PHOENIX — The MVP award will engender its usual degree of controversy this season.
The main problem with the award is the name itself. Should it go to the most valuable player, a highly subjective indicator, or the most outstanding player, a more numbers-based consideration?
Zoilo Versalles or Andre Dawson?
It can go either way.
The National League has its share of candidates from both camps this season, with a little more than a month remaining before the playoffs begin.
A case can be made that no one has meant more to his team than Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, who leads the NL with 100 RBI and is tied for the home run lead with 31.
Unless it is Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig.
Yadier Molina and Andrew McCutchen have been the best players on the best teams in NL Central, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, and each plays a premium position. Each, also, is blessed with a strong supporting cast. Freddie Freeman and Carlos Gonzalez have had good years. How could you pick between Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and 2010 winner Joey Votto in Cincinnati?
Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw is again the best pitcher in baseball, regardless of his win-loss record. He has the highest WAR (wins over replacement player) of anyone in the game.
A quality, top-heavy group.
As it always does, the field will thin as the season proceeds.
Things have a way of shaking themselves out, as when Atlanta’s Chipper Jones won the MVP (with Don Baylor as his hitting coach) in 1999, when Jeff Kent outplayed San Francisco teammate Barry Bonds in 2000, and when Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard used a big September to get past Albert Pujols in 2006.
At this point, it makes for a interesting discussion.
Cuban emigre Puig, said to be 22, is the wild card.
“If it is pure MVP, has anyone been more valuable than Puig?” one veteran major league scout said. “I think he is an idiot, but when he came up (the Dodgers) were nine games below .500, and now have a chance to run away with the West. If you want value, that is value.”
Puig is hitting .346 with 17 doubles, 12 homers and 29 RBI in 70 games. When he was recalled from the minors on June 3, the Dodgers were 23-32 and in last place, 8 1/2 games out of the division lead. They are 52-20 since and have won 45 of their last 55.
The resurgence has not been all Puig, who has brought a high degree of swagger along with his five-tool game. Hanley Ramirez has been just as hot. And there is Adrian Gonzalez, Kershaw and fellow starter Zack Greinke. But Puig has been a big part.
From a sheer numbers standpoint, Puig lags far behind Goldschmidt, McCutchen … really, anyone else in the field.
Goldschmidt is a combination of valuable and outstanding, which should do nothing but help his chances if Arizona can stay in contention. He has 17 go-ahead home runs this season and six homers in the ninth inning. He hit bases-empty homers in the ninth and 11th innings to tie, then beat, Baltimore on Aug. 13, and is on pace for 39 homers and 128 RBI.
“A legit MVP if the D-backs stay in the race at all. His numbers are going to be hug,” a West Coast scout said.
Votto has heard criticism for failing to expand his strike zone to increase his RBIs total, and he has only 59 RBI this season, hardly the production of an MVP contender. He had 113 RBI when he was one short of a unanimous choice in 2010. But his other numbers are solid. He is third behind Carlos Gonzalez and Goldschmidt in OPS, is hitting .317 with 18 homers, and already has 100 walks, by far the most in the league. He has vocal supporters, too.
“Votto’s RBI total doesn’t really concern me,” sad one East Coast scout, whose pecking order at this point in McCutchen, Votto and Goldschmidt.
“What is important is the total sum of his production and his all-around value. I put him right behind McCutchen right now if you are talking about guys driving their team’s playoff fortunes. (McCutchen’s) prowess with the bat is supplemented with his speed and his defense at a premium position. Those two guys are at the top of my list, with Goldschmidt coming next.”