Until recently voting for the MVP was a pretty easy affair. You looked at the division winners and maybe a team or two that was in it until the end, and picked out anyone who was leading his team in RBIs and preferably homers. You then compared him to other such candidates and found yourself a winner. Occasionally things would get confusing and maybe a dominant HR/RBI player from a bad team could win, or something more crazy, but in general this strategy worked. The Nats are one of the best teams in the majors and a near lock for a division title. It makes sense that they should have an MVP candidate. Under this voting style the candidate is obvious : Adam LaRoche. Thirty-two homers, 98 RBI, both team leading.
In the past few years though, a consequence of the statistical revolution has been re-evaluating the concept of value. Runs batted in have been a particular victim. Since a batter can only drive in runs if someone gets on base before they hit, RBI are very dependent on something outside of a batters control. Therefore, RBI tend to fall behind several other offensive categories when determining how to best evaluate a player. Few young sabermetrically inclined voters would give RBI more than passing consideration in determining their vote. Also there is increased interest in including fielding in the
consideration, since some of the new fangled stats do a better job of
determining how much worth a player's fielding is to a team. At the same time we are still running against an old argument of what is meant by "value". Can a team that loses 100 games have an MVP player since in the end they would still miss the playoffs with or without him?* How does all this effect the Adam LaRoche lobby?
*I honestly don't care which side you're own. It's just a silly award. So pick your method and run with it. Just maintain your internal logic please.
First we have to see if Adam LaRoche is even the best representative from the Nats. We have to admit there isn't a better "at the plate" offensive candidate than LaRoche on the Nats. Sure he's had ~30 more PAs with RISP than anyone on the team. So? Given a full season Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, or Jayson Werth might have ended up with better numbers than LaRoche, but they didn't play a full season. LaRoche did. We're not evaluating these players going forward we are looking at the season passed. LaRoche wins.
Now what if we consider baserunning? LaRoche loses big time there. For stolen bases LaRoche is basically a non-factor, while Werth (7SB, 2CS) and Desmond (19,6) matter. For everything else, there isn't an exact measure but fangraphs "Spd" stat tries to put it into context. Desmond is up near the top of the team with a 5.2, Werth has a 5.0, Zimm an ok 3.7 and LaRoche a terrible 1.9. Even if you can't wrap your head around these numbers and what exactly they mean, you can understand the concept behind them. Desmond goes from first to third on a single. He scores from second on a single, from first on a double. He might break up a double play or beat out a slow FC. LaRoche can do none of those things. He is catcher/pitcher slow. His running hurts the team because he can't do what even an average runner can.
Now what about defense? LaRoche is having a fine season that's true, but first base is where the bad fielders hang out for a reason. Great defense at first does not matter as much as other positions. You can argue it's worth more than RF or 3B if you like, I wouldn't but you can, but there is no way it's more important than SS, and Ian Desmond is having an equally nice year there. As good a year at a tougher position, then nod has to go with Ian.
So while Adam maintains a slight lead in the pure at bat stats by vitrtue of playing 25 more games, Ian tops Adam in everything else. It's not much of a tough call for me. Ian is the more worthy candidate. There are more you could argue are more worthy than Adam. Zimm's has had great fielding and is closer than you'd think in RBI (89 for Zimm, 98 for Adam) and is better across the board in all stats but HRs. Bryce's has had great (though personally I think a bit overrated by fans AND stats) fielding in a tougher position, and has had amazing baserunning. He's the guys scoring all those runs for LaRoche. Gio Gonzalez's excellent season can't be denied. He's going to finish with 200IP and an ERA under 3.00. Strasburg, Espinosa, and ZNN also have cases that are nearly as strong as LaRoche's.
So right there it should end, LaRoche is not an MVP of the league if he's not the clear MVP for his team, But let's say you dismiss pitchers, and you just like those RBI and HR numbers sooo much that you can't get past it. How does Adam stack up to other NL candidates? Let's just pick two.
LaRoche : 32 homers, 98 RBI
McCutchen : 30 homers, 93 RBI
Braun : 40 homers, 100 RBI
pretty good... oh wait I forgot somethings.
LaRoche : .271 average, .342 OBP, 70 RS, 1 SB
McCutchen : .336 average, .406 OBP, 103 RS, 19 SB
Braun : .317 average, .405 OBP, 100 RS, 29 SB
Ummm... neither of those two are on playoff teams! McCutchen faded when his team did, so I choose to ignore the fact that we wouldn't even have been talking about them fading if it wasn't for the awesome display he put up until September. And Braun, he did roids! No way I'm voting for him. Who else you got?
Posey : 23 homers, 98 RBI
Holliday : 27, 98 RBI
ok Adam is better than th...
Posey : .332 average, .405 OBP, 94 RS, 1SB
Holliday : .298 average, . 379 OBP, 93 RS, 4 SB
dammit. Well he ties Posey in SBs!
I'm even purposely ignoring guys like Heyward and Molina whose value is tied up in baserunning and/or fielding tougher positions. The point is if you just expand your look beyond HR to RBI to even other simple stats that have been around for years LaRoche falls short, arguably well short, of potential candidates on division winners and teams that are/were in the playoff hunt.
Clearly not the most valuable in the league, clearly not the most valuable on his own team when everything is considered, the Adam LaRoche for MVP discussion is one that isn't worth having. (I just wasted a column!)