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Is Justin Upton the NL MVP? | August

Over the past few weeks, sportswriters everywhere have been speculating on who will win the Division, the Wild Card, the World Series, the Cy Young, etc.  Then comes the MVP talk.  For Diamondbacks fans, MVP has never been a big topic of discussion.  Not since 2001 in Luis Gonzalez have they had a legitimate contender for baseball’s most prestigious award, and he wasn’t even really close (some guy named Bonds won).  But this year is different.  This year we have Justin Upton.  What Justin Upton has done this year, carrying the team on his back, has been remarkable.  Unfortunately, other people have had good years thus far as well.  Looking among the opinions of writers, there are four real contenders: Upton, Los Angeles’ Matt Kemp, and the Milwaukee duo Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.  So who is the NL MVP?

Let’s start by looking at the stats entering Monday’s games.













































Looking solely at the stats, it doesn’t appear that Upton has much of a chance.  But the thing about the MVP Award is that it is a misnomer.  I personally believe that there should be three major awards per year: the best pitcher (CY Young Award), the best hitter (make it and call it something catchy and fitting like the Willie Mays Award), then the Most Valuable Player.  Take the National League in 2006.  Ryan Howard had a terrific year, well deserving of the Willie Mays Award, but how valuable was he to the Phillies?  The Phils won 85 games and lost the division by 12 games (though they finished only 3 games out of the Wild Card).  So who should have been the MVP that year?  Albert Pujols.  In the hitters version of the triple crown (average, home runs, and RBIs), he finished 3rd in the league in batting (.331 to Freddy Sanchez’s .344), and 2nd in HR (49 to Howard’s 58) and RBI (137 to Howard’s 149).  Howard had a better offensive season than Pujols that year, and is well deserving of my Willie Mays Award.  But Pujols’ Cardinals won 83 games, the division, and (although it has no bearing on the award voting) eventually the World Series.  Albert Pujols in 2006 was more valuable to the St. Louis Cardinals than Ryan Howard was to the Philadelphia Phillies.  But wait, where would the Phils have been without Howard?  In my opinion, it doesn’t matter.  The Phillies did not make the playoffs and in October 2nd place and 5th place both go home.

So using that logic, the new “Willie Mays Award,” and the fWAR stat, let’s re-examine our MVP candidates.  According to the wonderful Fangraphs.com, Justin Upton has been worth more wins to his team than any other sole player in the National League, evidenced by his NL leading 6.2 fWAR.  The Diamondbacks currently sit at a record (before Monday’s game) of 69-58, 1.5 games up on the San Francisco Giants.  If we trade out Upton for the WAR hypothetical “replacement player,” we now have Player X playing right field with a WAR of 0.0.  So if those (let’s round and say) 6 wins are subtracted from the Diamondbacks’ record and instead are recorded as losses, the Dbacks are now 63-64, 1 game under .500 and 4.5 games behind the Giants.  Without Justin Upton, the Dbacks are not in first place.  Clearly Upton has been extremely valuable to this team.

Now let’s look at the other players in MVP consideration.  Matt Kemp is having a tremendous year in southern California; no doubt about that.  But how valuable has he been?  His 6.0 fWAR is 4th among NLers, and his Dodgers are currently dead last in the division- 57-69.  So Player X wearing Dodger Blue would lead to a 51-75.  So with or without Kemp, the Dodgers are still in last place, and watching the playoffs from home.

While the combination of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder create what might be the best hitting pair in the NL, the key word here is valuable.  The Brewers’ 76-52 record gives them an 8.5 game cushion over the Cardinals in the NL Central.  Without Braun’s 5.8 fWAR, the Brewers still have 2.5 game lead, and without Fielder’s 4.4 clip, the Brewers lead by 4.5.  How can someone be the most valuable player in the league if there is someone nearly as valuable on his own team?  Looking at the stats alone, Ryan Braun is my clear cut Willie Mays Award winner.  But if he wasn’t in Milwaukee, the Brewers would still make the playoffs.

Kemp, Braun, Fielder: you have all had tremendous years.  And you are very valuable to your respective teams.  But you are not the most valuable in the league.  That MVP distinction belongs to Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  And I just hope that those baseball writers with MVP votes read this, and make the right decision.