Preview: NL Most Valuable Player

Joey Votto

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?

Ryan Zimmerman

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.

11 thoughts on “Preview: NL Most Valuable Player

  1. As underrated as Ryan Zimmerman is – and it is nice to see him get some publicity here – it's absolutely criminal that you don't have Carlos Gonzalez included in this piece.

    • I probably could have included him, but criminal? I think not. :)

      Here are the reasons I excluded CarGo:

      1) His wOBA was lower than Votto and Pujols while in an extreme hitter's park.
      2) The defensive metrics are mixed on his defense, but the general feeling on it isn't great. Even if it's average, playing left isn't a lot better than playing first.
      3) Maybe most importantly, he only played in 142 games.
      4) None of the win value metrics had Gonzalez anywhere near Pujols, Votto, or Zimmerman, and by these measurements, it's actually more of a crime that I omitted his teammate Tulowitzki.

      He played very well, but his Triple Crown flirtation wasn't enough to get him the award. That being said, he'll get a lot more votes than Zimmerman.

      • It is interesting that Coors Fields always seems to warrant a comment about consideration for any player there. I must not be looking in the right place to see their splits in offensive numbers between home and away as a team at the moment,

        Overall, the Rockies ended up 6th in OPS in the majors as a team.

        From what I followed over the year on the team, it was clear that the bright spots on the team offensively were Gonzalez and Tulowitzki.

        Pitching-wise, Jimenez didn't get win number 20 (and was an after-thought for the NL Cy Young race), but he did go 9-2 with 4 no decisions at Coors Field and suffered from a lack of run support (both home and away) at various points in the season. While he did fade a bit in the second half, some of it sure looks like it was just bad luck on the offense not scoring runs.

        Anyway, it is interesting to me the reputation that Coors Fields has and how it affects award voting in general. (It also influences HoF discussions as well.)

        • It sure does, and I don't think it should have that much bearing. I mentioned it in regard to Gonzalez to make the point that he didn't produce as much offensively as the other two and was an extreme hitter's park. If he can't outproduce them there, where can he?

          As for Jimenez, his slide had more to do with regressing to the mean after an exceptionally fortunate first half. He's good but not sub-1 ERA good, and that 2.33 K/BB ratio was nothing special. I felt like he was close to Halladay (mainly because he does a better job of preventing home runs), but Hallday pitches in another hitter's park, making the difference less significant. But he would have been second on my Cy Young ballot. Colorado's been going pitching-heavy recently in drafts, and they've got some good ones already on the team. It's time to pay more attention to them out there.

          So your point about Coors is well taken.

          • Isn't Great American Ball Park a hitters paradise? And I thought the New Busch Stadium was pretty kind as well. But I get your point on Gonzalez's defense and fewer amounts of games. I think Votto deserved it above them anyway so it doesn't really matter.

          • It is, which is why I think the offensive advantage between Pujols and Votto should be non-existent. Between Gonzalez and Votto, there's less of a difference, but again, the point was that Gonzalez didn't produce as much offensively and was in a better hitter's park. It wasn't to point out a degree of difficulty. But I'm with you–it doesn't really matter, and I'm fine with Votto winning the award.

  2. Pujols is also one of the best baserunners in the game and has lead his team in stolen bases more than once.

  3. Pujols also gets thrown out a lot trying to get extra bases (not necessarily only on his own hits), and his SB% of 77.8 is good but not earth-shattering. B-Ref says the two are equal runners, but BPro gives Pujols a 4-5 run edge. Chances are that Pujols is a little better on the base paths, which helps make his case, but I'm not sure it's much of a difference. Remember, players sometimes get credit for things they didn't really do or continual credit for things they can no longer do. I'm not sure that necessarily applies here, but I'm not sure Pujols is really a plus baserunner anymore.

  4. Votto may be slightly more awesome in a head-to-head comparison (this season, anyway), but it's hard to argue that Votto meant as much to the Reds' success as Pujols did to the Cardinals'.

    • Really? How so? Can you credit Pujols with having a worse supporting cast or discredit Votto for having a better one? I'm not sure that Pujols or Votto meant more to their team than the other, and I think that would actually be a hard argument to make.