By In Stuff

The Eternal Question


Some MVP talk at SportsWorld.

And some will vote Cespedes. I have a friend who thinks the MVP should be Cespedes. When I asked why, he explained it this way: The baseball season is a story, and Cespedes is the protagonist. “The season is not about the Nationals,” he says. “They’re done. Yes, the season is about the Cubs, but Rizzo isn’t the dominant figure there. You could vote for Kris Bryant. You could vote for Jake Arrieta. You could vote for Joe Maddon. The Mets were floundering and then Cespedes came along. I look at it like a novel. There are greater wizards than Harry Potter, but the book is about him. This season is about Yoenis Cespedes and he should be MVP.”

What does the MVP actually reward?

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22 Responses to The Eternal Question

  1. Jaunty Rockefeller says:

    By my lights, even according to your friend’s “novel” idea, the MVP is Harper. If Ken Burns Jr. made Baseball 2.0, Cespedes would be mentioned during the episode on the 2015 season, but the historic emergence of Harper would be the plot.

  2. jalabar says:

    Bryce Harper is having a season as good or better than the very best seasons ever by Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Alex Rodriguez, etc. Cespedes has been wonderful and a catalyst for the Mets, but don’t overthink this… Harper is having a historically great season. He is the MVP. The fact that his pitchers haven’t held up their end of the bargain doesn’t change that whatever Cespedes is doing, the Mets would have been much better off with Harper. Harp leads all baseball in WAR by .7, all hitters in WAR by 1.6, and all NL hitters by 1.9 wins. His OPS and OPS+ are better than the best EVER put together by Pujols, Cabrera, A-Rod, or Trout.

    Cespedes combined : .296/.332/.558/.891 142 OPS+ 6.4 WAR
    Cespedes (just Mets): .302/.352/.676/1.028 178 OPS+ 2.3 WAR (42 games or .0547 WAR per game)
    Harper : .338/.467/.667/1.134 204 OPS+ 9.6 WAR

    Every one of those stats by Harper leads all the major leagues. He also leads the NL in runs and home runs, and the only reason he isn’t winning a triple crown this year is the Nats did squat in front of him. Voting for anyone but Harper is way, way overthinking the MVP and a misused vote.

  3. andrew brems says:

    Look at Manny Ramirez’s number the year he went to the Dodgers, he hit 396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 53 games and finished 4th in the MVP voting. Harper is having a great year, Cespedes had a great August, give it to Harper

  4. RickyB says:

    Your friend sees the MVP as many folks did prior to the explosion of sabermetrics — go with the narrative. Still quite a few people feel that way, but I think more and more that people are equating “best player” with MVP. I look at it as this: if you took Harper and swapped him out with Rizzo on the Cubs, would the Cubs be better off (never mind the position difference)? The answer is a resounding YES. If Harper had been traded to the Nats instead of Cespedes, would the Mets be better off? YES.

  5. In 1969, the previously abysmal Mets caught fire in August and September to beat the heavily favored Cubs for the Division and eventually capture the World Series. Though it was the young studs on the pitching staff who made the team great (guys like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman), the one key mid-season addition was the acquisition of Donn Clendenon, a first baseman with power, which the weak-hitting Mets sorely lacked. While Clendenon was no Cespedes, he was the perfect fit, contributing some key home runs, including 3 in the World Series.

    Similarly, what makes this years Mets team so formidable is not its lineup, but its power arms in the starting rotation. Cespedes gave the Mets the offense that was needed to complete the team, but that doesn’t raise him to the level of MVP, in my opinion. Certainly not compared to the season long dominance of Harper.

    The more interesting question in the MVP debate, and one where Valuable is truly the deciding factor, is in the American League, where Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout have identical WARs of 8. How to choose between them? The answer is easy. Donaldson’s performance has helped lift the moribund Blue Jays to the top of the pack in the AL East. Meanwhile, Mike Trout went into the tank in August, during which time the Angels fell from first place to third, with only the slightest hope of gaining a wild card berth. As identical as their stats may appear, there is no doubt in my mind who is the clear choice for MVP, and I think the voters will agree, that Josh Donaldson is the Most Valuable Player in the American League.

    • invitro says:

      This is a great point, because a win in August is worth more than a win in April.

      • MikeN says:

        +1 (or is it .5?)

      • Sure does. A win down the stretch can build momentum for your team and put pressure on those teams ahead of you or chasing you. Plenty of teams have folded down the stretch as a result of the pressure, or made a late charge that got them into the post-season. It’s the difference between baseball played on Strat-o-matic and baseball played by actual human beings.

  6. DJ MC says:

    As best as I can tell (BBRef kindly posts games played for their list of MVP winners), the fewest games played for a MVP non-pitcher in a non-strike year is 116, by Gabby Hartnett in 1935. Of course, he put up a .949 OPS as a catcher. The fewest by a position player is Joe DiMaggio in 1939; he hit .381 with an 1.119 OPS. And I don’t think any player has ever won after a midseason trade. So it will be incredibly difficult to get the narrative to the level he needs.

    • invitro says:

      From the FWIW dep’t:
      Brett played only one more game in a season with eight more games. And a catcher is expected to miss about 20% of his games. So Brett should be the player to compare with.
      Sutcliffe won the 1984 Cy (and was #4 in MVP) after going from CLE to CHC.

  7. Mark Daniel says:

    The Mets have a couple of other MVP-caliber players, it seems. Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud.
    Here’s how they compare to Cespedes:

    Games played:
    Cespedes: 43
    Conforto: 42
    d’Arnaud: 54

    Cespedes: .295/.345/.661, 17 HR
    Conforto: .297/.378/.547, 7 HR
    d’Arnaud: .293/.360/.551, 12 HR

    Cespedes: 2.4
    Conforto: 2.3
    d’Arnaud: 2.1

    Cespedes probably wins among these three, but it’s not that far off. I don’t think there is a meaningful difference between WAR of 2.4 and 2.3 or even 2.1. And d’Arnaud is a catcher.

