Okay, I am going to make this quick. I wish I didn’t think Andruw Jones was going to win this award today, but I do. Should he? Absolutely not. Let’s look at the statistical categories in which he led Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee: home runs and RBI.
Home runs are nice, but really, the point is to score runs, and it doesn’t really matter how you do it. A better indication of a player’s power contribution to his team is slugging percentage, because it gives credit to hits of all kinds, with more credit going to the bigger hits (like home runs). Andruw Jones, despite having five more home runs than Derrek Lee and ten more than Albert Pujols, still trailed them in slugging percentage by 85 and 34 points, respectively. A lot of that comes from the fact that Jones had many fewer extra-base hits that weren’t homers (27, compared to 40 for Pujols and 53 for Lee). You also have the fact that Jones had far fewer singles (76) than Pujols (114) or Lee (100).
What about RBIs? Well, if you read my opinion on the AL MVP, you know that I don’t care much for the RBI as a stat. In the AL, at least, the RBI ended up being fairly accurate — David Ortiz hit better than Alex Rodriguez with runners in scoring position, and had more RBIs. That was a pretty lucky coincidence, brought about because Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon had similar years getting on base ahead of A-Rod and Ortiz. In the National League, it’s not so clear-cut. Let me tell you this: the three guys we are talking about drove in 128, 117, and 107 runs this year. With runners in scoring position, they batted .331, .329, and .207. You might be wondering how a guy managed to drive in 107 runs while only batting .207 with runners in scoring position. Well, he didn’t. The .331 matches up with the 107, both belonging to Derrek Lee. The guy with the lousy .207 average with runners in scoring position somehow managed to drive in 128 runs, and that man’s name was Andruw Jones. Pujols had the .329 and the 117.
Let’s look at it this way. Over the course of the season, Jones came up to bat with 207 runners in scoring position. He drove in 72 of those runners, or 35 percent. Pujols came up with 157 runners in scoring position and drove in 70 of them (45 percent). Finally, Lee came up with 134 runners on second or third, and he drove in 64 of them (48 percent). That’s right, Jones had the opportunity to drive in 73 more runners than Lee, and managed to drive in only eight more of them. Inf Jones had driven in the same percentage of RISP as Lee did, Jones would have had 99 RBI in those situations, bumping his overall total up to 155. Then this would be a discussion worth having.
A lot of people talk about how Andruw Jones led a young, injury-riddled team to the playoffs. Were they young and injury-riddled? Absolutely. Did they make the playoffs? They sure did. Did Andruw Jones lead them there? Hmmmmm. We have already established that his RBIs were more a result of having a whole heck of a lot of opportunities, which is pretty much attributable to Rafael Furcal (.348 on-base percentage, 46 stolen bases), Marcus Giles (.365, 16), and Chipper Jones (.412) batting in front of him. So explain this to me: if Andruw’s teammates carried him to statistical glory, how did he carry them to the playoffs? Was it his leadership? Well, I have read a whole lot of names in a whole lot of articles about the veteran leadership helping the Braves’ rookies this year. Bobby Cox, John Smoltz, Julio Franco, Chipper Jones, Giles, Tim Hudson, etc. One name I have not seen even once is that of Andruw Jones.
Let’s not overlook the fact that the Cardinals suffered through injuries to Scott Rolen, Reggie Sanders, Yadier Molina, Larry Walker, etc. There are three players who played as well as or better than we should have expected: Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter, and Albert Pujols. There is absolutely no question that Pujols took this team on his back and carried them to a 100-win season. Without Pujols, they would have won far fewer games, not wont he NL Central, and probably not made the playoffs. Would the Braves have won without Andruw Jones? Well, it’s tough to tell, but I have a hard time believing that they couldn’t have found another center fielder who could have batted at least .207 with RISP.
The bottom line is this: Andruw Jones had a good season, but not even remotely MVP-caliber. This debate really comes down to Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee. Lee had a slightly better year, statistically, which means the question really comes down to what the MVP Award means. Does it go to the player with the best season? Or does it go to the player who had the most value to his team? And if it is the latter, how do you determine that value? Would the Cubs have been much worse without Lee? Yes, but even with Lee, the weren’t very good. The Cardinals, on the other hand, were great with Pujols, and would have been slightly above average without him.
Honestly, the award could go to Lee or Pujols and I would have no complaints. If I were voting, I would vote for Pujols, because I think what he did for the Cardinals this year was remarkable. But I would go back and forth for a long time before making that decision. But I would rule Andruw Jones out pretty quickly in the process.