As we enter the second half of the 2013 season, the Most Valuable Player races in each league are taking on characteristics very similar to the ones they had last year. The group of National League contenders is very deep and very close, such that the five spots used in this column are not enough to capture the race in its entirety. The American League race, meanwhile, is dominated by the two most productive players in baseball and is sure to draw the majority of the coverage outside of this column. Both will be fascinating to watch in the second half.
Note: All stats are through Wednesday, July 17. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.
Season Stats: .313/.395/.557, 21 HR, 77 RBI, 9 SB
Last Three Weeks: .323/.436/.492, 2 HR, 10 RBI
Goldschmidt is the latest in a string of MVP-worthy National League first basemen who are all-around athletes, complimenting tremendous production at the plate with excellent fielding and surprising basestealing. That trend extends back to Derrek Lee's near MVP season in 2005 (15 for 18 on the bases), through Albert Pujols' peak (averaging 10 for 13 on the bases from 2005 to 2011with a high of 16 steals, accomplished twice), to Joey Votto's 2010 MVP season (16 for 21 on the bases). Goldschmidt is 9 for 11 on the bases thus far, which puts him on pace for 15 steals at an 82 percent success rate.
Season Stats: .302/.370/.610, 25 HR, 64 RBI, 16 SB
Last Three Weeks: .308/.368/.596 4 HR, 6 RBI, 2 SB
The game is called baseball, and the primary objective is to advance four bases. Gonzalez, who adds 22 doubles and six triples to his league-leading home run total, leads the NL in total bases, with 216, and slugging percentage, a statistic which measures the rate at which a hitter hits for extra-bases. He is also 16 for 17 in stolen base attempts, which means he's taking even more bases. He is also posting an on-base percentage (which measures his ability to avoid outs) far above average for both the league (.314) and his position (.328), and has been better away from his hitting-friendly ballpark than in it this season.
Season Stats: .325/.395/.536, 13 HR, 56 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .373/.415/.627, 3 HR, 11 RBI
Posey caught fire in the final week before the All-Star break, going 14-for-29 and sneaking past rival catcher Yadier Molina, who simultaneously slumped, in this race. Molina has started more games behind the plate than Posey, who has 10 starts at first base and two at designated hitter, and is far more valuable in the field, but Posey's edge at the plate, where he has appeared more than Molina this season, makes up that difference right now, at least to me (and, if you want something more official, according to Baseball-Reference.com's wins above replacement). It's important to remember just how pitcher-friendly AT&T Park is. When you adjust for that, Posey's 167 OPS+ leads the NL by a fair margin (Goldschmidt is second at 158) and Molina (142) by even more.
Season Stats: .304/.396/.507, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 15 SB
Last Three Weeks: .303/.432/.439, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB
Wright admitted on Monday that, had the Home Run Derby been held anywhere other than Citi Field, he wouldn't have been invited to participate, never mind to captain the NL squad. Indeed, the primary reason he has slipped a couple of spots on this list over the last three weeks is a drop in his power production. Wright has just one home run in his last 18 games (he hit five in the Derby, which were not enough to advance out of the first round) and has seen his slugging percentage drop 26 points over that stretch. However, his on-base percentage has increased during that span, thanks in part to four intentional walks over a seven-game stretch.
Season Stats: .341/.386/.489, 7 HR, 49 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .239/.300/.326, 1 HR, 5 RBI
Molina just barely edges out teammate Matt Carpenter and Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen for this spot, and there are strong arguments to be made in favor of the Reds' Joey Votto and the Brewers' Carlos Gomez, the last of whom topped this list three weeks ago but has hit just .219/.261/.375 since including a 2-for-32 slump over his last nine games. Molina has slumped over the last three weeks as well, but dug his fingernails into this fifth spot with a 4-for-6 performance with a double, a homer, four RBIs and three runs scored in the final game of the first half.
Off the list: Gomez, Troy Tulowitzki
Season Stats: .365/.458/.674, 30 HR, 95 RBI, 73 R, 132 H
Last Three Weeks: .339/.447/.758, 8 HR, 17 RBI
Cabrera opted not to participate in the Home Run Derby because he's dealing with nagging back and hip pain, but you wouldn't know it from his performance leading up to the All-Star break. The only game he has missed this season came on July 4, when he sat out due to tightness in his lower back. In 10 games since then, he has hit .371/.489/.714, not counting his double in three All-Star at-bats. In the Tigers' last 162 games dating back to last July, he has hit .351/.436/.670 with 53 home runs and 157 RBIs. That's the sort of season he's on pace to have this year, a season that would dwarf his MVP campaign of a year ago, regardless of whether or not he's able to pass Chris Davis to win the Triple Crown again.
Season Stat: .315/.392/.717, 37 HR, 93 RBI, 70 R
Last Three Weeks: .224/.318/.741, 9 HR, 20 RBI
Davis's season is increasingly one in which all he does is hit home runs, but he is hitting them with such frequency that the home runs alone are enough. Over the last three weeks, he has collected just 13 hits (not counting his All-Star single), but nine of them have left the yard (and three of the remaining four were doubles), resulting in the lop-sided slash line above. Davis bookended his first half neatly, hitting one home run in each of his final four games before the All-Star break just as he had hit one home run in each of his first four games of the season. He enters the second half on pace for 62 home runs and made it clear over the break that he considers Roger Maris's 61 to be the record.
Season Stat: .322/.399/.565, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 21 SB
Last Three Weeks: .404/.492/.712, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB
Cabrera and Davis have been so good this year that the fact that Trout is replicating his absurd rookie season has gone largely unnoticed. Trout hit .326/.399/.564 for the season last year and had 12 home runs and 26 stolen bases at the All-Star break. Compare those numbers to his 2013 stats above. Trout has been even better since the end of April, hitting .350/.430/.631 since April 30 (not counting his double in three All-Star at-bats). If Davis' homer pace trails off in the second half, we could be having the Trout/Cabrera debate all over again.
Season Stats: .302/.386/.531, 21 HR, 65 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .419/.513/.710, 5 HR, 19 RBI
Cano's All-Star Game injury wasn't nearly as bad as it looked. That 96 mph fastball from Matt Harvey hit only soft tissue in the back of Cano's knee, not the joint itself, so he should have no ill-effects from the pitch when play resumes on Friday. Cano will enter Friday's game with an active nine-game hitting streak, but an even more impressive streak was his run of six straight games with multiple hits from June 28 to July 3, a run which recalled his string of nine such games at the end of the 2012 regular season.
5. Josh Donaldson, 3B, A's
Season Stats: .310/.379/.522, 16 HR, 61 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .321/.393/.604, 4 HR, 10 RBI
Donaldson is the best player on the team with the second-best record in the American League but he didn't even make the All-Star team. I believe that team performance is irrelevant to an individual award like this one, but one needn't look to the standings to validate Donaldson's place on this list. Still, he barely edges out red-hot Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis (.409/.500/.664 since June 10 plus an RBI double in the All-Star Game) for this spot, doing so by virtue of his defense, more difficult hitting environment, and a slight edge in games played.