OK, let me say this right off the top: The Yoenis Cespedes MVP talk is a little silly. For starters, the man has played in only a quarter of the New York Mets' games. You can't be MVP of the National League after having spent most of the season in the other league.
There's also this: As awesome as Cespedes has been since coming over to the Mets from the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper owns the better batting line over the entire season. Cespedes is hitting .312/.357/.675 in 36 games with the Mets, while Harper is hitting .336/.467/.657.
But, there's also this: The MVP award doesn't always go to the best player, even if that should be the case. As we know, the MVP is a labyrinthine combination of statistics, narrative, memorable moments and whether a player's team makes the playoffs.
And that's why this Cespedes-for-MVP storyline has some legitimate steam. More than anything, he's building that narrative -- he turned around the Mets' offense! -- and many of the writers who vote for the MVP award absolutely love that kind of stuff. Too many statistics! Enough with WAR! You want value? Look what happened to the Mets after they got Cespedes! Where would they be without him?
The facts: Through July 31, the Mets had averaged 3.54 runs per game, worst in the majors. Since Cespedes played his first game with the Metropolitans on Aug. 1, they've averaged 6.14 runs per game, most in the majors. You see the argument: He changed the entire dynamic of that lineup.
On top of that, he just had two huge moments the past two nights, as the Mets rallied in the late innings to stun the Nationals and complete a three-game sweep, increase their lead in the NL East to seven games. After hitting a big three-run double in the seventh inning off Drew Storen on Tuesday, Cespedes greeted Storen with a go-ahead homer in the eighth on Wednesday, a towering shot into the Mets' bullpen in left-center. The Mets reliever who was waving a towel in joy as the ball landed might as well been waving the Nationals' white flag in the division race: It's over.
As a precedent to Cespedes' case, consider Manny Ramirez with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008. He played 53 games with the Dodgers after being traded from the Boston Red Sox, hit .396/.489/.743, drove in 53 runs and finished fourth in the MVP voting. Albert Pujols won the award that year even though the St. Louis Cardinals didn't make the playoffs; he hit .357/.462/.653 with 37 home runs. But that was also the last time a player on a non-playoff team was named MVP.
That's another reason you'll see Cespedes get support if he continues to rake. Harper has been the best position player in the NL -- and his numbers might end up surpassing Pujols' in 2009 -- but losing out to the Mets will hurt his case in the eyes of the voters who believe the MVP has to play for a postseason-bound team. In fact, after hitting one home run in his first 14 games against the Mets, Harper hit two on Wednesday and scored all three of the Nationals' runs. Unfortunately, that's not what will be remembered from this game.
Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto are second and third behind Harper in WAR, but their teams are worse off than the Nationals, floundering under .500. Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw? They're obviously great but it will be difficult for either to build up MVP momentum considering they're teammates. Neither had to carry that rotation. Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs is fourth among position players in WAR -- but he's only the third-best first baseman in the league, so it's hard to see him winning. Then comes A.J. Pollock and Buster Posey, and they won't be in the postseason, either.
Getting back to Cespedes: He's actually just below Pollock in season WAR, but most of that came with the Tigers. Doesn't that matter? Jon Paul Morosi, national writer for Fox Sports, says no. He just wrote:
I happen to think Cespedes shouldn't be penalized for opening 2015 in the AL. If, by the end of the season, he's judged to be the most valuable among those players who finished the year in the NL, then he should win the award -- especially because he performed so brilliantly for the Mets during the defining stretch of their season.
When filling out MVP ballots in the past, I've considered the context of individual teams and leagues. I tend to think of the MVP as the player whose outstanding performance had the greatest impact on the division races. One could argue that -- despite spending only two regular-season months with the Mets -- Cespedes is the player most responsible for flipping the NL East race between early August and now.
Teammate David Wright has seen the damage Cespedes has delivered up close. "I'm not sure how it works, but he should be in the discussion for National League MVP," Wright told ESPNNewYork's Adam Rubin. "It's impressive. Kelly [Johnson] and I were talking. It's very Andruw Jones-like, I can't remember the year, but one of my first years. Or, I remember around that same time, Adrian Beltre with the Dodgers. Or kind of what Manny did when he went over to the Dodgers after the trade. It’s impressive. You see it this series. ... He's been a big-time run producer for us. It seems like those big situations find him, and more often than not he comes through. Extra-base hits. Home runs. The speed. It just seems like he's got a very complete game."
True, but Cespedes isn't doing this all by himself. Mets hitters since Aug. 1:
Cespedes: .312/.357/.675, 14 HR, 36 RBIs
Curtis Granderson: .276/.389/.530, 7 HR, 25 RBIs
Travis d'Arnaud: .301/.392/.592, 7 HR, 20 RBIs
Michael Conforto: .304/.371/.587, 6 HR, 17 RBIs
Michael Cuddyer is hitting .327. Juan Lagares is hitting .317. Wilmer Flores is hitting .305 and slugging .524 with several big moments of his own. Cespedes has been awesome, but Granderson, d'Arnaud and Conforto all have a .400-plus wOBA since Aug. 1. Sure, Cespedes helped change the dynamic of that lineup, but Conforto was called up in late July and hit his first homer on Aug. 3, and d'Arnaud happened to return from the DL on July 31. It was the addition and production of all three that spurred this outburst, not just Cespedes' presence in the lineup.
Also remember it was the Mets' sweep of the Nationals from July 31-Aug. 2 that got this whole thing going. Flores won that first game with a home run in the 13th inning, the day after he'd almost been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in the Carlos Gomez deal that fell through (which led to the Cespedes trade). The next day, Lucas Duda hit two home runs in a 3-2 victory. In the finale, Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Duda all homered off Jordan Zimmermann in a five-run third inning of an eventual 5-2 victory.
The point: It's been a team effort.
But, man, that home run off Storen was awesome.