Justin Upton, Ellsbury top MVP races

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
11:22
AM ET
Ryan Braun/Shane Vicotrino/Justin UptonUS PresswireRyan Braun, Shane Victorino and Justin Upton are three of the NL's top MVP candidates.
Note: Each Friday until the end of the season, the SweetSpot blog will offer its take on the MVP and Cy Young races. We start with Eric Karabell's take on the MVP awards.

What matters to you when choosing whom to honor with an MVP award? I analyze many factors in choosing the best player for each league whether as part of discussion for the daily Baseball Today podcast or just when hanging out with friends or in the hallways of ESPN. Fair or not, I look at the standings as part of the process. Sure, it’s not Troy Tulowitzki’s fault that the Colorado Rockies likely will miss the playoffs, but I can’t vote for him when there are so many other deserving candidates.

Tulowitzki leads NL hitters in wins above replacement, according to the mighty FanGraphs.com, and his standout defense certainly plays a role in that, but as of this lovely Friday, I’m voting for someone else. To the right you’ll see my current top 10 for the NL MVP award, and lower in this blog we focus on the AL MVP. There’s still a long way to go in the season, but it’s always fun to debate MVPs.

Meanwhile, way to go, J-Up! Look, the Arizona Diamondbacks were not expected to be in first place this season, certainly not as late as mid-August. Justin Upton is among the leaders in home runs and runs created, is batting .302 and plays a terrific right field. Plus, the fact that his team wouldn’t be there without him matters. Tulowitzki’s team might be the Houston Astros without him, but focus on the positive: Upton’s having a great season as well, as he’s posting a 5.5 WAR, just a bit behind Tulowitzki’s 6.0.

Nine of the top 10 players in NL WAR made my top 10, with only Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto absent. Lance Berkman replaces him. For a while, he and Matt Holliday carried the Cardinals. You’ll see no sign of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, the NL's RBI leader, because RBIs are a misleading statistic. Howard is having the worst season of his career, and not only defensively. It’s notable that his Phillies teammate John Mayberry Jr. has almost the same WAR. Perhaps the Phillies can’t afford to lose him, but let’s not call it an MVP season. Half the Phillies' lineup has been more valuable to their team, believe it or not.

My choice for now: Upton.

The numbers say: Tulowitzki.

The voters would say: Probably Ryan Howard! OK, they’d say Prince Fielder.

* * * *

Meanwhile, in the American League it seems the top teams -- or make that top team -- have the top MVP choices. Certainly the Boston Red Sox have enjoyed the work of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, among others. We’ve discussed this on recent podcasts, and while colleague and SweetSpot writer/editor David Schoenfield might choose the second baseman, I’m going with the center fielder. Gonzalez is not Ryan Howard, though he leads the AL in RBIs. He’s having a terrific season, but he’s been Boston’s third-best player.

There’s a great debate when it comes to Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista. He doesn’t bring much defensive value, and his team is certainly not looking like it will play meaningful October games. If Joey Bats had kept on pace and topped 50 home runs for the second consecutive year, with a dozen or so more than anybody else, he’d probably get my vote. But Bautista has slowed down; after starting July with seven home runs in the first nine games, he went the rest of the month without hitting one. So far in August he’s hitting .156. Plus, Bautista leads the home run race by only one over Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson.

As for my top 10 choices, Teixeira is actually outside the top 20 when it comes to AL WAR, so that he made my top 10 at all is a bit surprising. I couldn’t vote for Ian Kinsler and his .240 batting average even though he’s seventh in AL WAR, thanks in part to terrific second-base defense. I couldn’t go with Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who's producing big for a last-place team. Middle infielders Yunel Escobar and Howie Kendrick also have a higher WAR than either of the AL Central Cabreras, thanks to defense. Look, Asdrubal Cabrera makes a lot of highlight plays, but overall he is not having a strong season defensively, according to the metrics. Not even close. He has the same WAR as the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta. But I have to give him credit for a surprising offensive campaign. The Indians might be in fourth place without him.

My choice for now: Ellsbury.

The numbers say: Bautista.

The voters would say: Probably Adrian Gonzalez or, if the Yankees catch the Sox, Granderson.

Be sure to check out Eric's blog on fantasy baseball. Follow him on Twitter @karabellespn.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer

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