Monday, November 17, 2008

Whoever Gave Albert Pujols a 7th Place MVP Vote Should Lose His/Her Voting Privileges Forever

...and I'm not just talking about MLB regular season awards, here. I'm talking about voting for anything at all ever. Feel like casting a vote in that upcoming school board election, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Anonymous BBWAA Voter Person? Sorry; you picked Pujols 7th in the '08 NL MVP race. We've got your picture right here at the polling station to prevent you from failing democracy ever again. Trying to vote down your eight-year-old son's suggestion that your family stop at Arby's for lunch? Tough shit; you thought Pujols was only the 7th most valuable player in the National League in 2008.

And so on and so forth.

In fairness, I should mention that I've been pretty happy with the voting for most of the major regular season awards so far this year. Lincecum wasn't my pick for the NL Cy Young, but he was a good pick nonetheless (although Santana deserved a lot more love than he got). Lee followed by Halladay was the right choice in the AL, and the voters deserve a lot of credit for not sending a single first place vote K-Rod's way. Longoria followed by Ramirez was spot on in the AL Rookie of the Year race (as was Longoria's unanimous selection), and Soto followed by Votto was the right call in the NL.

And Albert Pujols was the right choice for the National League's Most Valuable Player award in 2008.

But Ryan Howard shouldn't even have been in the same area code as Pujols in the MVP voting, let alone only 61 points back (and with 12 of 32 first place votes, no less!). Not only did Howard have his worst full big league season to date in 2008, but he might not have even been the MVP of his own team.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First off, it's important to note that with the exception of HR and RBI, Pujols outperformed Howard in every single major offensive category. In most categories, Howard wasn't even close to Pujols. But just like seemingly every year, the definition of the term "valuable" was a major point of disagreement among writers (voters and voteless alike) when the time came to debate this year's MVP. There is little question that Pujols was the better player in 2008, but was he the more valuable player? After all, when the MVP voting took place, Howard's Phillies were gearing up for the postseason and Pujols's Cardinals were cleaning out their lockers, and typically league MVPs are expected to lead their teams to success (translation: October). Put simply, many voters equate "MVP" with "team success," and "team success" with "postseason berth," meaning the MVP should play for a postseason team.

And yet, while the Phillies outperformed their preseason PECOTA projected W/L of 86-76 and finished the year 92-70, ahead of a Mets team that, for the second straight year, folded like a cheap card table in September, the Cardinals blew their 75-87 projected W/L out of the water en route to an 86-76 record that kept them in the NL Wild Card hunt until the last month or so of the regular season.

To call the Cardinals' 2008 season a "surprise" would be an understatement. St. Louis lost their top two starters (Carpenter and Mulder) for the year and got a 75 ERA+, 1.641 WHIP season out of their former closer (Isringhausen). Their number one starter was Adam Wainwright. I'm pretty sure Busch Stadium was the site of at least a couple "who wants to pitch the sixth inning for the St. Louis Cardinals tonight?" promotions this year. And still, the Redbirds won 86 games in '08.

So even if we assume that a player's "value" is inextricably linked to his team's "success," defining a "successful" season presents some tricky questions. Does success mean outperforming preseason projections by 6 wins en route to a playoff berth, or winning 11 more games than PECOTA predicted and going home early after shaking up the playoff picture for most of the regular season?

I'm not trying to undercut Philadelphia's accomplishments this year. After all, the Phillies would have won the Wild Card by two games even if the Mets hadn't handed them the division. But to call St. Louis's season "unsuccessful" seems ridiculous to me. Sure, the Cardinals weren't the Rays this year. But they also weren't the Mariners, and they finished well over .500 (.531), when they had no business doing so, on the strength of Pujols and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Ludwick (and to a lesser, lesser extent, Troy Glaus).

Ryan Howard's supporting cast (which, notably, includes pitchers)? A few guys named Utley, Rollins, Burrell, Hamels, and Lidge.

Further eroding Howard's MVP case is the possibility that Chase Utley, and not Ryan Howard, was the Phillies's MVP this year. Utley outperformed Howard in VORP, WARP1, EqA, total win shares, OBP, OPS, OPS+, H, 2B, BA, and R, was only slightly behind Howard in batting win shares, SLG, and TB, and was dead even with Howard in XBH, all while playing excellent defense at a skill position (2B).

In St. Louis, Pujols was clearly his team's MVP, finishing ahead of teammate Ryan Ludwick (who, notably, outperformed Howard and Utley in quite a few categories himself!) in every major offensive category except HR and R while playing a strong defensive first base.