    Then again, maybe Cespedes’ arrival has made these other two perform better, in which case Cespedes truly is an MVP.

    • Paul Zummo says:

      Thanks Mark, and you beat me to the punch. Cespedes has deservedly received a lot of attention, but he’s hardly the only bat in that lineup. It’s easy to construct a narrative that Cespedes has initiated the Mets’ rise to prominence in the east because their ascension coincided roughly with his arrival. But absent the play of guys like d’Arnaud, Conforto, Granderson, and even Flores and the rest of the supporting cast, they’re not going anywhere, with or without Cespedes.

      • Richard says:

        I recall one commenter somewhere saying that without Cespedes, the Mets would be in second place in the NL East. And without Harper, the Nats would be in second place in the International League…

  8. Letal says:

    Narrative has value in an MVP debate…when the numbers are close. (I think Donaldson vs. Trout in the AL is a prime example.) Following the logic, after last night’s games, Anthony Rizzo should be MVP. He drove in the winning run in a small sample size. So, that’s MVP worthy, right?

    In the end, you hope the Cespedes talk is just posturing and he won’t finish in the top 5 in the actual voting. But, prior to all this hoopla, he wouldn’t have been an afterthought to me were I a voter. So, I think the mission has been accomplished, even if he doesn’t win the award.

  9. Brent says:

    Joe: Very similar discussion on radio waves here in Chicago about Arrieta vs.Greinke for Cy Young. Cubs’ fans seem to think Arrieta’s incredible 2nd half should weigh more than Greinke’s full season of awesome.

  10. Steve Adey says:

    I’m a narrative and team guy. As in, if the team doesn’t win. . . well, there’s next year and for now we’re losers. Which leads me to think of the designated hitter who skips the 1/2 of the game when the team actually has to function together. You know, catching and throwing, and getting into the right place, and stuff like that. I wonder if maybe the Best Player for MVP folks like the DH and the Narrative/Team for MVP folks hate it.

    • jalabar says:

      Which would be pertinent to the discussion if not for the fact that we are talking NL, and Harper is a plus outfielder. He isn’t the greatest, but he is a positive in the field with a cannon for an arm, much like Cespedes. Harper holds his own in the field and has lapped the field at the plate.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Team, schmeam. Baseball is not a “team” game. It’s a game with a bunch of individuals whose collective actions result in wins or losses. And I object to the idea that, if you don’t make the playoffs or win the WS, you are losers. That’s just the kind of bullshit that our society has become; either win or you are worthless. You make a lot of assumptions about how people think without much basis for it.

      As for MVP, here’s another way to look at it-how many teams would trade Cespedes for Harper straight up? I bet most of them. How can you be the most valuable player if you aren’t the best player?

  11. Brett Alan says:

    Well, with Cespedes having come back to Earth, I think the talk of him as an MVP candidate has probably gone away. I do want to share some thoughts.

    1. Although I’m a huge Mets fan, and I love what YC has done for the team, at no point did I really think he should be the MVP. I do, however, wonder what should be done about people who switch leagues in mid-season. In this day and age where interleague play happens almost every day of the season, is switching leagues still such a big deal? I don’t think that Cespedes would have deserved the MVP even if had come to the Mets from, say, Cincinnati instead of Detroit. But if he *did* play well enough overall to win the award, I’m not sure that the change of leagues should matter the way it once did. Perhaps these awards–including the pure statistical ones–should now be based on the whole season, and you qualify in the league you’re in on August 1 (or the league you end the season in, or the league you play the most games in). Emphasis on PERHAPS–I don’t know, I’m throwing it out there and mulling it over in my own mind.

    2. Harper is an interesting case. It’s not that he’s a great player with no talent around him–he’s a great player with very much underperforming talent around him. There’s no way that any amount of leadership is going to lead a mediocre team to a pennant. But if we believe that a player’s leadership is a real thing–if we believe that Willie Stargell really deserved that ’79 MVP–then maybe it’s valid to dock Harper for letting this team slip so badly. (Then again, can you expect a 22-year-old to affect his teammates the way a veteran legend could?) I don’t know. I do know that I can’t see giving the MVP to anyone who has clearly had a worse offensive season than Harper. If I did decide not to vote for Harper–and I’m certainly not saying I’m there–the only other real choice to me is Greinke.

    3. I’m not sure what Joe meant by “prime position”, but even if you treated RBIs as a rate stat based on runners in scoring position (which obviously would be a deeply flawed metric, although it’s still kind of interesting) Arenado, at least at the point Joe used, was ahead of Harper. Of course, that doesn’t mean Arenado is having a better year by any stretch, not to mention that he DOES play in a notorious hitters’ park.

  12. adcwonk says:

    Harper is on pace for a 10 WAR season. In the expansion era (1961-), there have been only 17 10+ WAR seasons, according to That list includes Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Cal Ripken, Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle, Rickey Henderson, Alex Rodriguez and Carl Yastrzemski.

    Sounds like an MVP season to me

  13. Tyler Durden says:

    Really, we can’t go wrong with any of these choices. It’s a bit like Stanton/Kershaw last year. If Stanton would’ve won, nobody would’ve batted an eye because he deserved to win. If Kershaw won (as he did), the same would’ve been true.

    So if Harper wins (as I think he deserves), then the voters will have gotten it right. But if Grienke wins (as I also think he’s deserving), then voters still got it right. There’s no wrong choice here and that’s a great problem to have =)

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