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Stop it. Yoenis Cespedes is not the MVP.

Bryce Harper

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper (34) lines out to center during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)


I love Yoenis Cespedes. He’s a great player and he’s fun to watch and there is no doubt that his addition to the Mets has been absolutely tremendous. He’s the big bat they needed and he’s had a lot of big hits including last night’s go-ahead home run.

But he’s not the NL MVP. And if you’re arguing that he is, well, you’re wrong.

Here’s the text of the actual MVP ballot distributed by the BBWAA to its voters:

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2. Number of games played.

3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4. Former winners are eligible.

5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.

Obviously there is wiggle room here. And obviously people ignore the thing about pitchers and DHs and the stuff about the MVP having to come from a playoff team all the time. The ballot itself says there’s nothing clear cut about it. People will, inevitably, say “hey, it’s my opinion that Cespedes is the MVP, and you can’t argue with my opinion.”

Sure I can. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion but not all opinions are required to be equally valued. Some opinions are full of nonsense.

Look at some of the terms from that ballot:

  • The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
  • Actual value of a player to his team . . . strength of offense and defense.
  • Number of games played.

While perhaps not binding, they’re not there for no reason. And none of those terms favor Cespedes over Bryce Harper. Indeed, none of other words on the ballot favor Cespedes either. Everything on that ballot that we can reasonably know favors Harper, who has been the best player in baseball this year.

Matthew went over Harper’s offensive bonafides yesterday, and they are quite impressive. Once you adjust for the fact that we’re in a low offensive era, it’s stuff we haven’t seen from anyone since Barry Bonds was active. Even if you don’t adjust for it, Harper is putting up the kind of numbers that would’ve placed him among league leaders even back in the days of crazy, PED-fueled offense. His accomplishments this year have been staggering, and one need not delve into esoteric, sabermetric stats to see his value. If he was playing in 1935, people’s eyes would be popping just the same.

Against that, you have Yoenis Cespedes, who has played a grand total of 36 games for the Mets and 36 games in the National League. They have been fantastic games. Dramatic games. But there have been only 36 of them. By the time the season is over he’ll have, at most, 59 games. Probably fewer given that he’ll be rested some in the season’s waning days.

The MVP case, then, for Cespedes is not one of overall value. Because value can be quantified extraordinarily well in baseball and, even given its vagaries, there is literally no argument that Cespedes’ actual baseball value in 36 games is greater than Harper’s has been in a hundred more, especially in raw numbers, but not even on a per-game basis. There is literally no statistical basis for saying that Cespedes has been a better and/or more valuable player to the Mets than Harper has been to the Nats or that he has been a better player in the NL (or in the NL AND AL together) than Harper has been. If you’re arguing that, you’re making crap up. Really, admit it right now: you’re making crap up.

Which leaves us with the age-old metaphysical arguments for an MVP. All of which are the stuff of storytelling dramatists and armchair character assassins, not the stuff of legitimate baseball analysis. They break down like this:

  • Cespedes carried the Mets to the NL East title!
  • Cespedes single-handedly broke the Nationals’ backs!
  • Cespedes provided the spark!
  • Harper failed to step up and carry the Nationals!
  • Harper is a me-first punk with a bad attitude!

And make no mistake, that last argument is already starting among fans. Primarily Mets fans, obviously, but just watch. At some point an actual MVP voter will pick that thread up, albeit in a more palatable-sounding manner. And anyone who does, be it fans or voters, will be in the business of providing a subjective judgment on an unknowable quality from a place of minimal perspective. Not that it will stop them.

As for the others: last I checked there are 25 men on the Mets’ roster, all of whom have stepped up since their post-All-Star break surge. Every team metric has improved across the board. It has not been a one-man show. As for Harper’s alleged shortcomings, last I checked he was neither the Nationals’ manager and didn’t pitch out of the Nats bullpen, which are the primary reasons he’s not “carrying” his team to the playoffs right now. Either way, no player, no matter how good he is, can single-handedly carry a major league baseball team. If they could, Ted Williams wouldn’t have died without a World Series ring. The sport you’re thinking of in which a single great player can carry his team is basketball. The basketball players are off right now, however.

Cespedes with the Mets has been a great player and a great story. But, contrary to what so many people in the story-telling business believe, great stories are not the same thing as great players. Bryce Harper has been the best player in baseball this year and has provided the most value to his team than any other player in the game. This is an inarguable fact.

You can vote for good stories if you want to. If I’m voting for the MVP, however, I’m voting for the best player. Here’s hoping that the actual voters do that too.