We’ve got a host of NL MVP-related links today.
DanUpBaby at Viva El Birdos says, “I’ve never been happier to overreact about something, personally.”
Here’s how Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Tom Hardricourt voted:
1. Ryan Howard, 2. CC Sabathia,3. Manny Ramirez, 4. Carlos Delgado, 5. Aramis Ramirez, 6. Prince Fielder, 7. Albert Pujols, 8. Ryan Ludwick,9. Ryan Braun, 10. David Wright.
Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Todd Zolecki outs colleague Rich Campbell, who had the nerve not to vote for Howard at all. Campbell has covered the Washington Nationals for the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star for one year. He picked Pujols first, New York Mets third baseman David Wright second, Houston Astros first baseman Lance Berkman third, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley fourth, and Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez fifth. When asked why he didn’t vote for Howard, Campbell said, “I’d rather not comment on it, to be honest with you.”
A lot of people are up in arms about what Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Phil Sheridan said: “Ryan Howard was the most valuable player in the National League in 2008. That he was not voted MVP by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America says more about the association than about Howard, Albert Pujols or America.”
You can find a rebuttal to Sheridan’s column here.
But my favorite response to Pujols’ win came from the Philadelphia Daily News’ Sam Donnellon, who says Pujols is MVP, but Ryan Howard has greater “presence” — which seems to be an intangible akin to David Eckstein’s grit. Ordinarily, if I read something like this I would send the link to the guys at Fire Joe Morgan. But since the site is no more, I’m going to take it upon myself to break this one down, FJM style.
Here we go…
So how did Howard, with all those punchouts, with that below-average batting average and those late-inning struggles, knock in 30 more runs than Pujols this season?
He hit more home runs, sometimes with runners on base?
How did he manage 48 home runs in a season that so often looked as if it would be his worst?
He swung really hard?
Presence, that’s how.
OOOOOOhhhh. Presence! Of course!
He looks massive up there, looks different than Pujols, more malicious. He swings different than Pujols, too. Whether he struck out, drilled a groundout to the leftside, or hit one of those towering home runs, Howard was, to opposing pitchers, a panic attack, each and every game.
This is a little known fact: striking out Howard is the athletic equivilent of competing in an Ironman race. When they go against the Phillies, opposing pitchers never last more than 2.5 innings, because pitching to Howard is the equivalent of throwing 75 pitches. And that’s when he strikes out. When he gets a single, it’s more like 90 pitches. When he hits a home run, the medical staff breaks out the defibulators and oxygen tank.
And whether he struck out, drilled a groundout to the leftside, or hit one of those towering home runs, he put a dent into the other side, like the fullback who deals out punishment even on a 1-yard gain.
Ordinarily, I’m not wild about mixing sports metaphors. But Donnelly writes in Philly where, unless you compare everything to football you’re speaking Greek. So we’ll let this slide.
Pujols is great. At times, especially when he’s on one of those tears, he probably fits any and all of the above description. The difference is that Howard evokes all that whether he is missing badly or tearing it up.
The formula here is simple: Howard striking out > Pujols getting a hit. And if you don’t believe that, then you’ve obviously never experienced a Ryan Howard strikeout. It’s majestic.
It’s why you might not make that swap for Pujols, even if you could. Because as good as those baseball scientists have become in statistical analysis, they can’t measure presence, not yet anyway.
They can only feel it, just like you and me.
Sports fans, I don’t know about you, but all I feel is fortunate — fortunate that Donnelly isn’t in charge of my favorite baseball team. Because, as Rob Neyer pointed out recently, “Pujols destroyed Howard in baseball’s two more important statistics, on-base percentage (.462 to .339) and slugging percentage (.653 to .543).” And Pujols hit way better with runners in scoring position. And Howard batted just .158/.306/.337 against lefties this year, while Pujols dominated lefties and righties. All Pujols was missing was presence. Maybe he can work on that in the offseason.