With Troy Tulowitzki Out for the Season, Who Will Win the NL MVP?
It's been a miserable season for the Colorado Rockies and their star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
On May 7, they had just beaten the Texas Rangers 9-2 and were 22-14, tied for first place in the NL West. Tulowitzki was off to a blazing start, hitting .414/.511/.775 with 9 homers and 31 RBI in just 32 games played, far and away the best numbers of anyone in baseball. It appeared Colorado fans were in for a fun summer.
Then, the wheels came off. Since May 8, the Rockies have gone 24-60 and are 22 games out of first place with the worst record in baseball. And their all-world shortstop hasn't played since July 19 because of hip problems. Then came the news on Wednesday that most assumed was coming.
Troy Tulowitzki needs season-ending hip surgery. By the end of this season, he will have missed 343 games over the last seven years.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 14, 2014
Before he got hurt, Tulowitzki was an easy choice for NL MVP, even if the Rockies continued to play poorly. Sure, there are many writers who don't like to vote for a player on a last place team, but Tulo was so far and away better than the rest of the league, it probably wouldn't have mattered.
Now, the MVP race in the National League is wide open. Here's a look at the NL leaderboard in terms of fWAR, with some additional stats in there as well (NL rank in parenthesis).
|Troy Tulowitzki||3.93 (3)||21||.263||.340||.432||.603||.443||173||5.1|
|Andrew McCutchen||4.03 (2)||17||.226||.311||.411||.536||.409||167||4.8|
|Giancarlo Stanton||3.59 (4)||31||.273||.288||.391||.561||.403||160||4.7|
|Jason Heyward||0.87 (94)||9||.120||.267||.352||.386||.330||110||4.5|
|Yasiel Puig||3.11 (9)||13||.211||.306||.391||.517||.395||159||4.4|
|Carlos Gomez||2.56 (15)||18||.196||.287||.349||.482||.366||132||4.4|
|Jonathan Lucroy||2.24 (24)||12||.182||.303||.369||.485||.373||137||4.4|
|Anthony Rendon||1.76 (37)||16||.191||.276||.331||.467||.348||123||4.4|
|Paul Goldschmidt||3.19 (7)||19||.241||.300||.396||.542||.402||156||4.3|
|Hunter Pence||1.77 (35)||15||.178||.286||.339||.465||.351||131||4.2|
|Clayton Kershaw||1.97 (25)||1.78||10.76||1.25||1.75||2||0.86||5.0|
You can also cross Paul Goldschmidt off the list, as he's out for the rest of the season as well with a broken left hand. With Tulo and Goldy gone, the race for MVP in the NL is truly wide open.
Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, last year's MVP, appears to be the leading candidate now. However, he's on the 15-day DL after suffering a rib injury. He's expected to return soon, and if he does, he'll certainly be the front-runner. His nERD of 4.03 - meaning a lineup full of McCutchens would score 4.03 runs a game more than a lineup full of league average hitters over a 27-out game - is second in all of baseball, and tops in the National League. His fWAR also leads all National Leaguers, and his weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) of 167 means he has created 67% more runs than a league average hitter in the same number of plate appearances. That's best in the NL, too. It also doesn't hurt that the Pirates hold the top wild card spot, although I don't subscribe to the theory that an MVP candidate has to play for a winning team.
If McCutchen misses significant time down the stretch, then the next best candidate is Miami's Giancarlo Stanton, who's on pace to play a full and complete season without hitting the disabled list for the first time since 2011. And we're seeing what he can do when he's in the lineup every day. Stanton leads the NL in homers, RBI, slugging percentage and isolated power (ISO), is second in wRC+ at 160, is third in nERD, and is tied for third in on-base percentage. He has almost single-handedly kept the Marlins on the periphery of the playoff hunt.
Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of giving pitchers the MVP, because I feel the Cy Young Award pretty much takes care of that. However, Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw has been so unbelievably good that he has to be in the conversation. His 5.0 fWAR trails only Tulowitzki, and is better than every other hitter in the National League (although it should be noted that pitcher fWAR and batter fWAR use totally different calculations, making a direct comparison not exactly apples-to-apples). His nERD, however, is only 25th best in baseball. But again, pitcher nERD and batter nERD calculations are not an exact match either. What's important about Kershaw is how dominant he's been among NL starters across the board. He's first in ERA, fielding independent pitching (FIP), strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB), and walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP). And keep in mind, he didn't make his first start until May 6.
How about Kershaw's teammate, Yasiel Puig? Check out how ridiculously and marvelously consistent he's been since making his Major League debut last year. In 2013, he hit .319/.391/.534 with a wRC+ of 160. So far this year, he's hit .306/.391/.517 with a wRC+ of 159. So yeah, that'll work. He's fifth among NL position players in fWAR and nERD, third in wRC+, tied for third in on-base percentage, and he's fourth in wOBA. His numbers are a hair below Stanton's, but if L.A. makes the playoffs and Miami fades down the stretch, you can bet many baseball writers will put Puig ahead of Giancarlo on their ballots.
With a month-and-a-half left in the regular season, there's plenty of time for others to make a late charge as well. Atlanta's Jason Heyward doesn't have the offensive numbers of the other fWAR leaders (as his 0.87 nERD would indicate), but his incredible defense makes him very valuable. Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez is a bona fide star and could jump up the list with a hot few weeks, and his teammate, Jonathan LuCroy, has been critically important to the first place Brewers as well. Washington's Anthony Rendon and San Francisco's Hunter Pence have both had terrific seasons as well, but aren't likely among anyone's top-three right now.
The last six weeks should be a lot of fun, as the National League's best elbow each other on the MVP pecking order.