Monday, November 22, 2010
Votto's fine MVP choice ... but so is Pujols
I don't know that there's a great deal of suspense regarding today's announcement of the National League's Most Valuable Player Award.
We had 19 voters in the SweetSpot Network Awards, and 15 of them went for Joey Votto. The other four first-place votes were split between Albert Pujols, who finished second, and Roy Halladay, who finished fourth. Halladay isn't likely to do nearly as well in the BBWAA's balloting, because pitchers never do anymore. For example, three years ago CC Sabathia was the American League Cy Young, pitched for a first-place team ... and finished 14th in the MVP balloting. Halladay figures to fare somewhat better because he won 21 games and MVP voters have typically appreciated big winners on pennant-winning teams. But I'll be shocked if Halladay breaks into the top five.
The real departure is third place, which the SweetSpotters gave to Ryan Zimmerman and is pretty clearly WAR-driven.
Zimmerman didn't score 100 runs. Zimmerman didn't drive in 100 runs or hit 30 homers. He didn't actually play a lot, either, starting only 138 games. But WAR likes him; he's fifth (among non-pitchers) in Baseball-Reference.com's version and third in FanGraphs' version. I don't have a problem with either rating. Zimmerman hit really well, especially considering his home ballpark. And of course he's outstanding at third base, almost certainly the best in the National League and possibly in the majors.
But a guy with unimpressive power numbers on a last-place team? If he finishes in the top 10 it'll be a miracle.
Anyway, the real action is pretty simple, pitting one first baseman on a contending team in the National League Central against another. And while the difference between the two contenders wound up being five full games, did you know their run differentials were virtually the same? Plus-105 for the Reds, plus-95 for the Cardinals.
Oddly -- I was taken aback when I noticed it -- this is the first time that Pujols has led the National League in RBI. And you know MVP voters love their RBI. But they mostly love their RBI when they're BI'd by a player on a first-place team. And it's not like Pujols blew Votto away; the Red finished third in the league, only five behind Pujols (and four behind Carlos Gonzalez).
I should mention that whichever WAR (Wins Above Replacement) you prefer, Pujols fared as well or better than Votto. Actually, Votto's got an edge according to FanGraphs (fWAR) but it's so small that it's practically nonexistent. However, duty compels me to mention that the defensive metrics don't like Pujols much in 2010 ... which is odd because previously he's always gotten high marks (from the metrics) for his work at first base. If we give him a little extra credit for his defense and for his baserunning -- which was solid, as usual -- I think it's fair to suggest that Pujols did actually have the better season.
Ah, but there's one more thing we might look at. Oddly (yes, again) despite those league-leading 118 RBI, Pujols didn't perform real well in the clutch this year. FanGraphs calculates something called "Clutch" and also something called "Win Probability Added" (WPA). Votto was better than Pujols in the former category. Both were quite good in the latter -- if you hit like they hit, you're probably going to add some wins -- but Votto did better; his 6.85 was first in the league, Pujols' 5.38 was second.
There really isn't a wrong answer here, folks. I usually prefer to ignore team performance, but I'm not completely averse to using the standings as a tiebreaker. And this is as close to a tie as you're going to see, which is why I voted for Votto.
The real voters aren't at all averse to looking at the standings, which is why Votto's highly likely to win the award. They're also not real fond of giving it to the same guy every year, and Pujols has won three of them, including the past two. Granted, he probably should have won five or six of them already. But thanks to his teammates, this just isn't going to be his year.