In 2011 Ryan Braun beat out Matt Kemp for the NL MVP in a race that many feel could have gone the other way, easily. So far through the first half of 2012 there are quite a few players who deserve to be in the discussion and I considered doing a top 10 for the National League but to be consistent I’ll stick with 5, leaving out a few people that I would like to include.
5. Ryan Braun (MIL): .304 avg, 24 HR, 60 RBI, 54 runs, 13 SB
Braun clearly hasn’t let the offseason distractions have a negative impact on his performance on the field so far this season. He leads the NL in home runs, is third in RBI, third in slugging (.597), and fifth in OPS (.985). He doesn’t have the protection in the lineup of Prince Fielder anymore, but that hasn’t hurt his production to say the least. Braun leads the Brewers in batting average, home runs, RBI, hits, and steals. He’s on pace to equal or better the majority of his numbers from a season ago but because of the years some of the other guys on this list are having Braun has been fairly under the radar to this point.
4. Melky Cabrera (SF): .353 avg, 8 HR, 44 RBI, 55 runs, 10 SB
In recent years the San Francisco Giants have won with their pitching but this year Melky Cabrera is providing some offensive punch to a team that generally lacks it. He’s second in the NL in batting average, first in hits (118), tied for second in triples (7), and tied for fifth in runs. His impact on the Giants is where his true value lies. He’s scored 15 more runs than the next guy on the team, has 28 more hits than Angel Pagan who’s second, his 44 RBI leads the team, and Buster Posey and Pagan have the next highest batting averages at .288. The Giants are currently only a half game back of the Dodgers in the NL West, thanks in large part to Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, and Madison Bumgarner. But when it comes to getting them run support Melky Cabrera has been as important as anyone in the lineup.
3. David Wright (NYM): .352 avg, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 56 runs, 9 SB
Before the season started many (myself included) didn’t think the Mets would be any good. But they’re proving me and everyone else wrong at the moment with a 46-39 record and are second in the NL East, ahead of the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins. And while most of the attention in New York has been centered around R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana’s resurgence the Mets have scored the third most runs in the National League (394). That’s where David Wright comes in. He’s third in the NL in batting average, tied for fourth in runs, third in hits (105), tied for second in doubles (27), third in RBI, and third in OPS (1.010). There isn’t much Wright can’t do on the field and the Mets have needed every bit of it to be where they are at the moment, sitting in a three-way tie with the Giants and Reds atop the wild card standings.
2. Joey Votto (CIN): .349 avg, 14 HR, 48 RBI, 50 runs
The Reds first baseman has already won one MVP Award (2010) and is making a strong push for his second. Votto is fourth in the NL in batting average, first in doubles (35), first in on base percentage (.469), and first in slugging (.620). His 1.088 OPS is the highest in all of MLB. Teammate Jay Bruce has three more home runs and six more RBI but he’s largely benefited from Votto hitting in front of him and getting on base with great regularity. Take Votto out of Cincinnati’s lineup and it changes dramatically. Manager Dusty Baker would rather that not happen. As would Reds fans everywhere.
1. Andrew McCutchen (PIT): .359 avg, 16 HR, 56 RBI, 55 runs, 14 SB
Barry Bonds was the last Pittsburgh Pirates player to win the NL MVP. That could change this year. Andrew McCutchen is making the jump from a very good player to one of the games best all-around players right before our eyes. He’s first in the league in batting average, tied for fifth in runs, tied for second in hits (109), tied for fifth in home runs, tied for fifth in RBI, tied for third in on base percentage (.411), second in slugging (.605), and second in OPS (1.017). And McCutchen’s Pirates are in first place in the NL Central, one game up on Joey Votto’s Reds. Pittsburgh has done this with one of the poorer offenses in the National League. They’ve scored the fifth fewest runs (332), have the third worst batting average (.243), have the second fewest hits (673), and the worst on base percentage (.298). Subtract McCutchen’s runs, hits, and RBI and the Pirates would be last in the NL in all three categories. They would also be hitting .229 without him, which is completely unacceptable for a Major League Baseball team. And they wouldn’t be in first place.