Is Yoenis Cespedes the NL MVP?

To quickly answer the question and save you some trouble, no. No, Yoenis Cespedes is not the National League MVP.

Well, with that out of the way, seems like my work here is done.

Or maybe it isn’t. Cespedes, acquired by the New York Mets at the trade deadline, is in a bit of baseball purgatory when it comes to the postseason awards. He played 102 very fine games with the Detroit Tigers in the American League before coming over to the National League and turning into a red-hot inferno of run producing excellence. In 35 games with the Mets, Cespedes has hit 13 home runs and driven in 34 runs. Those run production totals ride along with a .307/.354/.660 slash line. Overall on the season, Cespedes has hit 31 home runs and knocked in 95. Based on the Fangraphs formula for WAR, Cespedes ranks fifth in all of baseball. Only one National League hitter, Bryce Harper, ranks ahead of him on the leaderboard. Harper is first with 8.3 WAR while Cespedes checks in at 6.6. Cespedes is tied with Joey Votto, and ranks 0.5 WAR better than another NL MVP favorite, Paul Goldschmidt.

The Mets have gone a robust 24-11 since acquiring Cespedes from the Tigers. Their offensive production has picked up across the board thanks to the presence of a legitimate power bat in the heart of the lineup. In this week’s crucial series with the Washington Nationals, Cespedes has already gone 4-for-10 with three doubles, a home run, five RBIs, and three runs. In the same two games, Harper has gone 0-for-8 with two walks and four strikeouts. Cespedes has gotten the best of the consensus MVP when it matters most.

All that being said, no player has ever won a league MVP award when switching leagues midseason. Only five players have ever finished in the top-10 in voting after beginning their season in the opposite league. They are as follows:

  • Manny Ramirez, fourth place in 2008, Boston Red Sox to Los Angeles Dodgers (53 of 153 games in NL)
  • CC Sabathia, sixth place in 2008, Cleveland Indians to Milwaukee Brewers (17 of 35 starts in NL)
  • Rick Sutcliffe, fourth place in 1984, Cleveland Indians to Chicago Cubs (20 of 35 starts in NL)
  • Sal Maglie, second place in 1956, Cleveland Indians to Brooklyn Dodgers (28 of 30 games in NL)
  • Hank Borowy, sixth place in 1945, New York Yankees to Chicago Cubs (15 of 33 games in NL)

There are a few interesting things that stand out on the list. For starters, being traded from the Indians to the National League must be one of the luckier things that can happen to a player. Second, it seems much more common for a pitcher to swap leagues and up their level of dominance. Sabathia posted a 3.83 ERA with the Indians in 2008, but a 1.65 ERA after joining the Brewers. Sutcliffe actually had an ERA over 5.00 with the Indians before posting a 2.69 ERA and winning the National League Cy Young for the Cubs. Sutcliffe definitely earned that award, going 16-1 in a time when wins were the number one currency for measuring pitcher dominance. Not having to face all of those pesky designated hitters while getting a crack at a league full of batters unfamiliar with your repertoire does wonders for an ERA.

Cespedes will find himself compared to Ramirez in 2008 when it comes time to vote. While he’s been great for the Mets, Cespedes is nowhere near matching the numbers Ramirez posted in his 53 games in the National League. Ramirez slashed .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs. Cespedes could come close in homers and runs driven in, but if Manny could not win the MVP award with a 1.232 OPS, Cespedes is not going to steal enough votes with his 1.014 number. There is a high likelihood, however, that Cespedes can become the sixth player to finish in the top-10 in MVP voting despite a league change.

There’s nothing stopping the voters from choosing Cespedes on their National League ballots, but he’s got quite an uphill battle. In the end, Harper’s historically good season and Goldschmidt’s equally epic numbers will be just too much for Cespedes to overcome despite how good he has been for the Mets.

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