We’re four divisions down with two to go, but yesterday, of course, was opening day.
In my defense, I’m not sure any series I’ve ever written hasn’t overrun by at least a few days, but believe me when I say I’ll be as quick as I can in completing this one.
The National League Central has been a hive of activity when it comes to MVP awards in recent years – in fact a player from each team has won the award since 2009.
Outside the Cardinals and of course now the Cubs, they haven’t enjoyed much World Series success though, with no rings for the Brewers, Reds and Pirates whilst in the division.
But we’re not here to talk about such trivial things as championships: which players in the Central are most likely to take home some hardware this year?
St Louis Cardinals – Matt Carpenter
Carpenter has been quietly brilliant for a while, posting on-base percentages that nudge .400 for the majority of his Major League career.
It’s not often a low-average, low-RBI, low-power guy who plays first base wins the MVP award but heck maybe this is the year for Carpenter.
His 22.6% chase rate was bottom 10 in the Majors (which is really top 10) and he was one of just twelve players to post a .270/.380/.500 triple-slash.
If the Cardinals are to make the post-season this year, they’re going to need their silent slugger to be as good as he ever has: maybe he can sneak into the MVP conversation too.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Starling Marte
Second in the Majors with 47 stolen bases and running his highest average to date at .311, you could be forgiven for thinking Marte had already had his big season.
But in 2016, the power was uncharacteristically dimmed, as he hit just nine home runs following a breakout 19 dinger campaign in 2015.
The strange thing is, his hard-hit and fly ball rate actually went up last season, suggesting that either a career-low 8.4% HR/FB rate or lingering back issues impacted his power outage.
Assuming he can correct whatever was wrong, a 20/40 season could be on the cards which would put him amongst the game’s power/speed elite.
Cincinnati Reds – Joey Votto
Through May 23rd 2016, Votto was hitting .203 with six home runs. In his 262 post all-star game at-bats, Votto hit .408 with 36 extra-base hits. That’s how you get a heat map that looks like this:
Votto has long had a pristine batted ball profile (infield fly balls just don’t happen), elite plate discipline and sneaky power.
If he can avoid the cold start he suffered from in 2016 then look out.
Chicago Cubs – Anthony Rizzo
“Are you insane!” I hear you, the readers, yell as it slowly dawns on you I’m not picking the reigning NL MVP on his own team.
“Hear me out” I plead, sweating profusely and drafting a will.
Ever since Rizzo changed up his stance in order to stand almost directly on top of the plate he has mashed, launching at least 30 home runs in each of the past three seasons, striking out in just 15% of at-bats and walking in 10% of plate appearances too.
It doesn’t hurt that he takes an inordinate amount of hit-by-pitches too. Doesn’t hurt his value anyway, I can’t imagine the physical and mental toll that 51 HBPs in three seasons can have on a man.
Milwaukee Brewers – Keon Broxton
Those of you who follow Jeff Sullivan, or Effectively Wild, with any degree of obsession will have heard the Keon Broxton argument ad infinitum so I’ll keep it simple.
The negatives: fewer than 250 Major League plate appearances, a 36% K rate and the league’s worst swinging strike rate.
The positives: 23 stolen bases in 75 games, a walk rate pushing 15% and he was seventh in the Majors in average exit velocity.
At the moment, he has the profile of a yet-to-develop George Springer. With some further strides in plate discipline he could be the game’s premier speed/power threat. Let’s bank on that upside.