The Most Valuable Player Award is both wonderful and infuriating. Those aren't two words that normally hang out together, but here we are. The MVP is a really fun award to discuss with like minded people because it gets to the heart of why we love analyzing sports. There are a lot of judgment calls to be made about objective data and when you get in a room with other smart people, you can learn a lot about the game. How much does a player's position matter? I think there are some really interesting ideas about that subject and we get to incorporate that into this conversation that also includes how we weigh offense and defense, who their competition was, and all kinds of other variables. If you're looking at this as an exercise in statistics, the model specification conversations are wonderful.
But on the other side of the MVP debate are the people who make up their mind based on some strange definition of value that doesn't really mean value. They want to cast their vote for "Most #3 Hitter On The Team That Was The Best" because that's how they've always thought about value. Sometimes that player is the most valuable and sometimes not. That's the infuriating part because the voting population is mostly in this second group. Instead of interesting discussions, we hear things like "RBI" and "played in meaningless games," as if it was easier for one player to hit a Clayton Kershaw curveball because his team was ten games back.
Luckily for us, in the National League this season, both worldviews arrive at the same answer. As long as you're willing to avoid RBI as a qualifying factor, Andrew McCutchen is your guy. It's not a runaway, but it's decisive. A few of our writers went with someone else and plenty of us could make a case for someone other than the Pirates' center fielder, but if you have to make a call, it's an easy call to make. And we can all rest easy knowing that we don't have to worry about the old guard ruining this one. McCutchen led his team to the playoffs, so they're good.
McCutchen played in 157 games in 2013 and turned in an impressive 155 wRC+ in addition to being a top flight baserunner (5.1 BsR) and a +7 defender according to both UZR and DRS. Not surprisingly, he led the league in fWAR (8.2). To make a strong case against McCutchen you'd have to attack the accuracy of our measures of performance or find a way to explain away his success due to competition or luck. His 2013 BABIP was actually lower than his 2012 BABIP, so that becomes difficult. It doesn't hurt that he played on a winner and for a team that finally made it to the playoffs after so long, but those are tiny little factors that we only care about if we can't decide.
Based on the best measures we have, McCutchen was the National League's top performer in 2013. Matt Carpenter and Joey Votto both earned first place votes in our balloting while six different players earned second place votes and eight earned third place votes. This was a deep group. McCutchen made some distance, but for about five months of the year, I couldn't really decide among the top seven or eight players on my own ballot. In all honesty, the distance between 1 and 6 on my NL ballot is probably smaller than the distance between 1 and 2 on my AL ballot (coming later today).
And our full ballot:
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Neil Weinberg is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score, contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter at @NeilWeinberg44.