Albert Pujols rightfully won the National League MVP this past season, but there is still a raging debate and many people think Ryan Howard deserved the award. The overwhelming majority of those people are Phillies fans, who think their team is entitled to every single award due to their World Series victory (Howard is the MVP! Brad Lidge should win Cy Young! Charlie Manuel is manager of the year!!) and older writers who can't evolve past their own stubbornness.
Murray Chass, famed baseball writer from the New York Times, falls into the latter group. His argument centers around the fact that Howard carried the Phils into the playoffs and Pujols didn't accomplish the same feat with his Cardinals. He also accuses Pujols supporters of not being able to grasp the concept of value, and instead being obsessed with stats. Of course, later he uses September stats to explain why Howard was more valuable down the stretch.
Where I unequivocally disagree is the claim that Pujols backers don't understand value. Isn't this just a pompous claim, by the way? If someone disagrees with you, you just assume they are ignorant and don't understand the intricacies of "value" the way you do.
Let's discuss value.
- The Phillies went to the postseason for many reasons. Ryan Howard was one of them, but only on offense. He's a defensive liability. Chase Utley, his teammate, plays better defense and had a higher OPS, so you could argue Howard wasn't even the most valuable position player on his own team. The Phillies bullpen was lights-out, so they rarely blew leads after the seventh inning. That's an incredibly value for one aspect of the baseball team. Did Howard have a hand in that?
- The Cardinals did not go to the postseason for many reasons. None of them had anything to do with Albert Pujols. Their entire pitching staff battled through injuries all season, and the bullpen was particularly atrocious. They were also stuck in a very competitive division. All Pujols could do to help is obliterate opposing pitchers and play stellar defense. Statistically speaking, he was the best hitter and the best defensive first basemen in the league.
The suggestion that people can read those two paragraphs and still claim a Pujols supporter is blind to the concept of value is offensive to me. It's that absurd a claim. Chass wants to argue about the September Howard put together -- which was quite impressive -- but what about his pathetic April? Utley carried the Phillies in April while Howard was little more than an albatross. There are 162 games in a baseball season, and they all count equally. Your MVP shouldn't be a guy who was harming his team for a significant chunk of the season. He was actually a below average hitter for three different months of the season (April, June, and August). And he's the most valuable player in the league?
Pujols, on the other hand, was steady. He dipped below 1.000 OPS only for one month -- a .978 clip in July, which would have been Howard's second-best monthly figure.
If you want to talk about value, picture both lineups without the players in question compared to with them. The Phillies would still have had Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell with several capable others. The Cardinals all of a sudden would be left with just Ryan Ludwick in the middle, who likely had a career year simply because of the presence of Pujols next to him in the lineup. And this was a team who would have won the NL West by two games had they been fortunate enough to reside in that division.
Would Pujols have gotten credit for being valuable enough, then, Murray?
Look, you can feel free to disagree with the decision -- even though it was, you know, the absolutely correct one -- to crown Pujols the MVP, but dismissing the vote as some sort of a misunderstanding is just plain stupid.
Murray Chass Still Arguing for Ryan Howard to Win the NL MVP originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Thu, 20 Nov 2008 14:10:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.