Here's how the numbers break down (NL rank in parenthesis, assuming league rankings were readily available and the player was high enough on the list that I didn't get tired of counting):

Pujols: 96.8 (1)
Utley: 63.7 (6)
Ludwick: 54.8 (10)
Howard: 36.6 (29)

Pujols: 13.0
Utley: 10.4
Ludwick: 10.1
Howard: 5.0

Pujols: .372 (1)
Ludwick: .320 (4)
Utley: .308 (12)
Howard: .291

Total Win Shares
Pujols: 35 (2)
Utley: 30 (5)
Ludwick: 26 (10)
Howard: 25 (16)

Batting Win Shares
Pujols: 33.0 (2)
Howard: 23.8 (9)
Utley: 23.2 (10)
Ludwick: 22.7 (11)

Pujols: .462 (2)
Utley: .380 (T-12)
Ludwick: .375 (T-17)
Howard: .339 (T-48)

Pujols: .653 (1)
Ludwick: .591 (2)
Howard: .543 (7)
Utley: .535 (10)

Pujols: 1.115 (1)
Ludwick: .966 (4)
Utley: .915 (8)
Howard: .882

Pujols: 190 (1)
Ludwick: 150 (4)
Utley: 135 (10)
Howard: 124

Howard: 48 (1)
Pujols/Ludwick: 37 (T-4)
Utley: 33 (T-9)

Pujols: 44 (T-4)
Utley: 41 (T-10)
Ludwick: 40 (T-13)
Howard: 26 (T-60)

Pujols: 187 (3)
Utley: 177 (T-10)
Ludwick: 161 (T-30)
Howard: 153 (T-43)

Pujols: 81 (2)
Ludwick: 80 (3)
Howard/Utley: 78 (T-5)

Pujols: 342 (1)
Howard: 331 (4)
Utley: 325 (6)
Ludwick: 318 (T-7)

Pujols: 104 (2)
Howard: 81 (T-13)
Utley: 64 (T-29)
Ludwick: 62 (T-31)

Howard: 199 (2)
Ludwick: 146 (7)
Utley: 104 (T-40)
Pujols: 54

Pujols: .357 (2)
Ludwick: .299 (15)
Utley: .292 (19)
Howard: .251 (T-58)

Utley: 113 (T-5)
Howard: 105 (9)
Ludwick: 104 (10)
Pujols: 100 (14)

Howard: 146 (1)
Pujols: 116 (4)
Ludwick: 113 (6)
Utley: 104 (11)

By the numbers, Pujols was far-and-away the best player of the four; I'm not going to insult the intelligence of anyone who has read this far by presuming it necessary to perform a Pujols vs. Howard statistical analysis. But Howard vs. Utley is tough to call. For my money, Utley was the better hitter in 2008, and his defensive contributions at second were far more valuable (there's that word again!) than Howard's at first. But even if I believed that Howard was the MVP of the Phillies this year (which I don't), the fact that he was not clearly better than Utley while Pujols was so clearly better than Ludwick, coupled with the Phillies' depth in 2008 as compared to the injury-riddled-but-nevertheless-86-win Cardinals, makes Ryan Howard a poor MVP choice in my book.

And yet, somehow, enough people overlooked Howard's low VORP, WARP1, and OBP—not to mention the fact that he hit behind Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley and was protected by Pat "The Bat" Burrell—and overrated his HR and RBI totals as well as his team's playoff berth enough to make this year's NL MVP race far more competetive than it should have been.
I suppose I should be grateful that, despite Howard's absurdly strong showing, Albert Pujols still took home his second NL MVP award this year. And I am. But I'm disheartened by definitions of "valuable" that allow such a clearly inferior player (inferior to Pujols, that is—I mean no offense to Howard) to come so close to beating out the best player in the league for the MVP.

And c'mon...7th place???

So congratulations, Albert. Here's hoping every one of your trips to Wrigley ends with the Cardinals losing despite your valiant 4-for-4 effort at the plate, and that the BBWAA finally gets comfortable with sending MVP votes your way every single year in this, the post-Bonds era.


  1. Other votes worth mentioning:
    -Brad Lidge received two first place votes. Not only did two people think he was the best pitcher, they felt that his 69.1 innings pitched were the most valuable to any team.

    -C.C. Sabathia was actually the highest total point getter among pitchers. He pitched 61.1 innings more than Brad Lidge just in the NL. I'm ok with that, but Tim Lincecum only got four votes and none higher than sixth. That's fine if everyone who voted for him had him behind position players but I kind of doubt it.

    -Nate McLouth received one vote and one point. He is ranked 12th in the NL in VORP at 50.9. Scroll back up and look at Howard's numbers again.

  2. Good points, Caleb. I think the pitcher situation deserves more attention, in fact. The following NL pitchers received MVP votes this year:

    C.C. Sabathia (121)
    Brad Lidge (104)
    Johan Santana (30)
    Brandon Webb (14)
    Tim Lincecum (9)
    Jose Valverde (3)

    The following NL pitchers received CYA votes this year:

    Tim Lincecum (137)
    Brandon Webb (73)
    Johan Santana (55)
    Brad Lidge (10)
    C.C. Sabathia (9)
    Ryan Dempster (4)

    Notice anything stupid? I sure do...

  3. That's right. I'm leaving my evidence to speak for itself. Why? Because there's entirely too much stupid crap embedded in those two lists for me to bother dissecting it all right now.