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Who deserves to win the NL MVP?

Posted by Andy on November 21, 2010

I think this is going to be a pretty close MVP vote. The title of this post asks who "deserves" to win the 2010 NL MVP, but just as interesting is who we think will actually win, in other words who we think the real voters will choose.

Let's start with this list, the NL WAR leaders:

Wins Above Replacement--all  s c a p y
1. Pujols (STL) 7.2
2. Halladay (PHI) 6.5
Jimenez (COL) 6.5
4. Gonzalez (SDP) 6.3
5. Votto (CIN) 6.2
6. Wainwright (STL) 6.1
7. Johnson (FLA) 5.9
Huff (SFG) 5.9
9. Hudson (ATL) 5.7
10. Tulowitzki (COL) 5.6

We see that several pitchers make the top 10. I am sure that Halladay and Jimenez will both get some MVP votes but I doubt that their performances were good enough to get them much in the way of 1st-place votes.

Looking at the above list, Pujols looks like the clear winner. He has a few things working against him, though:

  • His WAR of 7.2 is his lowest since the 2002 season:
    Year Age WAR oWAR dWAR
    2001 21 6.9 6.4 0.5
    2002 22 5.8 6.2 -0.4
    2003 23 10.9 9.5 1.4
    2004 24 9.4 7.9 1.5
    2005 25 8.2 7.2 1.0
    2006 26 8.3 7.0 1.3
    2007 27 8.3 5.8 2.5
    2008 28 9.6 7.8 1.8
    2009 29 9.2 7.8 1.4
    2010 30 7.2 7.4 -0.2
    10 Seasons 83.8 73.0 10.8
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 11/21/2010.

    I've heard plenty of chatter that this was Pujols' worst season in a long time. I guess that's true in terms of overall WAR, but in reality I think his offensive numbers look worse than the rest of his career because of the overall lower levels of league-wide offense this season. Plus, looking at the table above, his oWAR was just fine--in the 7s as with most of his best seasons. It's his dWAR that went negative for the first time since 2002 that hurt his overall WAR total. I'm not saying that this isn't a real detriment to his overall value, but let's face it--MVP voters don't consider defense all that much, and the bottom line is that his offensive performance hasn't slipped.

  • The overall lower levels of offense rob Pujols a bit on the guady-number front. He hit 42 HR with 118 RBI, both good for first in the NL and yet not as large as the league-leading totals we're used to. Often times, if a guy leads his league in HR and RBI, he's going to win the MVP pretty easily, but in recent years that might have been with 50 HR and 125 RBI--so Pujols' performance at first glance seems less impressive.
  • The Cardinals didn't make the playoffs, despite being a pretty good team. This hasn't prevented Pujols from winning the MVP in some years past, but I think it has to cost him a few votes.

Joey Votto led the league in OPS+ at 174 (just a tick ahead of Pujols) and also led in both OBP and SLG (wow!). Plus, he improved a lot over his first two full seasons, which were good to begin with, and the Reds made the playoffs for the first time since 1995.

In my mind, Pujols and Votto are just about tied in terms of who deserves it. I think Votto is going to have a slight edge in the minds of the voters thanks to the first-glance assessment that Votto had a better season than Pujols compared to each guy's own past performance and because the Reds made the playoffs.

I suspect that Adrian Gonzalez and Carlos Gonzalez will finish 3rd and 4th.

What do you think?

36 Responses to “Who deserves to win the NL MVP?”

  1. LVW Says:

    Votto also had the edge in hitting with runners in scoring position, late inning pressure and was more consistent. Though this isn't as important as overall stats I see it as kind of a tiebreaker.

  2. LVW Says:

    Also, even though Pujols had a few more runs scored and a couple more RBIs than Votto, he also made 48 more outs than Votto to get those.

  3. JR Says:

    I think Votto wins this by a few votes. The Reds winning the division help out his cause.

    I like how people feel Pujols had a "down year", with him leading the league in homers and RBI's. I have been watching baseball for 30+ years now and he may be the best hitter I have ever seen.

  4. BSK Says:

    I'm going with Pujols, largely because he got jobbed out of a couple of MVPs earlier. Generally, I don't subscribe to such logic, but given that Pujols is, at worst, dead even with Votto for the award, I use that as my tiebreaker.

  5. Devon & His 1982 Topps blog Says:

    I've thought all along that Pujols should get it, but I've been hearing for months about Votto's season with MVP connected to it. I hate that. Votto's had a great season, and the reds made the playoffs (before choking on Philly's sawdust), but it just doesn't match Pujols year in my view.

    People/Announcers/Journalists also seem to forget that Pujols played through a pretty bad injury from late August into September and still put up better numbers than Votto. Now, in my mind, you can't do that if Votto's the most valuable player in the league.

