My assumption is that Joey Votto will be named National League MVP when the award is announced this afternoon, as his monster season combined with the Reds making the playoffs for the first time since 1995 will likely have him atop most of the 32 ballots cast by Baseball Writers Association of America members.
However, based strictly on his performance–rather than some combination of his performance and his team’s success–it’s not quite as clear if Votto was actually the best player in the league.
Consider the following comparison between two MVP candidates:
PA AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI RUN
Player X 700 .312 .414 .596 1.011 42 118 115
Player Z 648 .324 .424 .600 1.024 37 113 106
Which of those two players was the most valuable? Player Z had a slightly higher batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS while performing better in high-leverage situations, but Player X came to the plate 52 more times and had more homers, RBIs, and runs while playing better defense. I think they’re close enough that there’s really no “right” answer, yet I’m fairly certain that Votto will be the runaway winner when the voting is announced in a few hours.
Player X is Albert Pujols.
Player Z is Joey Votto.
Carlos Gonzalez is also very much in the mix, but his numbers aren’t quite as jaw-dropping as Pujols’ or Votto’s, as he trails them by 37 and 50 points of OPS despite calling Coors Field home for half his games. Gonzalez had a tremendous season, but a .974 OPS in Colorado just isn’t as impressive as a 1.011 OPS in St. Louis or a 1.024 OPS in Cincinnati. And sure enough, Gonzalez hit .380 with a 1.161 OPS at Coors Field compared to .289 with a .775 OPS on the road.
I tend to think Pujols’ extra 52 plate appearances and superior defense at first base give him the edge over Votto, but it probably wouldn’t be all that difficult to convince me Votto should be the pick and ultimately the difference between them is so slight that it’s impossible to say with any kind of certainty either way.
Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell were named co-MVPs in 1979 and if ever there was another year for the award to be split between two equally deserving candidates this is probably it, but I suspect Pujols has a better chance of finishing third than first. His excellence has almost become routine at this point and the Cardinals underperformed as a team despite his MVP-caliber season, and those two factors are likely more than enough to break any sort of performance-based “tie” in the voters’ eyes.
Votto and Pujols were the MVPs of the National League this year, but only Votto will get the award.