The Case for ... Yoenis Cespedes (But not for MVP)

September 21, 2015

THE METS' RISE to the top of the NL East is inextricably tied to their trade with the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes. Since Cespedes debuted with New York on Aug. 1, the Mets have turned a two-game deficit to the Nationals into a 9½-game lead, going 29--11 and scoring more than six runs per game. Cespedes has been a huge part of that surge, hitting .308/.353/.680 with 16 home runs and 41 RBIs. The timing of his hits has been critical too. Take, for instance, his three-run double in the seventh inning to help the Mets come from six runs down to win in Washington on Sept. 8, and his go-ahead, eighth-inning home run the next night to help New York cap a three-game sweep that all but secured the team's first division title since 2006.

The Mets' dominance and Cespedes's rampage have given birth to the idea that he is a legitimate candidate for the National League MVP award. And while Cespedes has indeed been the most valuable Met during his time in New York and helped make his new team a serious October threat, it's a leap from that to saying he deserves a full-season honor.

Obviously Cespedes's NL-only numbers don't measure up to those of Washington's Bryce Harper or Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, and if a player is going to become a candidate based on two hot months, he would need to have had the hottest two months of any player in the league. Harper, though, has outplayed Cespedes even since the latter arrived in the senior circuit, hitting .338/.477/.571 since Aug. 1. Then there's Cincinnati's Joey Votto, who has a .517 OBP in that time, or Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, at .314/.436/.540.

The MVP award isn't entirely a statistical one, of course, and parsing the word valuable has become an annual late-summer parlor game. Think back to 2008, when Manny Ramirez went from the Red Sox to the Dodgers at the July 31 trade deadline and hit like Miguel Cabrera's big brother for two months in leading Los Angeles to the NL West title. Ramirez's line in the NL—.396/.489/.743—dwarfed what Cespedes has done and carried just as much importance to the Dodgers. It led to only a fourth-place finish in the MVP balloting.

Even including Cespedes's work in the AL—he hit .293/.323/.506 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs in 102 games for Detroit—would still leave his overall numbers (.297/.332/.558, 34 homers, 102 RBIs) behind those of Harper (.333/.463/.648, 36, 85), Goldschmidt (.316/.431/.553, 28, 99) and Votto (.315/.459/.555, 27, 72) and on par with Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (.278/.388/.523, 29, 88).

Voters tend to prefer sluggers from playoff-bound teams enjoying clearly superior seasons, but there is no such option in the NL this year. Harper is putting up huge numbers on the league's most disappointing team. The top hitters on playoff contenders are McCutchen and Rizzo, but their numbers are hardly overwhelming. The two best candidates on October-bound clubs are starting pitchers: the Dodgers' Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, but despite the fact that Kershaw won last year, he is the only pitcher to win the NL MVP since Bob Gibson in '68.

Into that void dropped Cespedes. His near-nightly heroics for the transformed Mets may explain the desire to find a better story for MVP than Harper, whose 198 OPS+ is merely the second-highest by a 22-year-old in the modern era, behind only Ted Williams in 1941. It's not the Most Valuable Narrative award, however, and as tantalizing a tale as Cespedes and the Mets have been, when the ballots are cast, Harper's name should be on top.

1.033

Cespedes's OPS since debuting with the Mets on Aug. 1

1.048

Bryce Harper's OPS since Aug. 1

29--11

The Mets' record since Aug. 1, best in the National League

PHOTOGREG FIUME/GETTY IMAGES

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)