    @ 2 LVW .... 48 more outs, sure, but Pujols was a little better, when it counted the most. Hitting with RISP, Pujols had a .512 OBP and .657 SLG. Votto wasn't too far behind, but his .491 OBP & .638 SLG are a full 20 points (each) behind Albert.

  6. Tom Says:

    I think Votto will win, and I don't have a problem with that. Adrian Gonzales seems to hardly figure into the conversation. That's too bad. He was the offensive leader on a team that way over-achieved. This was a team that for a good chunk of the season had three starting outfielders hitting who hit below .250, one of whom has no power.

  7. LVW Says:

    @Devon- Pujols OB% was higher with RISP because he had 29 more IBBs than Votto. Avg is more important in RISP situations because you're talking about needing a hit to score a run and Votto's avg was 29 points higher. Votto dominated Pujols in late in pressure situations(1.138 to .971 OPS).

    With that being said Pujols deserves to finish 2nd though.

  8. Dr. Doom Says:

    For me, what separates Votto is the numbers beyond WAR. He had very slight advantages in OPS+, RC, Off W%, REW, and WPA/LI. However, while those advantages could easily be overcome by Pujols' better WAR and Batting Wins, I can't help but think that Votto's huge advantages in RE24 and WPA make up for it. So I think he deserves the win. And I think he will. Unfortunately, I don't think the voters will be choosing him for the same reasons I would, but that doesn't mean they'll get it wrong. But that's just my opinion.

  9. Zack Says:

    I find myself a WPA fan, and Votto took that stat to church. (WPA/LI, too).

    Pujols starts each season with a few votes penciled in, and his "down year" is staggering, but the Reds team success may overcome that. I feel Votto will take this by a few votes.

    But if MVP means "based on the season, who do you draft first for next year," don't we all take Pujols?

  10. LVW Says:

    @Tom- also his team at least went into the final weekend with a chance to get in unlike the Cards and Rockies. My top 5:
    1. Votto
    2. Pujols
    3/4. AD Gonzalez
    3/4. Ca Gonzalez
    5. Halladay.

  11. stan cook Says:

    They both played in a division with terrible pitching. AP had the additional advantage of not facing his own pitchers. AG played in a pitchers park and carried an awful team. CarGo played in a hitters park but had more defensive and base running value than the others. Ditto Tulo who missed a lot of games. Votto will win it because the team got better unexpectedly

  12. progrockfan Says:

    Pujols. He and Mauer would be the hardest players to replace in the Majors - and Albert didn't exactly have a duff year at the plate...

  13. LeeTro Says:

    Not that it makes a big difference for this topic, but are the ROE and DP run values coming soon?

  14. More MVP Support for Joey Votto | Redleg Nation Says:

    [...] MVP Support for Joey Votto by Steve Price on November 21st, 2010 in 2010 Reds analyzes the National League MVP contenders today and support seems to be solidly in Joey [...]

  15. Will S. Says:

    Pujols and Votto have very similar offensive stats, but Pujols has 52 more PAs. I'll take Pujols.

  16. T Says:

    I'm a Cardinal fan, big time, but Votto should win this one rather handily. Post-season speaks volumes !!

  17. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    I am a longtime Reds rooter{since just before World War II, to be precise}, and I would love to see Votto get the vote-o; but I am predicting that Pujols will end up with it. Mind you,the difference betwenn their contributions were slight enough that if Pujols does get the award, I won't suggest a Congressional investigation to check into the injustice {or even suggest something meaningful, for that matter}.

  18. John DiFool Says:

    Historically, when a player is generally seen as the best in the league over a relatively lengthy period of time, and has recently won it, the writers will try to make any excuse to give it to someone else-this year they have the excuses. C.f. Mickey Mantle was no worst than 3rd in WAR in the AL from 1952-62, 1st 6 times, but won the MVP "only" 3 times.

  19. Devon & His 1982 Topps blog Says:

    @ #7 LVW the context of how many outs each player made, OBP is always more important than BA. Lower OBP = rally killer, whether the run scores or not. Higher OBP means the inning continues, whether the run scores or not... and that's ultimately the batters job during a scoring opportunity - to continue the inning.

    Albert's extra IBB's in RISP compared to Votto ....sounds to me like an argument supporting Pujols value over Votto even further.

  20. Fantusta Says:

    I'd put Adrian Gonzalez and Halladay at 1 and 2, so I guess I'm a little out in left field (or closer to the pitcher's mound?)

  21. LVW Says:

    @Devon- the object of a hitter when he's up with runners in scoring position is to drive in the run. When someone gets walked intentionally it means they failed to drive in that run because he still hasn't scored. BTW Pujols made 21 more outs with RISP than Votto.

  22. John Autin Says:

    The numbers for Votto and Pujols are incredibly close. I voted for Votto because of his edge in the following categories (while granting that there is some overlap among these):
    -- GIDP, 11 to 23.
    -- High-leverage OPS, 1.098 to 1.011.
    -- Late & close OPS, 1.138 to .971.
    -- OPS from 7th inning on, 1.112 to .892.

