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If the Season Ended Today, Who Is the NL MVP?

This year, the NL MVP will be a highly-contested race among players such as Cody Bellinger, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Justin Turner, Paul Goldschmidt, and the superior all-around player, Joey Votto. If the season ended today (as of August 14, 2017), Votto, an average defender who has the best combination of power and OBP at the plate, should win the NL MVP this year.

According to Baseball Reference, Joey Votto boasts the highest-ranking OBP — of .446 — in the National League, along with having the third-most home runs, with 31. He ranks sixth in slugging at .600, second in OPS+ at 169, and second in runs created with 114. He ranks first in batting runs and batting wins with 48 and 4.5, respectively. Votto may not be the biggest slugger in the league, but there is no other player who hits for as much power while also getting out as infrequently and getting on base as frequently. In fact, he is the only current NL player with a .400 OBP and at least 30 HR. Compared to all other players with at least 20 home runs, nobody has been on base more times without reaching on error than Joey Votto.

Among players with 60 or fewer strikeouts, he ranks first in home runs, second in SLG, first in runs produced, first in WAR, and first in win probability added. Among players with 300 or fewer outs made, Votto is second in home runs, second in OPS+, and second in total bases.

Stanton and Bellinger, the only players in the NL with more home runs than Votto, have a combined 104 strikeouts more than Votto.

According to FanGraphs, Joey ranks first in wOBA (.431), second in wRC+ (165), and first in wRC (111). His 11.5 K% is the sixth-lowest in the league among qualified hitters, and his 47.9 wRAA (weighted runs above average) ranks first, along with his 18.5 BB%. His .287 ISO is fifth in the National League.

Joey has 3.7 Wins Above Average, which ranks third among all players in the National League. His 5.3 WAR in second among all position players, his 4.8 oWAR is second, and his 4.0 WPA is third.

At 33 years old, Joey Votto is having a career year, and if the season were to end now, he should have an MVP season. Hitters who get on base as often and strike out as rarely as Votto while also hitting for as much power are increasingly rare. I think he has a decent shot of winning this year; however, the ludicrous belief that the MVP should be on a playoff team is still rather prevalent, unfortunately. The Reds are not a good team this year, but this does not detract anything from what Votto has done this year. Hopefully, voters will recognize the value that he has brought to the Reds, and the exceptional way in which he has done it.

Scott Rolen’s Case for the Hall of Fame

Scott Rolen will appear on Hall of Fame ballots in 2018. Rolen played professional baseball from 1996 – 2012, and was a premier third baseman whose value was largely underrated due to the fans’, writers’ and even some teams’ lack of acceptance of advanced metrics. In this piece, many of these metrics, along with a few traditional ones, will be used to describe the value that Rolen produced at the plate and at third, a value that is deserving of the Hall of Fame.

Third base has long been a position of heavy hitters, and in the high-powered offense era during which Rolen played most of his career, this may have caused fans to overlook him because he only broke 30 home runs three times in his career. However, we’ll examine Scott Rolen’s worth as a hitter as compared to other players who played the slugger-heavy position of third base. Rolen has 8,495 plate appearances. According to, among third basemen with at least 7,000 plate appearances, Rolen ranks 5th in OBP, 6th in SLG, 5th in Runs Created and 6th in Runs Produced. In all of these categories, Rolen ranks behind players like Chipper Jones, Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Adrian Beltre. It is worth noting that he actually ranks ahead of Brooks Robinson in Runs Created, even though Robinson is generally known for setting the gold standard as a third baseman defensively, not offensively.

Again according to baseball-reference, from 1997-2007, the majority of Rolen’s career, he was 1st in Runs Created, hits, stolen bases, and times on base w/o ROE among third basemen with at least 1,000 plate appearances during that time span. He was 2nd in walks drawn, 3rd in HR, and 7th in OBP in that same period. Scott Rolen played in an era with some of the best third basemen at the plate- Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre- and was consistently one of the best during his career. According to FanGraphs, for third basemen with at least 3000 PA during the entire span of Rolen’s career, he has 119 wRC+, a .360 wOBA, 0.357 OBP, and 148.5 wRAA. That puts him at 7th in wRC+, 6th in wOBA, 5th in OBP, and 5th in wRAA. Furthermore, his 128 wRC+ is higher than Hall of Famer Paul Molitor’s 122, and Molitor made the majority of his plate appearances as a DH.

