Pujols is a lock for the MVP

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The NL MVP, the final major postseason award, will be announced today.  While we could maybe argue about Rookie of the Year and while reasonable people could potentially disagree about the NL Cy Young, the BBWAA has basically gotten the awards right on the money for two straight years now, so there’s very little reason to think they won’t get it right today: Albert Pujols will win it in a walk.

The math, she is simple: Pujols led the league in on base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, home runs, extra base hits, runs created, total bases, intentional walks and adjusted OPS. He probably should have won the Gold Glove. If you want to cut through the specific numbers a bit, know this: he won the MVP last year on a losing team with numbers that are close to identical to those he had this year, and this year he led his team to the division title.  Simply put, there is no reasonable argument for anyone to get the MVP other than Pujols.  If you have such an argument, please give it to me in the comments, but right now I simply can’t see it.

But, in the interests of thoroughness, let’s look at the other people who may receive some voter love:

Hanley Ramirez: He won the batting title, hit 24 home runs, drove in over a hundred, stole 27 bases and improved on defense. Because he’s a shortstop he’s probably got the best argument over any of the non-Pujols contenders, but (a) he’s not a transcendent shortstop; and (b) even with the positional adjustment, he simply didn’t provide as much value to his team as Pujols did to the Cardinals.  If you believe in stuff like WAR — which is a stat that probably best quantifies a player’s value to his team — Hanley Ramirez was about as valuable as Derek Jeter was this year.  That’s great — fine damn season — but it’s not as valuable as Pujols was and it’s not worthy of the MVP.

Andre Eithier: Your token Dodger. Solid all-around season, but not spectacular in any one area (he led the league in exactly zero categories). He’ll get some attention because he had a lot of walkoff hits, and voters tend to like that.  Not as many as used to like it — Miguel Tejada basically won the 2002 MVP because of some late season walkoff jobs — but enough to give him some votes.

The first basemen who are not as good as Albert Pujols: Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Derek Lee, Adrian Gonzalez. While Howard bested Pujols in 2006, that was a function of (a) his novelty; and (b) people not yet being hip to the flaws in his game. Great player, sure, but not a complete one and certainly not one who has ever been as good as Pujols in a given season, including 2009.  Prince Fielder had a nice year too, but Milwaukee didn’t make any noise.  Same with Derek Lee and Adrian Gonzalez.  Given that all four of these guys play the same position as Pujols and don’t play it as well, they have no argument.

Field: Matt Kemp, Ryan Zimmerman, Chase Utley, Tim Lincecum, whoever.  I’m actually going to be far more interested in looking downballot later today to see what people really think about these kinds of guys. Of course, where they fall may simply tell us more about what the baseball writers feel about the bottom half of their ballot.  Weirdness — like say, the way Mariano Rivera got more MVP votes than Zack Greinke in the AL yesterday despite finishing behind him in the Cy Young — will probably be present in abundance.

Maybe it’s boring giving the award to Albert Pujols every year, but it’s better to be boring than wrong, ain’t it?

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.