    But I could also make a case for Albert:
    -- 7 more games played.
    -- No platoon weakness, with an OPS of .983 vs. RHP and 1.076 vs. LHP. Votto's OPS was .863 vs. LHP, 1.115 vs. RHP.

    P.S. If Pujols does win the vote, he'll be just the 2nd player ever to win 4 MVP Awards, or to win 3 in a row (both feats having been pioneered by You-Know-Who). He's also a lock to pass Willie Mays for the #4 spot in career MVP shares, and would bump Teddy Ballgame off the #3 spot with 0.55 share (a figure he has reached in 7 of his 9 previous seasons).

  23. kds Says:

    Andy, "... 50 HR and 125 RBI." The average number to lead the NL in RBI from after the strike through 2009 was 143. 118 is the lowest to lead the league by 10. For grading players with RiSP I don't think we should punish them for IBB. The opportunity to drive in runs was taken from the batter. For the batter I think it should be treated as a nonevent. Before Bonds there did seem to be a strong rule that no one could earn more than 3, check out Williams and Mays as well as Mantle.

  24. John Autin Says:

    @21, LVW --
    You seem to equate IBBs with walks that may result from a hitter maintaining a selective approach despite the presence of "ducks on the pond." Is Albert to blame for motivating pitchers to pass him intentionally? Taking your logic to the extreme, a .250 singles hitter who never walks would be more valuable with RISP than a hitter so good that he always gets an IBB with any base open.

    You also seem to think that the runner in scoring position now is the only run that could score in the inning, and that the batter up now is the only many who could possibly drive him in. But if we tracked each specific IBB Albert received with RISP, surely we would find several instances where the next batter drove in the run, and even some where multiple runs scored after the IBB.

  25. Duper Says:

    It's awfully close but I believe Votto just edges out Pujols. Pujols had his typical fantastic year, but Votto led most of the year in OBP and SLG, which to me is more important than Pujols' slight edge in stats like R and RBI. For what it's worth, Votto also has a significant edge in WPA.

    I might be mistaken on this one but I believe at one point in mid/late August, Votto actually had a slight lead in almost every major stat, including AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, HR, RBI, R, etc. Pujols ended up taking the HR and RBI lead and Carlos Gonzalez and Coors Field took over the batting crown, but Votto was at or right near the top in every category for the majority of the season. He wasn't quite as dominant through the end of the season but the Reds locked up the division in late August anyway. When in doubt, the writers will usually go with the guy from the team who made the playoffs.

    Much of the above debate about RISP and Late & Close stuff is splitting hairs. They were both really good in those situations. AVG w/ RISP is very overrated anyway. Believe it or not, AVG w/ RISP does not correlate all that well with RBI. There are so many times that runners score on a ground out, error, sac fly, from first base on a double, from anywhere on a homer, etc. and there are so many times that a hit with a runner on second doesn't result in a run scored.

    Not that I believe these should necessarily be deciding factors in an MVP race, but I will add the following simply for the sake of discussion:

    1) It's tempting to assume that Votto benefits greatly from the bandbox that is Great American Ballpark, but he actually hits a lot better on the road (both this year and last year). This year in 76 games on the road, Votto hit: .349/.452/.641 with 19 HR, 57 RBI, 64 R, 50 BB, 21 2B and 12 SB to 1 CS.

    2) Both guys had some pretty lousy hitters in front of them for much of the season. The Reds got a .306 and .346 OBP out of their leadoff spot and #2 hole respectively. St. Louis got a .306 and .351 OBP out of theirs.

    3) The NL Central race was basically decided in the second half of August. The Cardinals swept a big series with the Reds to claim the division lead. St. Louis was actually a game ahead after that series ended on August 11th. It looked as if the Cards were about to take over for good, but the Reds surprisingly responded by winning 12 of the next 16 and St. Louis fell into a funk, losing 13 out of 18. By September 1, the Reds had an insurrmountable 7 game lead and St. Louis never got back into the race.

    In those 16 games when the Reds went 12-4, Votto batted .377/.441/.656 with 5 doubles, 4 homers, 11 runs, 20 RBI, and 4 stolen bases. He had 7 multi-hit games and 11 multi times-on-base games.

    Pujols actually hit very well for most of the same stretch, though he started to slump in late August and had a 20 game stretch from Aug 25 to Sep 15, where he batted .208/.330/.528.

    Now I don't put a ton of worth into that for many reasons. Every player goes into a slump; Pujols' just happened at a bad time. And pitching had a whole lot to do with the Reds winning streak and the Cardinals collapse. But those with votes who were paying attention could give Votto credit for playing so well during the stretch when the Reds locked up the division and could detract from Pujols for slumping as the Cardinals season was slipping away (and yes, I realize I just referred to a stretch where he slugged .528 as a slump).

