We’re in the thick of baseball awards season, and it’s made for some interesting reading.
In the National League, Albert Pujols won the MVP in both the Internet Baseball Awards (by a very wide margin) and the official voting (by a narrower margin). This seems only natural since Pujols was far-and-away the best hitter in baseball – and it wasn’t particularly close. While you could argue that Hanley Ramirez or Chase Utley might be more valuable because of their position, they had to make up a good amount of ground compared to Pujols’ advantage with the bat, and while Pujols does play the easiest defensive position on the diamond, he’s a plus defender there, too. He came up as a third baseman, and has also played both outfield corners; he’s only at first base due to his bum elbow which his team naturally wants to protect as much as possible.
Despite this, folks like Thomas Boswell thinks Ryan Howard should have been the league’s MVP. I like Boswell’s writing, his book The Heart of the Order is among my favorites, but his whole argument is just ridiculously wrong. That he’s bringing up RBI and the position the player’s team finished as anything other than a tiebreaker is just plain silly, and, well Joe Posnanski writes a nifty refutation of Boswell’s position which says all that and more.
I think people still underestimate just how valuable it is for a hitter to not make an out. Pujols is the complete package as a hitter in a way that no other active player is. He’s really that good, and it’s amazing that people seriously question whether he should have been the MVP.
This was a tougher award to pick. Pedroia was third in the AL in VORP, behind Alex Rodriguez and Grady Sizemore. Pedroia logged significantly more plate appearances than most of his competition (only Sizemore logged more, and Josh Hamilton was a little behind). And most of the competition also played difficult defensive positions (Pedroia plays second base). There were also some good pitchers in the mix, as either Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay would have been a credible MVP.
I think you could build a reasonable argument for any number of these players being the MVP. I think the reason Pedroia won the actual award is that he plays for a high-profile playoff team, and he put up what was probably his career year. Voters like those sorts of things.
Rob Neyer picks Twins catcher Joe Mauer as his guy, and I think he’s a credible choice, too, although I don’t think he’s clearly better than Pedroia. Mauer did get overlooked by voters in each pool, although I think he was swimming uphill given the tendencies of the voters. I think Neyer’s right that he just never had the buzz, and with so many credible candidates he needed something to make him stand out in their minds. Additionally, I think there’s a perception that Mauer’s been a little disappointing since he hasn’t developed big-time power. Of course, he’s only 25, so he still has time.
(Boswell suggests that Francisco Rodriguez and his newly-minted saves record should have been the MVP, which is just absurd, as K-Rod wasn’t even the best reliever in his league, or particularly close to being so, and his record was due to the peculiar circumstances of his being on a good team in a poor division. His comparison to Dennis Eckersley‘s 1992 season doesn’t hold water either, since Eck was considerably more dominant than K-Rod was. Even then there were many better candidates among both the hitters and the pitchers.)
I think the awards are partly to honor players who reached the pinnacle of their profession in a given year, and partly to give us fans something to argue about. There’s plenty of red meat to chew on for the AL award, but I’m sure Pedroia and his fans are just happy to have made it this far. (Two years ago a lot of people wondered if he’d ever hit enough to be a solid Major League regular.)
But on the NL side I think we should just sit back and appreciate Albert Pujols as the greatest active hitter (and he’d be the greatest hitter of his era if he hadn’t spent the first few years of his career competing with one of the two greatest hitters of any era). At this point it looks like the only thing that can stop him is his own elbow.