We can see that Rolen consistently put himself on the short list of the most valuable offensive third basemen during his era, even if he was never considered to be the outright best at the plate. But Scott Rolen added most of his value on defense. During his career, he had four seasons in the top 10 in defensive WAR. According to FanGraphs, his 182.2 Defensive Runs Above Average rank 5th among 3B all time. He led the league twice in putouts and assists, with six seasons in the top 10 for putouts and eight seasons in the top 10 for assists. Wade Boggs, of course a Hall of Fame third baseman, was 95 Total Zone Fielding Runs above Average for his career. George Brett, inducted in 1999, has 54 in 17 seasons. Scott Rolen has 150 Total Zone Fielding Runs above Average for the same number of seasons. Scott Rolen ranks 2nd among 3B behind Adrian Beltre from the seasons of 2002 to 2012 in UZR (109), Defensive Runs Saved (114) and Range Rating (80.5). During 10 of his 17 seasons, he was in the top 10 in Total Zone Runs and Range Factor/9 innings. He also led the league twice in both of those categories. Maybe Rolen was a ‘good-not-great’ hitter, but his defense was nothing short of absolutely stellar.

If you happen to care about certain seasonal awards in Hall of Fame considerations (I certainly don’t, but HoF voters seem to), Rolen was a Rookie of the Year, a Silver Slugger, a seven-time All-Star, and an eight-time Gold Glove winner.

Immensely more important are Scott’s player-value numbers, which make his Hall of Fame case impossible to ignore. FanGraphs gives him a WAR of 70.1, which ranks 10th among 3rd basemen in the history of baseball. He played finished in the Top 10 for defensive WAR four times in his career, and three times in overall WAR. The average WAR for a Hall of Fame third basemen is 67.5. If you aren’t familiar with the JAWS score, developed by statistician Jay Jaffe, it measures whether or not a player is deserving of the Hall of Fame by comparing him to other players in the Hall who played his position. This score also accounts for the different offensive eras throughout the history of the game using advanced metrics, and produces a score that combines a player’s career WAR and his seven-year peak WAR to compare him to current Hall of Famers. The average JAWS score for third basemen in the Hall of Fame is 55.2. Scott Rolen’s is 56.8.

So why does Scott Rolen’s name rarely come up among casual conversations about some of the best third basemen ever? For one, these defensive metrics in which Rolen excelled were not widely accepted or even widely understood during most of the time that he played. Another reason may be that Scott Rolen only appeared in 39 postseason games, and did not play particularly well in those postseason appearances. Postseason appearances, especially when there is such a small sample size in the case of Scott Rolen, should not be a make or break factor in Hall of Fame consideration; but, there are still a decent amount of voters who look for that.

Whatever the reasons may be, Scott Rolen’s case is more than strong with the application of advanced statistics. The Hall of Fame is strangely lacking in third basemen, holding only 16 currently. To put that in context, there are 10 umpires enshrined and 23 players from the other corner of the infield. Hopefully, the BBWAA can begin to fix this imbalance, and they could start by inducting Scott Rolen, truly one of the greatest third basemen of the last two decades.

Challenging Conventional Wisdom About the Trade Deadline

The MLB trade deadline has passed, and you may be happy or disappointed that your favorite team is going to be stuck with the players they now have until the end of season. Actually, that’s not true. Trades can be made until August 31, but any player swap after the deadline invokes the waiver-wire process, which allows any other team to block a trade or claim a waiver player for themselves. So, deals that will have any sort of impact will usually happen just before the deadline.

This year’s trade deadline involved the names of mostly pitchers — Sonny Gray, Yu Darvish, Jaime Garcia, David Robertson, Sean Doolittle, Addison Reed, Francisco Liriano, and others were all traded near or almost at the deadline.

The Dodgers, whose pitching staff so far has led the league in FIP, ERA, WHIP, and rank third in K/BB ratio, added Yu Darvish, a pitcher who hasn’t been his best this season, but who can certainly turn a great rotation into a nearly unbeatable one in a five-game or seven-game series. The Cubs, whose bullpen ranks 10th in fWAR, brought in left-handed reliever Justin Wilson from the Tigers, who presumably will fill the role as the set-up man for Wade Davis. The Yankees supplemented a bullpen that ranks fourth in ERA and WHIP, and second in K/9, with Sonny Gray and David Robertson. Sean Doolittle and Brandon Kintzler were sent to the Nationals to help solve their bullpen issues which have resulted in the second-worst ERA in the league. On the same day that Lance McCullers was placed on the 10-day DL, the Astros traded for Francisco Liriano to add some stability to their rotation/bullpen as they are all but guaranteed a postseason spot.

