Yeah, that’s right. I’m calling out the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) – the group that votes on the NL and AL MVP awards. I’m challenging its voters to explain how they fill out their ballots. Dare to consider advanced statistics, defense, intangibles, and team strength in proper context. Go ahead. Do it! I double dog dare you. Scared? Probably. Since you don’t have the nerve, let an amateur give it a shot. Just forget about Carlos Gonzalez. He had a great year, but his home/away split disparity can’t be ignored. This really appears to be a two-horse race.
Let’s begin with what I call the Contender Principle. According to the Contender Principle, an MVP candidate should come from a team that either makes the playoffs or a team that contends until late into the season. This principle acts like a crutch to help voters dismiss a valid candidate when they have no other reasonable grounds for dismissal. When you need something to ease your mind, the Contender Principle acts like a Snuggie for your conscience. Naturally, this principle has historically been applied unevenly and only when convenient (i.e. when a player from your hometown team has a great year and the team does not). Need some proof? How about a look at the last 10 NL MVP recipients and how their teams fared for the years they won? (FYI – I couldn’t find an “asterisk” font.)
- 2000 Jeff Kent Giants (97-65) Lost LDS 3-1
- 2001 Barry Bonds Giants (90-72) 2nd NL West
- 2002 Barry Bonds Giants (95-66-1) Lost WS 4-3
- 2003 Barry Bonds Giants (100-61) Lost LDS 3-1
- 2004 Barry Bonds Giants (91-71) 2nd NL West
- 2005 Albert Pujols Cardinals (100-62) Lost NLCS 4-2
- 2006 Ryan Howard Phillies (85-77) 2nd NL East
- 2007 Jimmy Rollins Phillies (89-73) Lost LDS 3-0
- 2008 Albert Pujols Cardinals (86-76) 4th NL Cent
- 2009 Albert Pujols Cardinals (91-71) Lost LDS 3-0
Notice anything about the list? Not a single NL MVP in the past 10 years has led his team to a World Series championship. Only 1 MVP has led his team to the World Series at all. Actually, 4 MVP winners have failed to even make the playoffs. CONCLUSION: Having the MVP is a poor indicator of postseason success.
Enough of the made-up principle, let’s take a look at the basic stats:
CONCLUSION: The raw numbers are close, although Albert won 2 of the 3 Triple Crown categories. Ultimately, the goal is to score runs and give your team the opportunity to score runs. Personally, I place a premium on producing runs, scoring runs, and moving runners around the bases. Nobody does that better than Mr. Pujols. Advantage: Pujols.
Now, let’s take into consideration park factors. Pujols plays home games at Busch Stadium (park factor .937), and Votto plays home games at Great American Ball Park (park factor 1.007). Keep in mind that a park factor greater than 1 indicates a “hitter’s park”, and a park factor of less than 1 indicates a “pitcher’s park”. With that in mind, let’s look at their splits.
CONCLUSION: Despite playing in a hitter’s park, Votto hit for a higher average and higher slugging percentage on the road. However, he almost evenly split his home runs and rbi totals, so the higher numbers didn’t directly result in greater personal production. They did result in a significant increase in runs scored which really takes the focus off of Votto and highlights the strength of his lineup protection. Advantage: Pujols.
Ah, it’s now time for a shallow dive into the sabermetric number pool. Rather than go through every single category, I’ll focus on a few that are most easily understood by casual observers. I’ll also add in one traditional defensive metric since both players play the same position.
- PLAYER FLD % RF/9 WAR
- Pujols .998 10.53 7.2
- Votto .996 8.84 6.2
RF/9 – Range factor / 9 innings. Bigger is indeed better.
WAR – Win Above Replacement, approximate number of wins added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA) would provide. In the case of Albert Pujols, you can think of it as the difference between having Albert and having Mark Hamilton at 1B.
CONCLUSION: The difference in WAR alone is enough to explain my decision here. Advantage: Pujols.
SUMMARY: The Reds scored 790 runs versus the Cardinals 736, and that’s because Votto’s supporting cast had a lot better year than Albert’s did. Albert was intentionally passed 38 times versus 8 for Votto. Pitchers were simply more willing to pitch to Votto to than to Pujols. Combine that with Albert’s superior defense, and you’ve got a winner. Mr. Pujols, please step forward and accept your 4th NL MVP award.