A September to remember

I’ve gotta admit, this is awesome. There are four games left (of this writing) in 2007 and no NL team has clinched a playoff spot. Adding to the fun is that most likely, the next quartet of bitten-down-to-the-cuticles will also decide the league MVP.

All three divisions and the wild card are up for grabs. As a fan it just doesn’t get much better. For the record, here’s what’s left for the wild card:

(6-4; W 1) San Diego Padres       87 71    --   4 at  Milwaukee
(7-3; W 1) Philadelphia Phillies  86 72   1.0   1 vs. ATL … 3 vs. Nats  
(10-0; W 10) Colorado Rockies     86 72   1.0   1 at  LA …  3 vs. D-Backs  
(8-2; L 1) Atlanta Braves         83 75   4.0   1 at  PHI … 3 at  Houston 

Two series will sort out two divisions and the wild card. The Mets wrap up against the Cardinals and the Marlins, and they have their destiny in their own hands, as do the Cubs, D-Backs and Padres. If they run the table as the Dodgers did last year (remember, with six games left the Phillies and Dodgers were tied for the wild card lead at 82-74 and the Dodgers made the race moot by going 6-0) then there’s nothing left but the wild card. The Braves can only hope they win their last four and pray for a miracle. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether they’re 100% out of it or 99.99999999% out, since the time needed to sort it all out would take me past my deadline which would make the higher ups upset (or happy—you never know).

Bottom line: I can’t even begin to guess how it can all shake out. Regardless, this is going to be a lot of fun.

As mentioned, the MVP will likely be decided after the dust settles. Right now, I feel there are six players who are bona fide candidates for the honor. But first, I’ve gotta make some folks angry and fire up the e-mails that tell me that I may wish to see a doctor who specializes in both the fields of psychiatric and proctology to deal with my inverse sphincter-cranial disorder.

To begin with, when assessing MVP candidates, I just don’t fire up various adjusted stats, see who comes out on top and pick a winner. Obviously the MVP should be a superior player however I think what a given player contributes isn’t found solely in the stats. For example: Let’s take two players on a division champion—one was an average fielding first baseman who posted an OPS+ of 139, the other, a Gold Glove cannon armed corner outfielder that posted an OPS+ of 141 who, by the way, won the MVP the previous season. Of note, the right fielder was an All Star in this particular season while the first baseman was not.

Who is the better MVP candidate?

Well, in 1979 Willie “Pops” Stargell was named co-MVP (Keith Hernandez) while Dave Parker finished 10th. Why the discrepancy? What happened that made the voters feel that despite being an inferior on-field performer he received 150 more MVP points than the superior player?

If you were around in 1979 you remember the “We are family” Pirates and Stargell was the unquestioned team leader (hence the nickname “Pops”). If you look at game photos from that season you’ll notice differing numbers of stars sown on various players’ caps. They were bestowed by Stargell on players who made an outstanding contribution in a given game. Getting a star from Stargell was considered an honor by each and every player—that’s how well regarded Stargell was. That respect, coupled with a .281/.352/.552 batting line, 32 home run, 82 RBI was enough in the voters’ minds to give the award to he, rather than the All Star who hit .310/.380/.526 with 25 HR and 94 RBI backed with Gold Glove defense.

It was the right decision too. Therefore, when you read my MVP candidates, you’ll understand I’m not just going by raw totals. The numbers are important to be sure, but as Alvin Dark once opined about Orlando Cepeda “Among other things, I’m getting sick and tired of people leading the league in home runs and runs batted in and not helping us any!” Regardless of the validity (or lack thereof—Dark was a bit of a doorknob) of that assessment it does serve as a reminder that it remains a team game and you’re expect to subordinate individual goals for the good of the team. Therefore, here are my six finalists along with reasons why they could win and why they might not. The first set of stats is their totals to date, the other, their numbers this month.

Player            BA    OBP   SLG  Runs  HR  RBI  SB   BA    OBP   SLG  Runs HR  RBI  SB
David Wright:    .321  .414  .548   110  30  105  34  .337  .421  .620   18   6   18   4

In his favor:
The question should be: What’s not to love? He plays a dynamite third base, he hits for power and average, has a terrific batting eye, is a 30-30 player, has ramped it up a notch in September and has been tremendous late and close (.342/.446/.592). He’s also cracked the century mark in runs and RBIs (hey, it’s going to count to the guys with the ballots) and has an outside shot at 100 walks. The Mets may end up with the best record in the NL and he is the best player they have. Sounds like an MVP to me.

Against:
If the Mets somehow manage to lose the division or somehow manage to fall short of the post season it will go down in baseball history as an epic collapse. While it would hardly be Wright’s fault, it may weigh in voters’ minds.

Player            BA    OBP   SLG  Runs  HR  RBI  SB   BA    OBP   SLG  Runs HR  RBI  SB
Prince Fielder:  .290  .394  .623   108  50  119   0  .354  .480  .780   22  11   22   0

In his favor:
The numbers speak for themselves and he has been a beast in September.

