Ryan Should Have Been N.L. MVP

By Chris Murray
Updated: November 18, 2008

“I see it this way: Someone who doesn’t take his team to the playoffs doesn’t deserve to win the MVP.”

— Albert Pujols, following the 2006 N.L. MVP voting.

PHIILADELPHIA — Now that the Baseball Writers Association of America and others such as the Sporting News and the Negro League Baseball Museum have rendered their verdict that St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols is the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

First of all, I have to congratulate Albert Pujols for winning the MVP Award. He had a great season and put up some good numbers and he is truly one of the game’s great players. The guy has been in the Top-10 in the MVP voting every year in his storied baseball career.

As much as I can respect that he led the league in slugging percentage and on-base percentage and in OPS percentage, I still believe the honor of most valuable player should have gone to Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

And so while the majority of baseball entities (BBWAA and the Negro League Baseball Museum), some of whom I have a great deal of respect for, have crowned Pujols with their most prestigious individual award, I am in humble dissent at the decision of my colleagues who chronicle the game.

One of these days we are going to come up with a true definition of what constitutes a most valuable player. Is it most valuable stats or what a player did in helping his team win? I am advocate of the latter, but let’s look at other side first before I present my case to the contrary and show the stat geeks the error of their ways.

There was a ton of statistical justification for folks to give the award to Pujols.

From the fact that Pujols struck out fewer times than Howard to him playing with a sore elbow to every mathematical computation that you come up with under the sun.

Those who voted also pointed to Pujols monthly batting average which was never lower than .302. They also point to his on-base percentage never going lower than .413 and his slugging percentage never falling below .558.

The stat geeks will also tell you that Pujols batted .366 and .706 slugging percentage in the second half of the season. At the end of the season, Pujols finished with .357 batting average (2nd in the National League) 116 runs batted in and 37 home runs.

Pretty individual stats, but where did his team finish the 2008 regular season? In fourth place in the National League Central, 11 ½ games out of first place — they were four games out of the wildcard spot and they were eliminated from playoff contention by the second week of September.

Individual statistics mean absolutely nothing unless it translates into your team winning. Period. What’s utterly fascinating to me in a sports journalism culture that often decries individuality or individual stats as being anti-team, are now celebrating it — These are the some same people who scoff at an Allen Iverson when his team can barely make the eighth playoff spot while he leads league in scoring.

I find the hypocrisy quite humorous. To quote the movie, North Dallas 40: “When I say it’s a business, you say it’s a game. When I say it’s a game, you say it’s a business.”

For the 199 times that Howard struck out this season, he carried the Phillies to a division title with his bat. While Pujols numbers had stats geeks in masturbation mode even when his team was no longer in contention for the postseason, Howard batted .352, hit 11 homeruns and drove in a club 32 runs in September.

The Phillies won the National League East and you know the rest of the story.

Let me repeat it again — his team won. That made him most valuable his team.

Take away those numbers with Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell struggling in the second half of the season, the Phillies are not celebrating a world championship.

If you’re saying, ‘well, he didn’t do it the whole season, here’s a little something for you. At the All-Star break, he was tie for the major league in home runs and led the National League in runs batted in.

He was batting .333 with runners in scoring position with nine home runs and 58 runs batted in. With runners in scoring position with two outs, he was batting .345 with 25 runs batted in. That was even in the midst of him batting in the .230’s.

The Phillies were in first place at the All-Star Break and when they were behind in September, it was Howard who picked his team up and put his team in first place at the end.

He produced more runs than anyone in the National League, but more importantly his team won the division (since postseason performance is not included).

Oddly enough, the local BBWAA voted reliever Brad Lidge as team’s MVP for saving 42 of 42 games as the team’s closer. I didn’t feel bad about that because Lidge helped his team win.

If it were up to me, I’d give the National League MVP to both Howard and Lidge.

To me, most valuable player means most valuable to your team. Do your individual numbers translate into winning for your team? Not most valuable stats determined by some computer — what is this the BCS?

To paraphrase a local columnist if you were to put all of Pujols’ stats together, he’ld come out on top. I will even concede that Pujols is a better all-around player than Howard, who committed 19 errors this season.

But in 2008, Howard is the most valuable player in baseball. His major-league leading 48 home runs and 146 runs batted in while carrying a team to a division title made it possible for his team to play for a World Series title.

Again to my colleagues who voted for Pujols as the National League MVP, I respect your decision. However, I humbly, but with vigor, passion and plenty of freakin evidence, dissent.