  26. LVW Says:

    @John- if you want to go the selective approach route; Pujols had 17 unintentional walks in 201 PAs with RISP and Votto had 25 in 167 PAs. I'm not saying that only one batter can drive him in; BUT if someone else after Pujols fails to drive a run in does succeed in doing so that adds to that player's value.

    In your extreme example if a .250 singles hitter hits 100 points less with RISP than the guy getting the INTBBs does, then no he's not more valuable in RISP.

    No Pujols is not to blame for the INTBB's; but it should have a small effect on his MVP standing just like even though Ryan Zimmerman is not to blame for the Nationals finishing 28 games out of 1st it's still going to effect his MVP standing.

  27. Adam Says:

    I would vote Pujols, but it's so close you could hardly make the a wrong choice.

  28. Tmckelv Says:

    3 of my personal "considerations" for MVP come up this year in the NL.

    1) I don't love to give it to pitchers unless you absolutely have to. Halladay does not fit that category this year. Obviously you cannot give it to any other pitcher unless the Cy Young is a sham or Ubaldo Jimenez was extremely good with the bat this year (but even if that were the case, his totals would get knocked down by the "Colorado effect").

    2) Don't give it to someone that has won the award a couple times before if it is a so-so year for the guy (i.e. Albert Pujols 2010 - if ever you can call a 173 OPS+ a so-so year, it is this case).

    3) If there is no clear cut - give the guys on playoff teams a little bump and see what that does. Out of the top 10 (in WAR) that applies to Votto, Halladay/Hudson (see #1) and Aubrey Huff (come on, Aubrey Huff???).

    Because of the considerations above, I would select Joey Votto as MVP.

  29. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    I think that Albert Pujols was still the best player in the NL in 2010, even though he had by his standards a "down" year. However, voters will give the award to Votto for:
    1) leading the Reds made the playoffs
    2) being the "new face" in the MVP race

    I predict a close finish with Votto/Pujols/Carlos Gonzalez, in that order.

    I would also like to comment on what standards the MVP voters use - most of us here see the question of "who is the MVP?" as: "who had the best year in the league?" However, MVP voters put a whole series of qualifiers to the question, "who was the best player in the league?", such as:

    - must be a position player (UNLESS no position player dominates)
    - is on a playoff team (UNLESS a player on a non-playoff team totally dominates, or the team a player is on wins by a large margin)
    - led the league in RBI (BONUS - unless they were not on a playof team)
    - is the player new to the MVP discussion?? (MANY bonus points for being a more interesting story...)

    Frequently, how interesting the players storyline is seems to be more important than the candidate's qualifications to the MVP voters. In short, baseball writers are best at is WRITING ABOUT BASEBALL, not neccessarily at analyzing player's performances. The exclusion of pitchers from consideration the last 20 or so years is probably the most infuriating aspect of this; Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez almost certainly should have won MVP awards.

  30. Dr. Doom Says:

    And Votto is the winner.

  31. DS Says:

    1) But if MVP means "based on the season, who do you draft first for next year," don't we all take Pujols?

    - This can't really apply, because even if Pujols had an abysmal season, i'd still pick him first over any field player on offensive measure alone.

    2) Making the playoffs is great, but just a thought. If wins and team performance do not factor into the cy young award, why should they for mvp?

    Baseball is an individual game disguised as a team game. Pujols/Votto are 1 player out of 9. Making the playoffs is as much out of Pujols control as winning is to Hernandez, outside of just a fraction of the results they contribute to the w/l.

    They both had a great season. Albert actually had more value based on WAR so I don't really buy the 'they made the playoffs' argument unless that player significantly contributed or based on some other support info. Shouldn't be a double standard.

  32. stlfan Says:


    So, by my user name, I am obviously biased...but cherry picking stats is not the way to go about finding a winner. Looking solely at RISP, you could also say that Pujols led Votto in 2B, HR, RBI, BB, K (less), OBP, SLG, TB, and OPS+. He also did it despite having a league average BABIP, instead of one nearly 100 points above BABIP.

    Those stats that I cherry picked out of a whole mess of stats would lead to a trouncing by Pujols. Obviously, as I am writing after Votto was announced as the winner, the "trouncing" did not happen.

  33. DS Says:

    Also, look at the home vs. road stats of these guys. That is something to think about.

  34. LVW Says:

    @Stlfan- that's where you're wrong- if you read my first post:

    "Votto also had the edge in hitting with runners in scoring position, late inning pressure and was more consistent. Though this isn't as important as overall stats I see it as kind of a tiebreaker."

    You would see I'm not cherrypicking anything.

  35. stlfan Says:

    @LVW - Thanks for pointing that out. I must have missed your original assessment. Sorry.

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