Tuesday, December 5, 2006

"I see it this way: Someone who doesn't take his team to the playoffs doesn't deserve to win the MVP."

Those were the words of Albert Pujols, translated from Spanish to English, spoken at a news conference in the Dominican Republic. Pujols, often referred to as the posterboy for all things right in sports, has been running his mouth as of late, but he's still not in T.O. territory.

During the Game 1 of the National League Division Series, Pujols said of Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, "He wasn't all that good." However, unlike his comments regarding Howard, he didn't take back his words about Glavine, who, by the way, shut down Pujols and the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.

In rescinding his verbal salvo on Howard, Pujols got mushy and said to USA today, "I feel so bad because I love Ryan Howard. I never said he didn't deserve the MVP. He is deserving of that award. He earned it. That's why he got it. I'm not trying to defend myself; I just want to tell him that I'm sorry for all of this because he earned the MVP. The last thing I want to do is spoil this for him."

"I see it this way: Someone who doesn't take his team to the playoffs doesn't deserve to win the MVP."

"I never said he didn't deserve the MVP."

Seems like two contradictory statements to me. Ryan Howard's team, obviously, did not make the playoffs.

With a World Series ring awaiting Pujols and his teammates at their home opener and a Most Valuable Player award already in his trophy case (from 2005), it's surprising that he felt the need to say that he deserved the MVP award. Nonetheless, he wasn't the Most Valuable Player of the National League in 2005, and the Baseball Writers Association of America got it right by giving Ryan Howard 20 first-place votes; Pujols got 12.

There are a lot of arguments floating around about Howard somehow stealing (metaphorically, of course) the MVP from Pujols. Not true. Examine:

Pujols' Cardinals made the playoffs, won the World Series

The Cardinals won two less games in a division whose average record was 75-87 (.463), as compared to the NL East, which had an average record of 82-80 (.506).

The Cardinals would not have made the playoffs if they had played in the NL East. They were 13-12 against non-Philadelphia NL East teams, while the Phillies were 17-14 against non-St. Louis NL Central teams.

In addition, the votes are sent in before the playoffs begin. Why, then, let a team's playoff appearance have weight in the outcome of the voting, the exact opposite of what was intended?

Pujols won the Gold Glove award

Pujols did play good defense, but the Gold Glove is a meaningless award. It is given out mostly based on reputation. For instance, Bobby Abreu won the award in 2005, but he obviously was not a top-three defender in the National League and never was.

Pujols was a better defender than Howard, but that's about all that can be said, as he had the ninth-most errors among first basemen in the National League. The player most deserving of the NL Gold Glove award at first base was Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies. Pujols stole the award from Helton!

Pujols played in less games

How valuable is Pujols to his team when he isn't in the lineup? If anything, he should be punished for missing three weeks. Saying that Pujols "would have put up better numbers" is a moot point because the MVP award isn't given out based on conjecture. And by that logic, Howard could have broken his leg one week into September and locked up the MVP award.

Pujols had much less strikeouts

Ryan Howard finished the 2006 season with 181 strikeouts, tied for thirteenth-most in Major League Baseball history, and more than three times more than Albert Pujols' 50 strikeouts.

However, a strikeout is, most of the time, as unproductive as a ground ball or a fly ball. One-third of all outs end the inning, so right there, 33% of the time, a strikeout is the same as any other out. If a player leads off an inning, a strikeout is also the same as any other out. Add in all of the fly balls and ground balls hit with no one on base, and those which did not advance any runners, and you're only left with a small sliver of productive non-strikeout outs.

Add in that Howard had more sacrifice flies (6 to 3) and Pujols had three times as many double plays (7 to 20). Howard's strikeouts are not indicative of poor strike-zone judgment, as Howard had 71 unintentional walks, compared to Pujols' 64.

Pujols had a worse supporting cast

The only player in the lineup that really has an effect on Howard is the player hitting behind him, usually Pat Burrell. As everyone in Philadelphia is aware of, Burrell had a down year despite hitting 29 HR and driving in 95 runs. With first base open, teams would much rather face Burrell than Howard. Pujols had different players hitting behind him throughout the year: Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, or Juan Encarnacion mostly. If Pujols had worse protection, why was he intentionally walked less?

Pujols had a better average with RISP

It's true, Pujols hit extremely well with runners in scoring position (.397), and Howard didn't fare so well (.256). However, the only thing that matters is that Howard had more runs driven in. What difference is it if Howard drives in two runs by hitting a homerun with a runner on first base (none in scoring position), or if Pujols drives in two runs by hitting a single with runners on second and third (two in scoring position)?

As we can now see, Howard was the rightful recipient of the National League MVP award, and this is without even mentioning that Howard kept his team afloat after general manager Pat Gillick pawned off one of the franchise's all-time greatest players in Bobby Abreu. In June, the Phillies had such a depleted starting rotation that they asked left-handed relief pitcher Aaron Fultz to start a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, and the late Cory Lidle was the team's ace (Brett Myers had taken a leave of absence after assaulting his wife in Boston). Howard also won back-to-back National League Player of the Month honors, a feat that has only been accomplished 14 times by:

In the year(s) in which the award was won, Gibson won both the MVP and Cy Young awards, Parker, Mattingly, and Bagwell won the MVP, and Bonds won the MVP in both years.

Still not convinced? Click here for a graph comparing Howard and Pujols.