Though Pujols is awesome, Votto has been just as awesome and maybe better. Votto’s .324/.424/.600 line is ever-so-slightly better than Pujols’ (just better is still better), and it gives him a .439 wOBA that is quite a bit better than Pujols’ .420. The issue in discussing Votto’s value comes on defense. FanGraphs (7.4 fWAR) has Votto at just above average, and he was just below last season after being way above the season before. B-Ref took a dump on Votto’s defense and put him well below average, tanking his bWAR to 6.2. So which is it? Is he good or bad? Up to this year, B-Ref and FanGraphs had essentially agreed on his defense, but because B-Ref flies way down while UZR stabilized, I’ll side with UZR as long as no one else knows of a reason it should be so low, which means that the 0.7 difference in bWAR should be quite a bit smaller. Then again, I’ve heard UZR doesn’t do a great job with first basemen, so this could all be for naught. Sooooo, Votto has the edge on offense while being similar defensively to Pujols, but Pujols played just about as well in nine more games. How do you differentiate that? I’d love to look at fWAR and simply give it to Votto, but we can’t just take FanGraph’s word for it when we’re talking one or two tenths of a point. So I’ll head to Baseball Prospectus for the deciding vote, and they give it to … Adam Wainwright?
Here’s why Zimmerman doesn’t get mentioned in this debate by the media—he’s not a first baseman. I realize that sounds weird, but stay with me. Because he’s a third baseman, it’s hard to compare him to first baseman because it’s hard to adjust for the position difference, and it doesn’t help that what Zimmerman excels at—defense—is difficult to measure as well. Add in that he plays for the Washington Nationals and that Strasburg stole the spotlight over the summer, and Zimmerman’s screwed. But he’s still a magnificent player and good enough to be mentioned when talking about the game’s elite. His .307/.388/.510 line converts to a .389 wOBA, and while that isn’t nearly as good as Pujols or Votto’s, the position adjustment and Zimmerman’s ungodly good defense make up the difference, giving him 7.2 fWAR. B-Ref says Zimmerman is only a tick above average on defense, and if I hadn’t given up on that metric already, I would now. But even if you give him a win’s worth of defense, he’s still a win behind Pujols and Votto’s adjusted value according to B-Ref, and he played in only 142 games. Zimmerman should get more attention for what he’s done, but in the end I think he’s somewhere in between FanGraphs and B-Ref, which makes him just a little worse (but still worse) than Pujols and Votto. Sorry Ryan, but you’re playing Pujols to Pujols’ Bonds this time.
After selfishly interjecting Zimmerman into the NL MVP discussion, I’ve formally knocked him out of the competition (I bet he won’t even make the top 5, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lower than the top 10), leaving … Votto and Pujols, but we all knew that’s where the real discussion lies anyway. Honestly, I don’t know which one to pick. Votto was probably slightly better, but Pujols played nine more games while having similar production to Votto (just to make sure you know I’m not making something out of nothing, let’s do some math. The players were worth 7 wins over 6 months, which makes them worth a little over 1 win per month. Nine games would be about a third of the month’s games, or 0.3-0.4 WAR; if they were similar, then those 9 games would give Pujols an edge). If you want to use BPro as a “tie-breaker”, it did choose Wainwright overall (yeah, someone explain that one), but Pujols was better than Votto in WARP by over a win. If you don’t like using that as a tie-breaker (I don’t ), the deciding factor may come down to something neither player can control—their ballpark. Great American Ballpark is an offensive ballpark while Busch Stadium is about neutral, and if we split hairs, that negates Votto’s offensive advantage somewhat to possibly put Pujols on top. I’d like to see Votto win, but I’m afraid it appears that Pujols is probably the better player, yet again (though only slightly). However, I’ll put my money on Votto to actually win the award because his team won the division, though a win’s a win no matter who it’s for, and writers like guys who play on playoff teams, which doesn’t seem so bad as a tie-breaker in this instance. If it was up to me, I’d call it a tie because that seems to be the only fair way to settle such a close race, but if it is a tie, is it okay to vote Votto simply as a result of “Pujols Fatigue”? Inquiring minds want to know.