Pretty stats are captivating to the eyes and imaginations of common baseball minds. Just like pretty women – they make you look good and boost your public standing, but you ultimately want your wife to make you a better person (I’ve been lucky in that regard).
As the MLB regular season creeps to a close and we gear up for prime time playoff baseball, the conversation and controversy concerning post season awards also thickens.
The NL MVP race between Bryce Harper and Yoenis Cespedes…wait…let me backtrack and say that the NL MVP wasn’t a race at all for Harper who swaggered out the gate with 18 homers in the first two months of the season as he finally asserted himself as the freakishly-gifted phenom he was projected to be. The boy hasn’t stopped blasting on suckers like a 1980s Compton drive-by.
His stats are official like name brand and he’s in high demand. If a miracle hadn’t fallen in the Mets lap then Harper would be League MVP by a landslide.
His main competition; Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are on losing squads. Todd Frazier and Cincinnati peaked at the All-Star game. Andrew McCutchen and Dee Gordon have gotten busy as well, but the baseball gods haven’t electrified their towns this season.
Harper and the Nats had visions of World Series games dancing in their domes for the first five months of the season. Then August 1 dropped and “The Groovin’ Cuban” Yoenis Cespedes put on the interlocking blue and orange NY Mets cap, accelerating NY's World Series plans. Cespedes has finally found the market that can help him achieve the legendary status and acclaim it was so obvious that he craved in the past.
The Mets were 53-50 on July 31, for a .515 winning percentage, and were two games behind the Washington Nationals. Moreover, they were as feeble as an ant offensively (dead last in the majors in runs scored) and despite having a killer pitching staff, were considered a few years away from serious World Series contention. A playoff berth was even questionable for the Mets. Harper’s team was in first and looking to put some distance between themselves and a Mets team that couldn't get a big hit.
Then the Magic Stick arrived.
The Mets are 30-13 since — easily the best mark in the National League. They lamp 9 games ahead of the Nats in the NL East and have flipped the script offensively since Cespedes' incomparable entrance, scoring more runs than any team in the majors (and by the way, David Wright is back…on the low).
Since he became a Met, in 43 games played, Cespedes is batting .295 with 17 HRs and 42 RBIs. The Mets were dead last in runs scored on July 25, and are first in the NL since. I’d say that's I-M-P-A-C-T.
Harper's big bat, however, hasn’t helped Washington’s championship dreams at all and the way the team has fallen apart doesn't reflect well on his leadership skills as "that dude" in the locker room. Let's be real. At the end of the day that’s what it’s about.
On Wednesday, I debated my fellow Shadow League All-Star Rob Parker on this issue on FOX Sports Live with Ryan Field. He’s big on Bryce Harper. His numbers are gaudy but they aren’t helping Washington win, so Harper’s accomplishments, while impressive are pretty hollow as far as I’m concerned, and have come in the midst of a Washington collapse. I can’t reward that.
Rob’s argument reflects the opinion of many baseball writers stuck in an 80s and 90s baseball posture, unable to break away from the sport's “traditional” order of operations. On the other hand, I just look at the stats and how each team has fared since Yoenis was acquired from Detroit at the trade deadline.
It’s simple math when you really examine it.
Rob, a Hall of Fame voter says that a guy, who only plays half of the season or less in one league, shouldn’t be eligible because he hasn’t impacted enough games to be given the MVP Award over guys who have played the entire season with one team.
Manny Ramirez came the closest in 2008. Manny mania was in full swing when the former Red Sox icon finished fourth in the MVP voting after a deadline deal to Hollywood. He went H.A.M and hit .396 with 17 homers in 187 at-bats, lifting the Dodgers into the playoffs where he hit .520 with four homers in eight games.
Problem is, you can’t award MVP shine to pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw who only participated in 27 games in 2014 and then blast Cespedes for catching major wreck over the last 60 games of the season (the most important stretch in a division title chase).
Kershaw last year. Justin Verlander in 2011. Roger Clemens. In fact, 11 pitchers have scooped MVP and CY Young bling, dating back to Don Newcombe for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956.
Closers Dennis Eckersley (1992), Willie Hernandez (1984) and Rollie Fingers (1981) among them.
With all of that in mind, Harper's excellence still makes awarding the MVP to Cespedes a tough sell.
One night after lacing the record for the most home runs by a left-handed hitter in a season in Washington Nationals franchise history, Harper wrote another chapter to his mythical and genuine baseball journey, when he blasted his 40th homer of the season.
He stroked a two-run shot in the Nats’ 12-2 rout of the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park and joined an elite crew of MLB gods who have hit 40 or more home runs in a season at age 22 or younger.
Eddie Mathews (1953: 47 HR; 1954: 40 HR), Joe DiMaggio (1937: 46 HR), Johnny Bench (1970: 45 HR), Juan Gonzalez (1992: 43 HR), Alex Rodriguez (1998: 42 HR), and Mel Ott (1929: 42 HR), with four of them flossing plaques that sit prominently in Cooperstown (DiMaggio, Ott, Matthews, Bench).
Harper’s scorching MLB in batting (.340) and homers (40) and has 92 RBI. Don’t forget his league-leading 110 runs scored.
Cespedes is flowing at a similar pace with 35 homers, more RBI (103) AND his movement is adding up to wins and losses. The increased firepower and intimidation in the Mets offense is the masterful work of a two-time Homer Derby Champ.
The Mets need to lock him up now or they risk setting the franchise back another three years and wasting their killa’ clique of golden arms. It’s farfetched that any negotiations would be going on during the season, but they need to have a plan in place to ensure that this cat remains at Citi Field.
The life he has breathed into Mets fans, analysts and media, who have supported the Mets -- but been in the same unenthusiastic lull that the team’s supposedly cash-strapped pockets have been in -- is totally measurable. Cespedes has truly been most valuable.
Harper is a giant and will have plenty of opportunities to win an MVP, but when he does get it, it will be because he has helped his team win. He has been a statistical shining star -- but for a Washington team in disarray.
Cespedes has displayed MVP leadership and a refined locker room presence, with a natural charisma that motivates teammates to greater heights and he transformed the offensive woes of an organization almost single-handedly.
Numbers don’t lie and the dice don’t die. Cespedes has uplifted with his exploits. They aren’t hollow numbers with no basis or deeper meaning beyond being real pretty.