NL East MVP
Andruw Jones, ATL: Nobody did more to keep the Braves in contention in the face of critical injuries than this slugging center fielder, who was Beerleaguer's pick for NL MVP.
Jones widened his stance this offseason to increase power and the adjustment worked. He’s tied with Derek Lee for the NL lead in homers with 27. I was never a fan of Jones because his bat often went silent when the Braves needed it most, and he didn’t get on base consistently. This year his power and timely hitting makes up for those faults. The rest of his numbers, like OBP (.352) aren’t great, and he’s been cold lately, but this is a case where the advanced stats, like Win Shares, don’t tell the whole story. With the injury to Chipper Jones, Andruw has meant more to the Braves than Bobby Abreu has to the Phillies in Jim Thome’s absence, even though Abreu is on top of nearly all advanced categories for outfielders.
Chad Cordero, WAS: The best closer in baseball is the biggest reason why Washington sits atop the division. The Nats have been tough in close contests, and Cordero (1.13 ERA, 31 SV) has been nearly perfect in shutting down the opposition. He’s far ahead in relief Win Shares (10).
Dontrelle Willis, FLA: I couldn’t have been more wrong about D-Train (13-4, 2.39 ERA), calling him a circus act in my preseason predictions. Willis has a reputation of strong starts and weak finishes, and with the exception of his last outing (4 innings, 8 ER), he’s been pretty unstoppable and especially tough on the Phils (3-0, 0.82 ERA). He’s anchoring a rotation that’s banged up and predictably struggling with dexterity, with Josh Beckett seeing time once again on the DL and A.J. Burnett not going more than six innings most nights. The Marlins cannot afford for Willis to go south.
Bobby Abreu, PHI: The winner of last night’s Home Run Derby is a stat machine, leading nearly all fantasy-friendly categories including hitting (.307), HRs (18), and SB (21). Abreu would be higher on the list were it not for a recent funk and failure to deliver in big moments, a stigma that puts him at odds with some fans. Still, his run production is hard to replicate and it’s difficult to imagine where the Phils runs would come from without Bobby.
Nick Johnson, WAS: A real moneyball-type player this season (.322 BA, .444 OBP), Johnson is having a breakout year and is expected to come off the DL after the break. If Washington’s hitters get hot around Johnson, they could score many more runs than their league-worst 4.0 a game.
Cliff Floyd, NYM: A candidate for comeback player of the year, Floyd was basically the entire Mets offense the first half and didn’t even earn a replacement nod as All-Star.
NL East all-unheralded:
Brian Schneider, WAS: The Northampton, Pa. native has emerged as the best catcher in the division, a real throwback to when backstops were measured by defense and the ability to handle pitching. He’s third in all of baseball in Win Shares, and first in defensive Win Shares. More importantly, look at the fine seasons pitchers John Patterson, Livan Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza and Chad Cordero are having. On paper, this was a below-average staff before the season.
Todd Jones, FLA: Former Phillie, Sporting News columnist and relief pitcher Todd Jones (1.42 ERA, 13 SV) patched up a potential bullpen disaster in Florida when the Guillermo Mota experiment failed. First lesson learned: You can’t make a closer out of just anybody. Second lesson: You can make a closer out of just about anybody.
Wilson Betemit, ATL: How about this Chipper replacement, who’s not even the best third base prospect in Atlanta’s system. Year after year, Atlanta plucks bodies from the minors to fill holes. Last year it was Charles Thomas. This year it’s Betemit, tenth in the NL in 3B VORP (12.4). His regular line: .300 BA, .363 OBP, .507 SLG. One more reason why Atlanta is baseball’s model organization.
Robinson Tejeda, PHI: Just as Jones stopped a sinking ship in Florida’s bullpen, Tejeda (1-2, 2.93 ERA) kept the Phils afloat after Randy Wolf went on the DL with season-ending Tommy John surgery. Never spectacular in the minors, Tejeda is proof to Ed Wade that it’s possible to win with young talent instead of paying a high price for replacements. Tejeda will need to work on his control and lasso in his rising walk totals.
Roberto Hernandez, NYM: Conventional wisdom states that players get better when they leave the Phillies. And it’s true. If Jose Mesa wasn’t proof enough, than Hernandez is the icing on the cake. He’s been the Mets best reliever (1.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), joining Todd Jones, Cliff Politte and Mesa as former Phillies relievers finding massive success outside Philadelphia.
Special thanks to Philadelphia Inquirer blogger Daniel Rubin for sending some new traffic my way this morning. For new readers, stop by often for my daily rant on the Phils. For returning readers, check out Daniel's wonderful blog, Blinq, which can be accessed from my sidebar links under "Local."