The sixth of my random thoughts for tonight, again with possible quotes from the Joe Morgan and Jerry Crasnick chats from today (see this entry for links to the chats):
This one is pretty heated. Derrek Lee was the consensus leader for the first half of the season, when he was on pace to challenge for the Triple Crown. He has since fallen off that pace, but he is still having a monster season. He is leading the league in batting average, a couple points ahead of Albert Pujols. He is second in home runs, six behind Andruw Jones. And he is still in the top 10 in RBIs, although he is more than 20 behind league leader Jones and a few behind Pujols. However, he still leads the league with a 1.087 OPS, about 40 points higher than Pujols. And you can’t forget that he is a Gold Glove-quality first baseman.
Andruw Jones is also a Gold Glove-quality defender, having won several awards in center field. ESPN columnist Rob Neyer recently posited the opinion that “Andruw Jones simply isn’t a Gold Glove-quality center fielder any longer,” which may or may not negate that aspect of the argument. Jones leads the league in home runs (50 as of tonight) and RBIs (126), which has a lot of people, including everyone in Atlanta, screaming out his name as the obvious MVP. But somewhere along the line, we have to reconcile the fact that he is batting only .267, and that his OPS of .938 only lands him ninth in the league.
Finally, we have Pujols, who would already have a couple MVP awards on his mantle if not for Barry Bonds. There is a feeling among some that Pujols is the front-runner for the award this year as sort of a “lifetime achievement award.” First of all, the guy has been playing for five years, so that is kind of a silly idea. It is even sillier when you look at his stats and realize that he is having an amazing year. His stats are almost identical to Lee’s in almost every way, with Lee’s ten extra doubles and five extra homers accounting for the 50-point difference in slugging percentage.
This is where it gets tricky. The name of the award is the Most Valuable Player award. On the surface, that would indicate that it is the award for the player who is the most valuable to his team. But what does that mean? A couple years ago, A-Rod won the award on a last-place Rangers team. The argument was made that A-Rod could not possibly have been the most valuable player, because his team finished in the same position (last place) as it would have without him. Is it impossible for any player on a terrible team to have value? Wouldn’t that make this somewhat of a team award, and not an individual award?
In my mind, the record of a player’s team matters, but it only matters with regards to how responsible that player is for the record. Let’s try to look at each player with that in mind:
Derrek Lee. The Cubs are 76-78, and their playoff hopes were dashed long ago. They have suffered through the following: injuries to Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Nomar Garciaparra, and Aramis Ramirez; subpar seasons from Greg Maddux and Corey Patterson; and all sorts of controversy surrounding manager Dusty Baker. And yet they are only two games under .500. I have no doubt that without Lee, they would probably be battling Pittsburgh for last place in the Central. Basically, Derrek Lee has single-handedly saved the Cubs from having their most disappointing season in a long time.
Andruw Jones. The Braves are 87-67, on their way to their 184th consecutive NL East title. This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Braves, but apparently they are a team that can win a division title in a rebuilding year. A lot of people are pointing at Jones as THE reason for this, but the numbers don’t support that. The Braves are sixth in the NL in batting average, third in OPS, and fourth in runs scored. Yes, Andruw certainly deserves a lot of the credit for this, but you can’t forget the contributions of Chipper Jones (whose OPS is actually higher than Andruw’s, albeit in 200 fewer at-bats due to injury), Marcus Giles (who has scored about 100 runs and has the third-best OPS in the league among second basemen), Rafael Furcal (also approaching 100 runs, and also third at his position in OPS), and Jeff Francoeur (about as good a half-season as you could hope for from a 22-year-old rookie). Oh yeah, not to mention pretty darn good years from John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, as well as a much-better-than-expected year from pitcher Jorge Sosa. Obviously, anyone who says Andruw has done it alone hasn’t paid much attention.
Albert Pujols. The Cardinals have run away with the NL Central, which gives the impression that Pujols has had a lot of help. They have gotten solid years from David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds, and a career year from Chris Carpenter. Then they have had injuries to Larry Walker, Reggie Sanders, and Scott Rolen, who combined for 81 homers and 238 RBIs last year (with Walker injured half the season). Any team that can lose that sort of offense and still run away with a division has something going right for them, and the two “somethings” for the Cards are named Pujols and Carpenter. And the Cardinals are second in the league in runs, and I guarantee that Carpenter hasn’t had much to do with that.
In my mind, it really comes down to Lee and Pujols, although I think Jones is getting a lot more consideration than he should be. And in the Pujols vs. Lee argument, it comes back to the meaning of the award. Because you can’t deny that while the numbers are very similar, Lee’s are slightly better. But there is the undeniable fact that Pujols is leading his team towards the World Series, while Lee is leading his team to a lot of October golf. If there was a bigger disparity in the numbers, it might be different, but with it being so close, I think you have to give the award to Pujols.
My vote: Pujols, although I won’t be surprised to see any of the three win it. However, if Jones wins, I will have to write something about how overrated the RBI is as an individual statistic.
NOTE: I tried to look at this objectively, and I think I did, but it is only fair to point out that Albert Pujols is possibly my favorite active player right now (it has been A-Rod for a long time, and I think he is still *technically* my favorite, but I have to admit that when I get more excited when I see Pujols come up to bat than when I see A-Rod these days). Also, the Braves are my least favorite team, and Andruw has long been one of my least favorite Braves. So there. I admitted it. But I still think I am right.