Here it is folks, the final installment in our series on who should win the AL and NL MVP awards. Without further ado…
The National League
3. Miguel Cabrera
2. Ryan Howard
1. Albert Pujols
It seems that the conventional wisdom this season is Ryan Howard for MVP, because he leads the league in home runs and RBI and because his team is on the verge of the playoffs and without him would be on the verge of contraction.
As a Phillies fan, I’m more than eager to embrace Howard as this year’s MVP, but as a baseball fan, I have to ask: are we really still evaluating players based on statistics like batting average, home runs and RBIs? I thought we outgrew those numbers years ago. Or are old fashioned statistics back in style, just like tapered jeans and bubble skirts (I’m told).
Personally, I thought we decided long ago that statistics like slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs created were better statistics to measure the impact of a player. And when you look at those more telling statistics, I think the choice for 2006 NL MVP is clear: it’s gotta be Albert Pujols.
Umpbumper Nick says there is no player he’d rather have on his team than Ryan Howard. But I have to question his logic.
But first, let’s talk about my third place vote, Miguel Cabrera. Has anybody not named Bobby Abreu ever put up awesomer numbers so quitely? He’s hitting .387 with runners in scoring position. He has been responsible for a higher percentage of his team’s runs produced (16.0 percent) than any regular player in the league. But you know what? He’s playing for a Marlins team that is fading fast and won’t finish above .500, let alone in the playoffs. So he’s out.
Now on to Howard and Pujols. Let’s start with fielding. This should be easy. Pujols is a good fielding first baseman, with the third best fielding percentage in the league and the best range among first basemen. Howard is tied for the league lead in errors. Advantage: Pujols.
Now let’s talk about hitting. To help make my point I’m going to borrow a few statistics from the world’s biggest baseball geek, the king of useless info, ESPN columnist Jason Stark. First, consider that Pujols is more clutch than Howard. Much more clutch. Average with runners in scoring position: Pujols .389, Howard .248. Two outs, men in scoring position: Pujols .421, Howard .230. Two outs, runners anywhere on base: Pujols .359, Howard .227. Oh yeah, and 18 of Pujols’ 45 homers have resulted in the Cardinals’ game-winning RBI — the most “game-winning homers” by any player in any season since Willie Mays had 19 in 1962. Howard, for the record, is second in the league this year — with half that many. Advantage: Pujols.
Last year, there was a big push to give the Cy Young Award to Roger Clemens, even though he only had 13 wins. Clemens had a tremendous ERA (1.87), but was hindered by pathetic run support. And in the end, the award went to Chris Carpenter. Pitchers need run support and power hitters need the guys in front of them to get on base. Howard has had the benefit of hitting behind Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and, until recently, on-base machine Bobby Abreu. Pujols has a bunch of nobodies in front of him. Want proof? Plate appearances with runners in scoring position: Howard 197 (and 73 RBI), Pujols 150 (and 72 RBI). That stat tells you all you need to know about the top of the Cardinals’ lineup that Howard has gone to the plate 47 more times with runners in scoring position than Pujols has. It tells you something about Pujols’ ability to rise to the moment that those trips have produced nearly the same number of RBI. Advantage: Pujols.
Look, both Howard and Pujols are valuable. Both have had great seasons. Both hit a ton of home runs and a ton of RBIs and have great OBPs. Neither the Cardinals or the Phillies would have made the playoffs this year without these guys (I know I’m jumping the gun on a Phillies post season appearance, but I just can’t help it!). But here’s what it comes down to for me: Pujols does more with less. He comes through in the clutch and he is, no disrespect to Howard, the most feared hitter in baseball.
The American League
3. David Ortiz
2. Derek Jeter
1. Joe Mauer
The AL has a lot of contenders vying for MVP. Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer are hitting for average, Jermaine Dye is hitting for power, David Ortiz is hitting in the clutch and Johan Santana has been unhittable. So how do we choose just one?
There are people who tell you that designated hitters shouldn’t be eligible for the MVP award. I don’t agree. There are people who will tell you that designated hitters should be weighed the same as position players. I don’t agree with that either. For me, a designated hitter has to do something truly historic for him to merit consideration as an MVP. He has to have a season that is so monstrous that it simply can’t be ignored. David Ortiz is a fantastic hitter. But he’s only half a player and he doesn’t play the offensive part of the game quite good enough to make up for the fact that he doesn’t even attempt the defensive part of the game.
For me, there are two complete players who are vying for MVP this season: Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer. Baseball Prospectus says that, aside from Travis Hafner, who played for a losing team and didn’t play in enough games for me to consider him for MVP, Jeter has the highest VORP in the AL. That surprised me. But maybe it shouldn’t have. Jeter brings a lot to the table. Everybody knows about his leadership, which can only be measured in one way: 9 straight AL East titles. But he also hits for avg. (.339), has a high OBP (.413), has some pop (14 HRs), plays a solid SS, and steals bases (32). Really, what’s not to like? And, granted, he’s playing in the middle of an absolutely stacked lineup, but those other guys aren’t swinging the bat for him and I’m not going to penalize a guy just because his teammates are good.
The other complete player is Joe Mauer. I gotta be honest, I didn’t know how I was going to choose an AL MVP until I read Umpbumper Nick’s post on Mauer. Now I’m convinced. If you haven’t read his post, it’s worth it. Mauer is leading the league in batting average. His .495 slugging percentage .428 OBP are by far the best at his position and are, just generally, excellent. But what really seperates Mauer from the pack is the way that he mans his position, throwing runners out at a Pudge-like rate and managing a pitching staff that has overachieved and has been, in the second half of the season, the best in baseball.
If Mauer keeps this up, he’ll go down in history as the best catcher ever. And it won’t even be close. What we’re seeing from Mauer is Tiger Woods-like dominance. You don’t see it everyday. You don’t see it every decade. Jeter is very good. He’s a leader. He’s a scrappy player. But he’s no Tiger Woods. And he’s no MVP.