It seems that baseball can be one of the last remaining sports in which we see — from a casual fan's perspective — a player come out of nowhere to win the MVP.
Seriously, ask my girlfriend — who likes baseball — if she's ever heard of 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto. The answer would be no. Go ahead, ask my nana — who absolutely loves sports — if she's ever heard of former AL MVP Dustin Pedroia. The answer there would be a negative.
Now I realize I just listed two family members from an incredibly subjective point of view, but baseball takes arguably more overall skill and athleticism than any other sport, which mean's it's the only game where the 'little guy' can still lead his team to prominence. Don't believe me? Tell me the last time an NFL or NBA star won the MVP at a height of 5'7", weighing 165 pounds — the size of Boston's Pedroia. The answer is probably never.
Although they're not little in size, heating up for all the MVP races in baseball this year feature some little-known studs, along with some super stars. No matter how you slice it though, it is exciting and there have been some mega surprises. Let's take a look at the stats, races and story lines and what we can expect when all the writers vote in less than a month.
Nation League MVP will go to…
This is a tough one. A race that could be the closest vote in decades. First let's look at the current favorite among management from around the league, which is Giants catcher Buster Posey.
Posey has stepped up in a huge way since his team lost Melky Cabrera due to PED use, literally becoming the best overall player in baseball since the All-Star break. Even yours truly wasn't aware of the ridiculous numbers he was putting up until recently. Since the All-Star game, Posey has been smashing a .393 AVG/.470 OBP/.658 SLG, with 11 home runs, 46 RBIs. You really want to know how impressive that is? That type of hitting post All-Star game has only been done three other times in the last 50 years. Here they are, courtesy of ESPN.com:
Barry Bonds, 2002: .404/.608/.825, 19 homers.
Larry Walker, 1998: .402/.480/.699, 14 homers.
George Brett, 1980: .421/.482/.696, 16 homers.
Posey also ranks in the top five in WAR, slugging, OPS and batting average, and we also haven't talked about how he's caught one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. At his point in the season, Posey is the front-runner, not only because of his second half surge, but because the Giants are in first place and are making a serious run at the World Series. And we all know that voters take into serious account the 'Ws' an MVP candidate can help his team produce. But then again, if that's the case…
Look out for the Brew Crew and Ryan Braun. Although the Brewers were 'out of it' months ago, due to a late surge and recent demise of the Pirates, Cardinals and Dodgers, Milwaukee is right back into the thick of the Wild Card race. The Brewers are 7-3 in their last 10 games and only 3.5 games out of the Wild Card — trailing Atlanta and St. Louis. A big reason why is 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun.
Over the past month, the Milwaukee stud has been probably the best hitter in the league, mashing a line of .352/9/23 with 4 steals. For the year, Braun is hitting .310/38/100 with a WAR of 7.1 (according to FanGraphs) — which is best in the NL. So why not vote for this guy?
Was he convicted? No. Was proper evidence found to even suspend him? Probably not. Was he found guilty? Nope. But a failed drug test, that later had to be thrown out because it wasn't administered properly, will now follow him for the rest of his career. It's possible many writers will refuse to cast their vote for any guy that's failed a drug test for performance enhancing drugs — but then again, the Brewers aren't in the playoffs yet.
Then there is the 'curious case' of Andrew McCutchen (it has the same syllables as Benjamin Button, so I couldn't resist). Another guy who's overall season's numbers have been unreal, but has seriously faltered as of late.
When you look at his season's stats you see a line of .340/26/85 – 16 SB, 97 R. The Pirates were even in the hunt for the division crown — and are technically still in the Wild Card race — until recently. What happened? McCutchen stopped swinging at good pitches and the Pirates started losing.
Hate to put it on one guy's shoulders, but when you carry a team the way McCutchen did the entire first half of the season, there is some serious truth to it. As of the first week of August, McCutchen was nailing balls at a .370 clip with a .625 slugging percentage and a ridiculous 1.055 OPS, 23 homers and 50 extra base hits. The Pirates were 16 games over .500 and were sitting in a healthy playoff position come October. Since then — about 31 games ago — McCutchen has only hit .242 with 3 bombs and Pittsburgh has sputtered to a 9-22 record.
The good news is that if the Pirates make the playoffs and McCutchen gets hot the last couple weeks, the award would still be his — after all, he had my vote at the All-Star break.
NL MVP Final Verdict: I don't see the Pirates or Brewers making the playoffs. Based upon the gossip around the league, the NL MVP is Buster Posey's to lose.
Moving on to the American League MVP race….
Well, you can't really call it a race with only one runner, right? Let's call it a uni-sprint. After all, Mike Trout is sprinting towards the finish line faster than you can say John Stamos, and he's making it look easy — as if he is running all by himself.
The kid just turned 21 and has single-handedly kept the Angles in contention. His WAR is one of the best baseball's ever seen, literally up there with Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds — currently FanGraphs has him at an 8.8, while others list him at over 10. He hits consistently (.331 average), runs incredibly fast (115 runs scored, 6 triples, 45 stolen bases), crushes the ball with power (27 home runs), and will even probably win the Gold Glove at his position after making some of the most amazing catches we've seen in centerfield since the Torii Hunter days in Minnesota and Jim Edmonds days in St.Louis. He really is the complete package. Heck, he's even a really nice, humble guy from what I've read. Almost too good to be true.
When people were calling him the best player in baseball two months ago I was skeptical. But now I'm won over. All in. You can bring up Miggy Cabrera, Josh Hamilton or Adrian Beltre — all great and worthy MVP candidates — but this kid is special. Mickey Mantle special. And he's put up these numbers even after starting the year in AAA Salt Lake City.
AL MVP and AL Rookie Of The Year Final Verdict: Mike Trout. And it's not even close.
Josh Helmuth is the lead baseball writer and editor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JHelmuth or subscribe at Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.
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