At the end of the season, the major awards voters will evaluate players in their own way, with a variety of definitions applied to the word “Valuable” in Most Valuable Player. There are the Sabermetricians who will argue each player’s effect on his team winning, commonly using the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stats. Traditionalists will focus on raw stats that can be calculated without logarithms. But what about the players that teams can ill-afford to lose, the truly indispensable? Some of the players mentioned below will get MVP consideration, others will not. But at this point in the season, these are the 15 most indispensable players.
1. Clayton Kershaw, L.A. Dodgers
The Dodgers’ offense, with all its expensive firepower, has been strikingly anemic this season. With a largely unproven bullpen and starters Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) and Zack Greinke (broken collarbone) out, Kershaw must carry this pitching staff, which gets little offensive support.
2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis
St. Louis pitchers never shake off their catcher. If Yadi puts it down, that’s what they throw. Manager Mike Matheny regularly rotates his lineup to give players an occasional day off, but Molina rarely gets a break, and no one is missed more than the backstop. He’s missed one game this season, a loss naturally. And if that weren’t enough, there’s high praise from the Redbirds’ former manager Tony La Russa, who called Molina the most indispensable player on the Cardinals — and that was when Albert Pujols was still on the roster and in his prime.
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco
When the former Rookie of the Year and the 2012 MVP is healthy, the Giants win the World Series. The lineup is not very deep and Posey hits for average and power as well as drives in runs.
4. Joey Votto, Cincinnati
The Reds’ first baseman drew 24 walks in the first 16 games. That’s Barry Bonds territory. No hitter in Cincinnati’s lineup garners more respect from opponents than Votto, who currently carries a .500 OBP.
5. Justin Upton, Atlanta
The first splash in Atlanta was the signing of center fielder B.J. Upton. The final splash in Atlanta over the winter was the trade for Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks. While B.J., fellow outfielder Jason Heyward and other Braves struggled, Justin Upton flourished. He has carried the offense with 12 home runs, 11 of them solo shots.
6. Bryce Harper, Washington
Few 20-year-olds are considered among the most indispensable players. For a team bent on winning the World Series, April has not been kind to the Nats. But Harper, bent on being the best player in the game, is hitting .360 while his teammates are scuffling at .225.
7. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
It doesn’t matter that the all-time saves leader is 43 years old. It doesn’t matter that he is returning from a torn ACL suffered last May. Somehow the Yankees are in contention despite being decimated with injuries. Getting nine saves from Rivera in April has been huge, but the intangibles he brings may be even more important.
8. Austin Jackson, Detroit
Okay, no one in their right mind would take Jackson over Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder. But numbers tell us that it’s Jackson who is the offensive catalyst for the Tigers. When he delivers, they win.
9. Dustin Pedroia, Boston
The mighty mite leads the team offensively, he leads the team on the field and he leads the team in the clubhouse.
10. James Shields, Kansas City
The Kansas City Royals have been grooming top prospects for a few years now. The club has been asking fans to be patient. Believing that this was the year to go for it, the team acquired Shields over the winter to fill the role of ace as well as mentor a staff of young pitchers. To this point, Shields has earned high marks in both areas. Without him, the Royals are not in first place.
11. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
With run production almost non-existence and other starters like 2012 Cy Young winner David Price off their game, Moore has been unhittable. He’s credited with five of the team’s 11 wins. The team has enough pitching and guile to stay in the AL East race, but without Moore, the Rays would be closer to fifth than first.
12. Matt Harvey, N.Y. Mets
New York fans are not exactly the most patient. So enduring a rebuilding process is difficult. Difficult for the front office, the players and the fans. So what Harvey has done on the mound — 4-0 with 1.54 ERA, 14 hits, 10 walks and 39 Ks in 35 innings — may not be as important as the lift he’s given fans and the belief he’s instilled in the organization that the future at Citi Field is bright.
13. Adam Jones, Baltimore
Chris Davis is off to a torrid start in Baltimore. But Jones is quickly becoming one of the best players in the game and will be in the AL MVP discussion all season.
14. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland
The second-year slugger has struggled out of the gate to the naked eye, but with him in the lineup the A’s are 10-2. Without him, 4-10.
15. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
With King Felix on the hill, the Mariners know they’ll get seven strong innings. What they don’t know is whether they’ll get any runs or not. When they do, they win.