The NL MVP Picture

The season is wrapping up and that means its time for discussion over who deserves each league’s postseason awards. The most talked about award for Cardinals’ fans is the National League MVP because the belief is that we have two guys who should be top candidates for the title, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina. Now, not to disparage those two who are very good baseball players, but neither is the MVP this year in my opinion.

The award is called the Most Valuable Player. It’s not the Best Hitter Award. So what creates value in a player? There are many ways you can discuss it. Does salary factor in? How about intangibles? What are valuable statistics?

I decided to follow my favorite advice. “Keep it simple, stupid.” Value is created by winning and the only statistic that matters when it comes to winning is runs. So one of my favorite statistics to look at is what I’m now calling Total Impacted Runs (TIR). I previously called it Runs Created, but there is a sabermetric stat with the same name, so I changed it to avoid confusion. The computation is simple, Runs plus Runs Batted In minus Home Runs. So basically Total Impacted Runs determines the total number of runs you played a role in by either crossing the plate yourself or pushing a teammate across.

I took the eight starting position players (according to Baseball Reference) for each of the five current NL Playoff Teams and Washington. We can dispute whether teams should matter, but in my opinion your team either needs to make the playoffs of be in the discussion come mid-September for you to qualify. It comes back to value being created by winning. Here are the top five in Total Impacted Runs for your five NL Playoff teams plus Washington.

Total Impacted Runs
1. Matt Carpenter, Stl – 187
2. Matt Holliday, Stl – 170
3. Freddie Freeman, Atl – 165
T-4. Brandon Phillips, Cin – 161
T-4. Jay Bruce, Cin – 161

Matt Carpenter leads the list, just what I expected. He leads the league in runs scored and has a high number of RBI. That’s a slam dunk for a high Impacted Runs. The surprise on the list to me was Matt Holliday. Holliday was much maligned this year for his struggles in the first part of the season and has been viewed as having had a bad season. I knew he wasn’t, but it still surprised me to see him this high on the list.

And Jay Bruce may just be having one of the quietest seasons a player with his numbers could get.

The problem with this though is that it only tells me half the story. It tells me production but it doesn’t tell me value. In order to create the concept of value you need to compare it to something about that which the player is creating value for. Is he creating value for baseball? No. He’s creating value for his team.

So the next step is to take Total Impacted Runs and divide it by the number of runs scored by each player’s team. That will tell you just how valuable they were in comparison to each other.

Total Impacted Runs as Percentage of Team Runs
1. Andrew McCutchen, Pit – 25.9%
2. Freddie Freeman, Atl – 25.2%
3. Matt Carpenter, Stl – 24.9%
T-4. Brandon Phillips, Cin – 23.8%
T-4. Jay Bruce, Cin – 23.8%

Holliday drops off the list, but Andrew McCutchen surges to the top of the board. He plays such a pivotal role in that Pittsburgh offense. It’s very easy to say that if you take him out of the Pirates’ equation, they aren’t anywhere near the team they are with him. He was actually sixth in Total Impacted Runs. He may have impacted 31 fewer runs than Matt Carpenter did, but they were all the more important for a team who has scored roughly 150 fewer runs than the Cardinals. That’s almost 1 whole run per game less. The offense relies on the value McCutchen contributes more than the value Carpenter contributes.

If you view the MVP as more than just the best offensive player in the league, it seems pretty clear that when you go to basics, Andrew McCutchen has the most value to his team of any of the offensive players in the NL playoff picture. He is involved in over a quarter of his team’s offensive output, which is pretty incredible to think about.

All stats current as of September 21st, 2013.