Who Should Win the National League MVP?

The three finalists in the NL consist of two of the game's best young position players, and a ridiculously good starting pitcher.

The race for National League MVP has no clear-cut front-runner this year. Injuries to some big-name players like Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina, and the ridiculous season by a super-pitcher in Los Angeles, helped make the NL MVP race pretty wide open this year.

This week, the Baseball Writers Association of America settled on three finalists for the Senior Circuit's Most Valuable Player award: Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder and reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen, Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, and Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw.

Pitchers generally aren't considered for the MVP award. However, it does occasionally happen in the event a starting pitcher has a greater-than-normal season, or if there is no particularly strong position player candidate.

Everyone has their own definition of what an "MVP" is. Is it the player who most helped his team get to the playoffs? Is it the player who, if you subtracted him from that team, would be the greatest difference between that team winning and losing? Is it simply the player who had the best statistical season? And should a pitcher, someone who only plays baseball every fifth day, even be eligible for a Most Valuable Player Award?

My definition for MVP is simple. The MVP Award should to go the player who had the best season. Whether he helped his team make the playoffs or not doesn't matter. I mean, should we really penalize Stanton because management did not put enough pieces around him to get the Marlins to the playoffs? Of course not.

In that case, looking at the numbers can help determine who truly had the best season - independent of the team around him.

Andrew McCutchen4.07 (1)6.8 (1).412 (1)168 (1)25 (8)83 (13)
Giancarlo Stanton3.24 (7)6.1 (4).403 (2)159 (2)37 (1)105 (2)

Clayton Kershaw1.95 (14)7.2 (1)1.77 (1)1.81 (1)0.86 (1)10.85 (1)

It's a pretty tight race based on the numbers, so digging a little deeper is necessary to crown the right choice for NL MVP.

The Case Against Kershaw

I tend to lean against giving a MVP award to someone who only does one thing well. Clayton Kershaw is a terrific pitcher, but starting pitchers only play every five days during the 162-game regular season. Position players play virtually every day and provide production on both offense and defense. If a pitcher is going to win the MVP award, the position players up for consideration have to be significantly less deserving.

I don't think that was the case this season.

Kershaw's numbers are certainly eye-popping, especially when you consider that he missed the first month of the season with an injury. He went 21-3 this year with a 1.77 ERA, 1.81 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and his Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) of 7.2 was two full wins higher than the next National League starting pitcher (Jordan Zimmermann was 2nd at 5.2). But it is interesting that Kershaw's nERD of 1.95 - meaning over a 27-out game Kershaw would give up 1.95 runs a game less than a league average pitcher - was only 14th among MLB starters.

There is no doubt that Kershaw should run away and hide with the NL Cy Young Award. But I think there are two quality everyday players that deserve consideration over Kershaw for MVP.

Two Stud Outfielders

McCutchen and Stanton are the two best outfielders in the National League. And while McCutchen helped get his team to the postseason, I will not be taking that under consideration for this individual award. Instead, I will look at their numbers and how they ranked among everyday players in the NL in 2014.

McCutchen's nERD of 4.07 - meaning a lineup full of Andrew McCutchens would score 4.07 runs a game more than a league average player - was best in all of baseball. Stanton's nERD of 3.24 was extremely good but ranked 7th among all MLB players. McCutchen also had the highest fWAR (6.8) among NL players, the best weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .412, and the best weighted runs created (wRC+) in the NL (168).

Stanton's fWAR of 6.1 was still outstanding but was 4th in the NL, and his wOBA of .403 and wRC+ of 159 were both 2nd behind McCutchen. Stanton did best Cutch in the power numbers, leading the NL in homers (37) and finishing second in RBIs (105). Andrew's 25 homers were 8th in the National League, and his 83 RBIs were 13th.

Of course, RBIs are more of a team statistic, but it is still a decent stat to consider when looking at two run producers.

When taking defense into consideration, it's important to note than McCutchen plays a more challenging position (center field) than Stanton does (right field). That being said, Stanton's Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) this year of 7 was significantly better than McCutchen's -11 DRS, although both are seen as better-than-average defensive players.

Who Should Win?

When you consider position scarcity, offense and defense, and that position players have more of an every day impact than starting pitchers, the numbers (and the eye test) say Andrew McCutchen should win his second straight MVP award.

Stanton is a worthy candidate, and I'm probably in the minority for excluding Kershaw from the conversation because he is a pitcher. But McCutchen is the best player in the National League. He provides power, speed, and defense and had a better season than anyone else in the National League in 2014.

Clear some more mantle space, Andrew.