Posted 07/01/2011 at 02:30 PM
As we approach the All Star break the MVP discussion will heat up in the National League where several players are building a strong case with great numbers. With Albert Pujols out of the discussion due to his injury there are some new names in the picture and oddly none of the players in serious contention for the award right now play for the teams with the three best records in the NL.
1. Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets: Generally MVP votes are reserved for players on playoff-caliber teams though that is not in the definition of the award. The Mets are certainly a long shot to reach the postseason but they have been much more competitive than most people expected. The two best teams in the National League according to record both reside in the NL East leaving the Mets in a very tough position but if New York were in the NL Central the case for Reyes might be more compelling as they would be closer to a playoff spot. Reyes finished 7th in MVP voting in 2006 and had a similar statistical year in 2008 but has battled injuries the past two seasons. He has been healthy in 2011 and he is on pace for the best season of his career, hitting .352 to lead baseball. With just three home runs Reyes may seem like a long shot for the award but he has scored 65 runs and has 15 triples to go along with 30 stolen bases. With the triples the slugging numbers for Reyes are much better than expected and only Matt Kemp ranks higher in offensive VORP in the NL. Playing shortstop Reyes certainly deserves a little extra credit and as a big market name he could sway some votes if he continues this pace.
2. Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers: The turmoil off the field for the Dodgers may hurt Kemp’s candidacy but sitting in the basement of the NL West is probably a much bigger factor. Kemp is having such a complete offensive season that he will deserve attention regardless of how the standings shake out. Kemp has always been considered a prototypical 5-tool player and after solid seasons in 2008 and 2009 his numbers dipped last year with just a .249 batting average. He has more than made up for it this year even if his team has struggled, currently batting .331 with 22 home runs and 63 RBI. Kemp is a viable triple-crown candidate that has also pitched in 22 stolen bases and he leads the NL in OPS by a fairly wide margin while also leading all of baseball in offensive VORP. Kemp will be hard to ignore even on a last place team if he can finish in the top five in all three conventional triple-crown categories. A couple of highlight reel catches in the outfield could also leave a lasting impression.
3. Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: In a contract year Fielder is certainly doing his part to live up to what could be outrageous demands from the Scott Boras camp. Fielder finished third in MVP voting in 2007 and fourth in 2009 and while he is having another great season he may be destined for also-ran status once again. After seeing his batting average dip last season Fielder is hitting at a .302 pace this season and with 21 home runs already he is on pace to easily top last year’s total of 32 while his previous bests of 50 and 46 may be within reach. Fielder leads the NL in RBI and is second in on-base percentage as his ability to draw walks is often undervalued. Fielder has actually walked more than he has struck out this season, a rare feat for a power hitter. While Fielder will never be a gold glove winner he has improved tremendously on defense since breaking into the league and he has done an admirable job for a first place Brewers team.
4. Ryan Braun, LF, Milwaukee Brewers: With the Brewers in the playoff mix in the NL Central Braun has to be a MVP candidate as well with a .321 batting average and big production. With 60 RBI and 16 home runs he falls short of his teammate Fielder’s numbers but he also has added 19 stolen bases while being among the league leaders in runs scored. It is a tough comparison between Braun and Fielder as the numbers are very close and they could possibly hurt each other in the voting by splitting votes should both continue to deliver excellent seasons and the Brewers make a run at the division title. Braun has not made an error yet though as a left fielder he has some limitations defensively but he has provided some clutch hits and emerged as the face of very good and exciting Brewers team.
5. Lance Berkman, RF, St. Louis Cardinals: Remember that the MVP comes down to a vote so sentimental value is worth something and the 35-year old Berkman could be a force if the media grabs a hold of the story. Berkman was traded away from his longtime tenure in Houston last season and was not a huge draw on the free agent market before settling in St. Louis. A red hot start to the season has helped Berkman get on a near career best pace and he has had a fantastic career with a borderline hall of fame case. This year he is hitting .296 with 20 home runs and 58 RBI as he has been responsible for keeping the Cardinals afloat despite a slow and injury plagued season from 3-time MVP Albert Pujols. Berkman does not offer the speed or great defense that some of the other candidates can bring but he is on pace to be right in the mix in all the major categories and if the Cardinals win the division he will deserve a lot of the credit and will be a popular vote.
Sleeper: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: Repeat winners have been common in the last decade of NL MVP voting and while Votto is likely lagging behind some of the others at this point in the season he has to be in the conversation. Votto won nearly unanimously last season with a very complete season, batting .324 with 37 home runs, 113 RBI, 106 runs, and 16 stolen bases. More importantly the Reds broke through and won the NL Central as a bit of a surprise with Votto being a huge factor. The home runs have not been there this season with just 11 to date but Votto is hitting .319 and should produce similar run and RBI counts by season’s end. He leads the NL in on-base percentage thanks to a league leading 62 walks which are probably eating away at his power numbers. Votto won’t get a great deal of votes right now but a short power surge and a win streak from the Reds to take over the wide open NL Central and he could emerge with the best numbers of the bunch.
Other Notables: Brian McCann, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton, Michael Morse.