Cespedes for NL MVP? Not as crazy as you think

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NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.

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On July 31st of this Major League Baseball Season, the Detroit Tigers had to make the bold and season-defining move of being sellers at the trade deadline. Among the moves they made was trading outfielder and Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets. Since the Mets acquired him, they have been on an absolute tear.

In 36 games since landing in the “Big Apple”, the Mets are 25-11 and have not only claimed possession of first place in the National League East, but they now have a full 7.0 game lead on the struggling and disappointing Washington Nationals. He’s hit 14 home runs and driven in 36 runs in a Mets’ uniform, producing a .312/.357/.675 slash line. Cespedes’ recent power surge and MVP-caliber play over the last six weeks has sparked a nationwide conversation.

Should Yoenis Cespedes be at the worst considered for National League Most Valuable Player? I say yes.

The numbers speak for themselves, there is no denying what he alone brings to the table. What I think gets forgotten about very often when discussing a player’s “value” to a team is the presence, the dynamic, the “tools” he brings to the table, not just the numbers he puts up. Clearly, Cespedes is contributing to the Mets’ success. He was the last piece to the trade puzzle the Mets put together at the deadline to make a push for the postseason.

He has lengthened the lineup. He has made everyone else better, more inspired and taken loads of pressure off of players like David Wright, who missed significant time this season due to injuries and only recently came back in mid-August. The July 31st trade deadline basically splits the Mets’ season into night and day. They went from one of the worst hitting teams in all of baseball to one of the best. Five everyday players for the Mets, including young infielder Wilmer Flores, are hitting over .300 since the beginning of August. And Flores was almost traded a few days before the trade deadline to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Gomez (who was eventually traded to the Houston Astros, and is hitting .239 in 36 games for Houston). You have to wonder where the Mets would be if they have gotten Gomez instead of Cespedes.

Baseball-Reference gives basically every statistic possible in baseball’s rich history. They have an option that projects or “prorates” a player’s stats for a 162-game season if he were either injured or traded mid-season. According to the site, Cespedes’ prorated stats with the Mets would have him hitting 63 home runs, 162 runs batted in, producing a .312 batting average and an OPS (on-base % + slugging %) of 1.032.

The National League MVP race has been tightly contested for some time now, but the front runner among many experts and followers has been Nationals young phenom Bryce Harper. In 132 games, the 22-year old Harper has bashed 36 homers, driven in 85 and has a gaudy .336/.467/.657 slash line. What makes Harper’s numbers more impressive is his K/BB ratio of nearly 1.00 (113 K, 109 BB).

Harper has some company for NL MVP candidates, along with Yoenis Cespedes. Let’s take a look at some of them and their 2015 numbers:

  • Anthony Rizzo – 1B, CHC: 137 games, 29 HR, 88 RBI, .285/.392/.535
  • Paul Goldschmidt – 1B, ARZ: 137 games, 27 HR, 97 RBI, .317/.431/.548
  • Andrew McCutchen – CF, PIT: 134 games, 21 HR, 89 RBI, .300/.403/.511
  • Buster Posey – C, SF: 131 games, 17 HR, 82 RBI, .329/.387/.487
  • Joey Votto – 1B, CIN: 136 games, 27 HR, 70 RBI, .316/.459/.559

The last time an MVP came from a non-playoff team was in 2008 when Albert Pujols hit .357/.462/.653 for the St. Louis Cardinals. He smashed 37 long balls and drove in 116 that season as well. The last time it happened in the AL? 2003, Alex Rodriguez took home the honors and the Texas Rangers missed the postseason. So, according to recent voting history, it really helps to be in the playoffs, or at least in contention.

So going back to 2015’s candidates. Harper is still probably the leader in the clubhouse for NL MVP, but Harper’s Nats are likely out of postseason contention after being swept by Cespedes’ Mets this week. Like Harper, Votto and Goldschmidt are on teams not contending for the postseason, but have very impressive numbers. Posey, a former MVP himself, is also on a Giants team that has fallen out of the playoff race but has been consistent all season long. McCutchen won the award in 2013 and is “the guy” in Pittsburgh, but his numbers are a tick or two below the rest of the candidates. I really like Anthony Rizzo and what he’s blossomed into as a big league ball player, and he is no doubt the MVP of the Chicago Cubs. However, I associate this year’s Cubs success more with manager Joe Maddon.

We’ve also had pitchers win the MVP over the years as well. In 2011, the Tigers very own Justin Verlander won the award, going 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. He took home Cy Young honors in the junior circuit as well that year. Just last season in the National League. Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw ace Clayton Kershaw also won both the Cy Young and MVP. He went 21-3 with a sparkling 1.77 ERA and 259 punchouts. A side note, American League > National League when it comes to strength of lineups that pitchers oppose. Imagine Kershaw pitching in the AL, or Verlander in the NL.

Back to our Cespedes for MVP argument. The Mets have 23 games remaining. He’s likely going to play in all of them, which will put him at 59 games for the season in a Mets uniform, which will put him at participating in 36.4% of the Mets season. Where their record stands with Cespedes when the season ends remains in question. As of right now, they’ve won nearly 70% of their games when he is in the lineup.

In 2011, Justin Verlander made 34 starts in the regular season and the Tigers won 25, or 73.5%, of his starts. Likewise in 2014, Clayton Kershaw made 27 starts, the Dodgers won 23, or 85.1%. Pitchers often get a lot of flack when it comes to MVP voting because they only make so many appearances for a team throughout the season. So Verlander played in just under 21% of the Tigers games in 2011 during his MVP run, while Kershaw appeared in less at 16.6% for the 2014 edition of the Dodgers.

What makes Cespedes a unique situation is because he was traded from the Tigers, switching leagues and having to adapt quickly. I’m not saying he SHOULD be the MVP of the National League, but should garner strong consideration. If pitchers can win the award and “make an impact” in less than a quarter of a team’s season, then why not Yoenis Cespedes for the Mets?

There are still three weeks left in the regular season. Any of the candidates we have discussed can either skyrocket to the top of the list, or falter. Same goes for their team. Who knows? The Harper’s Nationals could catch the Mets and Cespedes still. McCutchen’s Pirates and Rizzo’s Cubbies could flip-flop playoff spots. Hell, even Goldschmidt’s Diamondbacks or Posey’s Giants are capable of going on a tear and making not only the playoff race interesting, but the MVP race as well.

So, should Yoenis Cespedes be considered for National League MVP. Big picture question: What is YOUR criteria for a Most Valuable Player?

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Posted by Alex Muller
MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).