Early contenders in the MLB MVP races

Looking across the statistical leaders across Major League Baseball at the 50-game mark, there’s a fair share of usual suspects, some players that are emerging into stars and some players whose level of production seemingly came out of nowhere.

It’s still early, but there are some players that have proved enough to be in the conversation for the each league’s MVP award with two-thirds of the season still to play.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

While the Reds currently sit second in the NL Central, their 33-19 record is also good for second-best in the entire league. One of the big reasons has been Cincy’s consistent first baseman, Joey Votto. His .354 is good for second in the NL, and is on pace for an absurd 137 walks and 215 hits. Votto led the league in walks in each of the past two seasons (94 in 2012, 110 in 2011) and only one player has topped 200 hits in a season since 2010 (Starlin Castro with 207 hits in 2011).

The 3-4-5 punch of Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce packs as much punch as any in the league, but without Votto, the whole dynamic of the Reds’ offense changes. He’s also played Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base, just to round out his candidacy.

Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto are two of the front-runners for the NL MVP at the 50-game mark.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

With the defending champion San Francisco Giants and the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers in their division, coupled with the fact that they traded their franchise player (Justin Upton) in the offseason, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the Arizona Diamondbacks hold a two-game lead in the NL West. A big reason why? Paul Goldschmidt is putting up better numbers than Upton ever did with Arizona.

Goldschmidt is on pace for almost 40 home runs and upwards of 120 RBIs, numbers Upton never approached (until this season). His career .288 average is indicative that his current .324 clip might regress to the mean a bit, but Goldschmidt definitely belongs in the conversation for NL MVP.

Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves

Like Goldschmidt and Votto above, Upton has his team on track for a playoff berth in the early part of the season. Upton has found his power stroke with Atlanta, leading the league in home runs with 14. His average (.267) isn’t as high as some of the other candidates or even his career average (.277), but his and the Braves’ hot start make Upton worthy of consideration.

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

Faced with an extremely tough division and a history of collapse within the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, Andrew McCutchen has his team off to another hot start at 32-20. The Pirates also jumped out to a less-than-terrible start a season ago, but lost 29 of 41 games down the stretch to fall well out of contention.

McCutchen’s WAR a season ago was a stellar 7.0 and he hit .327. His numbers in those categories are a bit off pace (2.6, .289) but his steals are up (14, tied for second in the NL), his strikeouts are down and he is easily the most valuable hitter in the Pirates’ lineup.

Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

While the Milwaukee Brewers have been disappointingly bad for the majority of the season, Jean Segura has been nothing short of a revelation. Backed by a six-hit performance on Tuesday night, Segura reclaimed the highest average in the National League. While all six of those hits were singles, he has had a surprising amount of power, with six doubles, five triples and eight home runs, good for a .560 slugging percentage. He is also second in the league in stolen bases with 14, and would be a much better candidate if the Brewers were not last place in the NL Central.

Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Whether or not you’re an advocate of pitchers winning the MVP, it’s impossible to deny Clayton Kershaw’s dominant numbers to start the season. While his win-loss record sits at 5-3 (a relatively meaningless stats if you ask many people), Kershaw leads the league with a 1.68 ERA and has a stellar 0.87 WHIP as well. He has allowed zero earned runs in four of his 11 starts, with nine of those classified as quality starts. If the Dodgers averaged more than 2.73 runs in Kershaw’s starts, he’d likely be even more prominent in this discussion

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

As if his Triple Crown in 2012 wasn’t enough, Miguel Cabrera appears poised to approach, if not best, those marks again this season. Cabrera went .330/44/139 in his average, home run and RBI numbers a season ago, and is on pace for a .368/48/187 mark this season. He is leading the league in both average and RBIs at this point, trailing only the Orioles’ Chris Davis in home runs. Even if he doesn’t win the Triple Crown again this year, he’s still the front-runner for the AL MVP award. The fact that the Tigers are in first place in the AL Central doesn’t hurt either.

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

While it appeared he might be off to a sophomore slump, Mike Trout has turned it on in the month of May to the tune of a .337 batting average with eight home runs and 21 RBIs. His OPS of .930 is fifth in the league and his defense has been as good as ever.

It will probably take a superhuman summer to overtake Cabrera, even by Trout’s standards. Right now it isn’t as close of a race as it was a season ago, and even then, Cabrera captured 22 of the 28 first-place votes in the MVP voting.

Miguel Cabrera’s numbers are to be expected, but he’s got company from Chris Davis in all three Triple Crown categories.

Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis has been on a home-run hitting tear, and if he keeps it up, he could be the first batter to approach 60 home runs since Ryan Howard hit 58 for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006. No one in the American League has notched 60 or more home runs since Roger Maris hit 61 for the Yankees back in 1961.

Davis has been more than just a pure home run hitter, as his .359 average is good for second in the league, as is his .447 on-base percentage. He’s still on pace for 140 strikeouts, but that would be an improvement over the 169 he racked up a season ago.

Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees

Hitting in a lineup with Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Jayson Nix rather than Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano has the Yankees in a battle with the Boston Red Sox not only for first place in the AL East. His average (.292) has dipped a bit from his career norm (.308), but his power numbers have increased (13 home runs, 35 RBIs) to the point where he could be a 40-home run, 100-RBI guy by the time the season is done.

It’s still just shy of the one-third mark in the season, but it’s never too early to speculate. The American League has a clear front-runner in Miguel Cabrera, and if the voting for the NL were to take place right now, it’s likely Joey Votto would take home the hardware.



About Chris Callaway

Chris lives and works in La Crosse, Wisconsin, working primarily on-air while doing some writing as well. He is a part-owner of the Green Bay Packers, a Milwaukee Brewers die-hard, learning hockey while supporting the Minnesota Wild, and is also a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow him on twitter @ccallaway33.

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