But every year, we hear talk about which teams will buy or sell. The teams who have little to no shot of making the postseason, are obviously more likely to sell. The decision-making gets interesting when looking at teams that are “on the bubble.” Front offices must decide whether to go all-in for the current year, possibly giving up young prospects for proven stars to fill needs they see in their team, or to take the seemingly less-risky route of keeping your prospects and attempting to fill your needs with lesser players on the trade market and hope that it’s enough to make a run in the postseason. And if it doesn’t work out, at least you didn’t give up your future stars.

This is the conventional wisdom that’s being challenged by some teams, and needs to be examined more. The truth about the postseason in professional baseball is that you don’t know when you’ll have that chance again, no matter how many top-100 prospects you have. The Washington Nationals infamously shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012 following the logic that it would be better to save their starter for future postseasons rather than “risk it” that year. And of course, the Nationals have not won a postseason series since. Had they managed Strasburg so that he could have pitched into October, who knows what would have happened. Win probabilities show that is far easier to predict who will make the playoffs then what will happen once those teams get there. So if you have a chance to make the playoffs, you should go all-in for it.

This is exemplified by the win probabilities calculated at As of this article’s writing, the Dodgers have a greater-than 99% chance of winning their division, and a 23% chance of winning the World Series, and the same can be said about the Astros. The Nationals, Indians, and Cubs all have a ten, nine and eight percent chance of winning the Fall Classic, respectively. But all three of those teams have an 84% chance or better of making the playoffs. The point is, you could be the Dodgers or the Astros and be having a historic season, and still “only” have a 23% of winning the World Series. Now, this year is unusual. Typically, even when baseball teams are really good, their World Series chances are less than 20%. Comparing this to basketball, the Warriors, dominating the NBA in a similar fashion that the Dodgers and Astros are in the MLB, had a 48% chance of winning the title at a similar point in their season. So even when there seems to be a lack of parity in the game, baseball’s postseason still has a relatively higher level of unpredictability. These win probabilities are the data that should be driving the decisions of teams as they near the deadline, particularly if they have even a small chance of getting to the playoffs. Because you can never have enough talent to guarantee a chance to win the pennant or the World Series.

Obviously, these decisions are limited by payroll and the contracts of the players you have at the time. But the overall idea that a team who has a small chance should wait and build even more so that they have an even better chance of making the playoffs the next year or some other year down the road — it needs to go. The Dodgers were smart to add a great starting pitcher in Yu Darvish despite already having arguably the best staff in baseball. And the Yankees and Cubs were smart to bolster their previously strong bullpens. What is interesting is that, once again, the Nationals, who have one of the worst bullpens in the league, did not push harder for Sonny Gray or Justin Wilson. They got Sean Doolittle, who is good (4.10 ERA and 0.3 WAR in 2017 according to and Brandon Kintzler, who has been slightly better (2.78 ERA and 1.2 WAR in 2017). It’s also interesting to see that the Red Sox, whose offense ranks 23rd in wRC+, did not go after more hitters close to the deadline, and settled for reliever Addison Reed from the Mets. The Red Sox currently have a 6% chance of winning the World Series according to FiveThirtyEight. If their offense doesn’t pick up, their reluctance to find that power bat could be the difference.

But the Rockies, who currently have a 2% chance of winning it all and whose relievers’ ERA ranks 23rd at 4.52, acquired Pat Neshek and his 2.1 WAR from the Phillies. The Diamondbacks added J.D. Martinez to a powerful lineup that likely has more in them than they’ve showed recently, seeing that they are fifth in hard-contact percentage, but 16th in wRC+. Both of these are smart moves by the front office; on the other hand, Mike Rizzo of the Nationals and Dave Dombrowski of the Red Sox will have some questions to answer if their teams don’t make decent runs into the postseason.

Hopefully, we continue to see more teams who have at least a 2 or 3% chance of winning the World Series go all-in at the trade deadline. I’m not claiming that the reasons other teams weren’t more aggressive at the trade deadline are because they’re concerned about losing prospects, but it is worth noting that teams often make the mistake of not going all-in because they don’t believe they have a high enough chance of winning it all, when the reality is that you don’t. You just need a somewhat reasonable path to the playoffs, where the x-factor of unpredictability comes into play and anything can happen.