Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 17, 2008
BASEBALL: My NL MVP
The NL MVP balloting will be announced this afternoon. To my mind, there's only one candidate: Albert Pujols.
There seems to be a fair amount of sentiment for Ryan Howard, as there was before the Mets' collapse for Carlos Delgado, and for the same reasons....but Pujols is the best player in the league, he had arguably his best year with the bat, he's a better defensive player and baserunner than Howard or Delgado or Lance Berkman, he doesn't play in an offensive haven like Philly or Houston, and his team, with a deeply unimpressive collection of supporting talent, won 86 games, was within 2 games of first place on July 22 and 4 games on August 1, and within 2 games of the wild card lead on August 16 and 3 1/2 on September 9. Pujols led the league in Slugging and OPS, was second in batting and on base percentage, and despite missing two weeks with an injury he managed to lead the league in Total Bases and Times on Base and finish third in homers, fourth in RBI, third in hits, second in walks and fourth in doubles (Chipper Jones was the only really comparable hitter in the league in percentage terms, but Pujols had 641 plate appearances to Jones' 534). There's really no serious dispute that if you put Pujols on the Phillies or Mets in place of Howard or Delgado, the team with Pujols would have improved by several games, and the Cardinals would have gone nowhere.
Pujols batted .357/.462/.653 on the season, .335/.443/.613 on the road. Howard batted .251/.339/.543 on the season - a 106 point gap in batting average, a 123 point gap in OBP, and a 110 point gap in slugging. Howard may have had the great September, but Pujols batted .398/.491/.745 in August and .321/.427/.702 in September. With 2 outs and men in scoring position he hit .326/.592/.791. On the whole, Ryan Howard batted .276/.370/.638 with 18 HR and 51 RBI and 38 Runs from August 1 to the end of the season; Pujols, with a lot less help from his teammates, batted .363/.461/.725 with 16 HR, 49 RBI and 35 Runs over the same period.
Howard batted .241/.317/.514 on the road, making him an easier out on the road than Yadier Molina, Cristian Guzman, Brian Schneider, Kazuo Matsui, Aaron Miles, Marco Scutaro, Jeff Keppinger, or Rich Aurilia (Pujols led the majors in OBP on the road), and a less fearsome slugger away from Citizens Bank than Jayson Werth, Xavier Nady, Casey Blake, Cody Ross, or Mike Cameron (Pujols led the majors in Slugging on the road).
Pujols batted .354/.494/.638 with men on base, compared to Howard's .309/.396/.648 (yes, Howard really did elevate his game with men on base - there is some reason for him being in this discussion). Pujols batted .339/.523/.678 with runners in scoring position, compared to Howard's .320/.439/.589. The difference? Howard had 47 more plate appearances with men in scoring position (223 to 176) and 29 more with men on base (351 to 322). As with Francisco Rodriguez' save opportunities, Howard is an MVP candidate almost entirely because of the opportunities his teammates gave him. He may have raised his game in those situations, but even then, as in the stretch run, he couldn't raise it to Pujols' level.
Berkman had a better year than Howard, but also doesn't stack up to Pujols, and unlike Howard's RBI advantage he did nothing better than Pujols except steal 18 bases. He batted .312/.420/.567, .306/.413/.514 on the road. He had a horrendous September, batting .171/.343/.289.
There are a number of other guys who have good arguments for being on the ballot besides Howard and Berkman - Jones, Delgado, Hanley Ramirez, Tim Lincecum, four other Mets (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana), Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, maybe even Manny down at the end of the ballot. But there's only one choice for #1: Albert Pujols.