Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt placed second in the NL MVP voting, losing out to Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
In fact, Goldschmidt didn't receive a single first-place vote in the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting, but he should have. Actually, he should have won the award.
First, a quick primer on Goldschmidt's year, courtesy of the D-backs marketing department:
Goldschmidt also brought home some hardware, winning the Silver Slugger (best offensive first baseman in the NL), Gold Glove (best defensive first baseman in the NL), and the Hank Aaron Award (best hitter in the NL).
So what's the problem?
Let's take the explanation from the Arizona Republic's Diamondbacks beat writer Nick Piecoro, who had a vote, and didn't have enough hometown bias in him to pick Goldy. ("Explaining my MVP ballot.")
- "[McCutchen] wasn't the best center fielder in the league, but he was up there, and his positive defensive contributions at one of the game's most crucial positions carried a ton of weight."
- "Add in McCutchen's base-running advantage and, in my eyes, that more than made up for the small advantage Goldschmidt had at the plate."
McCutchen was "up there"? Not quite. One of the most popular measures of defensive play is called "Defensive Runs Saved" (DRS). Here's an oft-cited explanation from Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski:
In this regard, McCutchen was hardly better than the median center fielder in Major League Baseball this year. Even the D-backs' A.J. Pollock was much better by this measure. McCutchen was not even close to being among the elite center fielders in DRS.
"For instance, if a shortstop makes a play that only 24% of shortstops make, he will get .76 of a point (1 full point minus .24). If a shortstop BLOWS a play that 82% of shortstops make, then you subtract .82 of a point. And at the end, you add it all up and get a plus/minus"
In another very popular defensive measure, Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), McCutchen's again just above the middle of the pack. By FanGraphs' measure, McCutchen is "above average," but certainly not "great," or anywhere near Gold Glove-caliber.
Goldschmidt did win a Gold Glove, and his DRS is just below FanGraphs' approximated "Gold Glove" level. He's just a little behind the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo for first baseman in that regard.
Giving more weight to a center fielder than a first baseman for MVP voting is fine. But why does a center fielder who played at a slightly above-average level get an edge over one of the best, if not the best defensive first baseman?
This argument does hold weight. However, it would be interesting to know in what way he thinks Goldschmidt has a "small advantage" at the plate. One measure is a metric called "Weighted Runs Created Plus" (wRC+), in which Goldschmidt is just barely measured as a better offensive producer than McCutchen. Combining a measure of the players' base-running, McCutchen gets the edge. But, by this measure, Reds first baseman Joey Votto had a better offensive year than Goldschmidt.
Our opinion: Goldy's Hank Aaron Award wasn't a mistake.
There are also some other opinions out there.
Really? McCutchen led this team to the playoffs?
We don't remember McCutchen taking the mound this year.
Arizona's pitchers were ranked 21st, 25th, 17th, respectively, in the above categories.
The Pirates were bounced from the playoffs in the National League Division Series anyway.
The way we see it, Goldschmidt was more of a winner than McCutchen was this year, which makes the postseason argument seem silly.
Consider a measurement called Win Probability Added, with this explanation from FanGraphs:
Win Probability Added (WPA) captures this difference by measuring how individual players affect their team's win expectancy on a per-play basis.
For example, say the Rays have a 45% chance of winning before Ben Zobrist comes to the plate. During his at-bat, Zobrist hits a home run, pushing the Rays' win expectancy jumps to 75%. That difference in win expectancy (in decimal form, +.30) from the beginning of the play to the end is Ben Zobrist's WPA for that play. If Zobrist strikes out during his next at bat and lowers his team's win expectancy by 5%, his overall WPA for the game so far would be +.30 - .05 = +.25, as WPA is a counting statistic and is additive.
No player in the MLB had a higher WPA this year than Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt helped put his team in a position to win more than any other player in baseball.
That makes him a pretty "valuable player," doesn't it?
We also like how Goldschmidt does in the "clutch" -- which is an actual calculation, and not just a feeling. It measures how well a player performs when it counts, also known as "high-leverage situations." Goldschmidt was second in the MLB in "clutch," to the Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez.
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No one in the NL had more walk-off homers, game-winning RBI, go-ahead homers, go-ahead RBI, or homers after the 8th inning than Goldschmidt.
Now, where do we file this police report for the robbery of Paul Goldschmidt's MVP award?