs. center fielders across all of baseball history. The first baseman have always hit better, because it’s easier find a guy who can hit than it is to find a guy who can hit AND who has the range an instincts to play CF. It is true that there are a lot of great CF in the game today, but the overall trend has been and will be that 1B generally hit better. Every team doesn’t have one because finding good hitters is always hard, but it is undeniably easier to find them than to find hitters of equal quality who can play CF.

            To prove my point: MLB 1B hit 714 homers this year. MLB CF hit 460. Hard to argue with that.

            Here’s a hypothetical question: If Freeman was able to play shortstop at a +7 run level (which means +7 runs better than the average shortstop), would it make him a more valuable?

          • fireboss

            It’s easier to find power hitters to stand at first and be accepted even though he really isn’t a good defender that it is to do that in CF. If you were willing to accept that low a level of defense in center you could get your power.
            Baseball has always been a trade off between defense and offense when player gives you more runs than he loses he usually plays.

            I think first base defense is significantly under valued. The very concept that anyone can be stuck over there is absurd and makes my point. So I’ll concede that team put hitter than and pray. When they wouldn’t expose their outfield to that but playing there and hitting doesn’t make you first baseman anymore than play Gattis in left makes him a left fielder.

            Since our shortstop put up 41 this year, no, the real question is who would play there if he doesn’t and who would he throw to at first. It’s the tradeoff scenario I mentioned before; of the alternatives which is best. If the backups are what the Braves had a couple of years ago Alex Gonzalez and Troy Glaus no. Freeman going to catch the balls Glaus blew and allow the rest of the infield to relax.

          • JosephLS

            First base defense is important, but part of the question is how difficult it is to play. Picking a throw from a fielder is not as difficult as picking a ball off a bat, which is why the middle infield positions are considered the most difficult. Additionally, the degree of difficulty of most of the throws a third baseman has to make is much higher than anything a 1B has to do. All three outfield positions require a good arm, the ability to cover ground, and the ability to read balls off the bat. Catching is a whole other thing entirely.

            Given all that, if you have a great hitter with little defensive talent, your best shot of getting him to be a passable MLB fielder is usually by putting him at first. Not that 1B is easy, because nothing in baseball is easy, but it’s hard to argue that any other positions are easier.

            What this means is that it is harder for a 1B to distinguish himself. Most 1B perform the basic functions of the position competently enough, so being better than other 1B means less value added over other 1B than for another position. Shortstop, on the other hand, has huge potential for excellence, as Simmons is demonstrating.

  • JosephLS

    As for CarGo II, it’s true that single season defense numbers have a margin of error. If a player has an out-of-this-world defense rating, then the likelihood is greater that the player is closer to average, and that the margin of error is working in his favor, than it is that he is actually that good. Therefore it makes sense to regress CarGom’s numbers more heavily that we would a player whose defensive rating is closer to average.

    Additionally, I personally would be less likely to give the award to someone who had a breakout year than to someone who has done it before, unless they are clearly the best (like Mike Trout last year.) If a player has done it repeatedly, we know his ability is real. A breakout player may be having a year where everything goes his way. We know that’s not the case with McCutchen though; he’s been outstanding since he debuted in 2009, and 2013 is his second consecutive MVP-caliber season.

  • rl1856

    McCutcheon will get the MVP. Kershaw will win the CY.
    I would argue that Freeman is more deserving of the MVP. However, Freeman is surrounded by a better overall group of players and is on a team that was expected to win their division. McCutcheon is the only true star on the Pirates, and one can argue that without him, the Pirates would not have earned a WC berth. Most will view him as more valuable to his team than Freeman was to the Braves.