It was much simpler to determine Andrew McCutchen’s chances of winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player award last year.
The Pirates center fielder and the other two finalists -- Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina -- were all position players. Thus, it was easier to compare the statistics of the trio and impact each had on his team.
However, adding a pitcher into the equation this year makes comparing the finalists problematic. It is difficult to determine exactly what Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw’s dominant season meant in comparison to those of McCutchen and Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
That, in turn, makes it difficult to predict exactly what the 30-person panel of Baseball Writers Association of America members were thinking when they turned in their MVP ballots Sept. 29, the day after the regular season ended.
The winner will be announced Thursday night.
Kershaw easily had the best season of any pitcher in the major leagues as he topped the NL in wins while going 21-3 with an NL-leading 1.77 ERA in 27 starts. Among other his other league-best figures were a 0.86 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per nine innings) and 10.85 strikeouts per nine innings.
Kershaw also helped the Dodgers win the NL West title.
McCutchen hit .314 with 25 home runs, 83 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 146 games while leading the league with a .410 on-base percentage, a .952 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) and a 168 OPS-plus (meaning he was 68 percent better than league average).
Stanton topped the NL with 37 home runs and drove in 105 runs in 145 games to go with a .288 batting average, a league-best .555 slugging percentage, a .950 OPS and a 160 OPS-plus.
A strong case can be made for either player but McCutchen is likely to get the edge because he helped the Pirates win the first NL wild card while the Marlins finished 11 games out of a playoff spot.
A metric called Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was been developed in recent years that quantifies a player’s season into one number, telling how many wins he provided his team above that of a replacement player, such a journeyman playing at the Class AAA level.
Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com have versions of WAR that are considered the best in the industry. Kershaw outpointed McCutchen in both instances, 8.0-6.9 with Baseball-Reference and 7.2-6.8 with FanGraphs.
Thus, the MVP will almost certainly divided by how many voters are in the old school camp and how many are new school.
Most old school writers believe pitchers should not win the MVP because they do not play every day. Hence, the NL hasn’t had a pitcher as MVP since the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson in 1968. Those voters were fare more likely to vote for McCutchen.
Most new school writers believe WAR is the tell-all statistic and were far more likely to vote for Kershaw.
We will find out which camp wins out -- and if McCutchen can win a second straight MVP award -- on Thursday night.