Against:
Fielder lacks Wright’s glove, baserunning, plays a less than crucial defensive position without note (defensively). If the Brewers miss the postseason, like Wright, it is hardly his fault, but clubs whose teams have epic collapses don’t have MVP players on them.

Player            BA    OBP   SLG  Runs  HR  RBI  SB   BA    OBP   SLG  Runs HR  RBI  SB
Jimmy Rollins:   .296  .344  .533   135  30   91  37  .296  .331  .557   18   6   15  10

In his favor:
Like Wright, he’s 30-30, and he plays an excellent shortstop, hits well with men on (91-plus RBIs while batting leadoff for an NL club requires a very good hitter) and while his BA/OBP isn’t great with RISP and two out or late and close, he slugs .512 and .495 in those situations. Of interest, a typical NL batter with 757 plate appearances would be expected to have 89 RBIs and Rollins has 91. However a typical NL batter would have 482 runners on base to drive in, while Rollins has had 378. While Rollins OBP isn’t awe inspiring, he has 135 runs (tops in the NL), 207 hits, 38 doubles, 19 (ditto) triples and has a shot at joining Curtis Granderson in the 20-20-20-20 club (doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases). Rollins also is second the NL in total bases, hits, extra base hits and power/speed number. Finally, if the Phillies made the post season—and even somehow take the division after saying at the beginning of the year that the Phillies were the team to beat—that counts in his favor (with me anyway); he talked the talk and walked the walk and I’m guessing that he’s been a sparkplug both on the field and in the clubhouse.

Against:
If the Phillies don’t make the post season, well … like Wright and Fielder, it’s hardly his fault but it will count against him. Further while he leads the NL in runs and triples, he also leads it in outs and a .344 OBP which is below league average.

Player            BA    OBP   SLG  Runs  HR  RBI  SB   BA    OBP   SLG  Runs HR  RBI  SB
Chase Utley:     .334  .413  .573   102  22  101   9  .306  .389  .520   21   4   13   1  

In his favor:
He’s arguably the best player in the National League and is having his best season. Roberto Alomar had his best season in 2001 and this season Utley has eight more extra-base hits, more RBIs and will come close to Alomar’s runs total in 81 fewer PA. The future Hall-of-Famer was a better base stealer and walked a bit more. Further, that was Robbie’s best season and we haven’t seen the best of Chase Utley yet.

Against:
Utley missed 30 games and while the offense picked up the slack, it did have a negative effect on the Phillies. While he’s having a fine September, it hasn’t been of the same high quality as the rest of ‘07. The injury plays a part obviously; regardless, it cannot be ignored.

Player            BA    OBP   SLG  Runs  HR  RBI  SB   BA    OBP   SLG  Runs HR  RBI  SB
Matt Holliday:  .338  .402  .607   114  36  132  11  .357   .434  .833   24  12   27   2

In his favor:
The Rockies have won 10 in a row and taken the NL West and wild card races by storm. He has been an absolute menace to opposing pitchers in September while displaying a fine glove in the outfield. If the Rockies make it to October then Holliday has got a real shot at the award.

Against:
Two words: Coors Field. His .301/.371/.487 batting line away from home indicates the man can hit; however when then-Rockie Larry Walker copped his MVP in 1997 he batted .346/.443/.733 and hit 29 of his 49 home runs on the road.

Player            BA    OBP   SLG  Runs  HR  RBI  SB   BA    OBP   SLG  Runs HR  RBI  SB
Chipper Jones:   .339  .427  .605   105  28  100   5  .395  .484  .711   20   6   21   0

In His Favor:
As of right now, he is an extreme longshot . He’s done it all this year, leading the NL in batting average, OPS, OPS+, and both scored and driven in over 100. He’s a big reason why the Braves are still (kinda) in it.

Against:
Like Utley, Jones has missed significant time and it has affected the Braves negatively. Of all the players on this list, he needs his team to make it to October for Jones to have any kind of chance.

So, here’s the moment nobody has been waiting for:

Who I would vote for:

If the Mets win the division: David Wright. If the Phillies make it to the postseason, I’d have to flip a coin between Wright and Rollins (I suspect I’d vote Wright unless Rollins had a mind-blowing final four games). If the Phillies win the East, then I vote Rollins. I plead guilty to casting this vote with my heart because he has been a blast to watch this year. My head tells me that it doesn’t matter from which angle you look at it: David Wright is the reason I say Utley is “arguably” the best player in the circuit—Wright is the main counter-argument to that assertion.

Who I think will win

If the Mets hold on to the division and the Brewers fall short: David Wright
If the Brewers make the postseason: Prince Fielder
If the Phillies win the NL East: Jimmy Rollins

Like I said, this is gonna be fun!

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