pujols for mvp

Update [2006-11-20 15:14:15 by lboros]: ryan howard won. whatever. here are the voting results.[end update]

there's already a diary going about the soriano signing, but here's my 2 cents. first, it's the type of signing that might make sense for a team that's a player away --- that needs one more big bat to take a shot at a pennant or a world series. the cubs, 66-95 last year, are not that team. all they need is a full season from mark prior; if he can stay healthy they'll contend, and if he can't they won't. i don't think soriano is a difference-maker. so i don't think the signing does serious damage to the cardinals' 2007 hopes.

it might, however, significantly damage another hope: that pujols plays his entire career in cardinal red. he's signed through 2011, at which point he'll be 31 years old --- same age as soriano. if soriano is worth $17m a year at 31 based on one mvp-type season, then what can albert demand at the same age five years from now? he'll be hitting the market 11 years after a-rod signed his $25m-a-year megadeal; i can imagine him commanding upward of $30m a year. i think albert likes st louis (he's building a lavish home in the area), and the mid-market pace seems to suit him; most of the teams that could afford to pay $30m+ a year play in high-pressure big-city environments. remember albert's run-ins w/ the new york media during the nlcs? i can't picture him on the yankees. but if the yankees offer $30m a year, the cardinals will have to counter at $25m a year just to have a chance.

that looming payroll obligation will play an increasingly large role in future off-seasons; the cards, already loathe to take on any large multiyear contracts, may become even more cautious than usual as albert's walk year approaches.

he might win his 2d mvp award today; the race is pretty much down to him and ryan howard. i broke down the competition with a month to go in the season and promised to revisit the issue once the full-season data were in; here's the original post. i'll use much the same approach today, comparing the top candidates across a range of important stats. one modification: the tables that follow only list each player's rank on the nl leaderboard in each category. click the "Read More" button at the end of the post to see the same tables with all the actual figures (ie, the actual batting avgs, hr totals, etc etc) filled in. so here are the rankings in raw, unprocessed stat categories:

pujols beltran howard cabrera berkman
HR 2 6 1 t21 3
RBI 2 7 1 t9 3
R 5 2 14 11 21
AVG 3 48 8 2 7
OBP 2 14 5 3 6
SLG 1 4 2 6 3
OPS 1 5 2 4 3

and here's a second table with some of the more popular processed stats --- again, nl ranks only:

pujols beltran howard cabrera berkman
VORP 1 5 2 3 4
WinSh 1 2 6 t3 t3
EqAv 1 8 2 4 5
RC/27 2 5 1 4 3
WPA 1 4 2 5 3

there's little disputing that these are the top 5 candidates. they rank 1 through 5 in the nl in four of the "unified-theory" sabermetric stats, ie OPS, VORP, RC/27, and WPA; in the fifth such stat, Win Shares, they hold the top 4 spots and the 6th. (the mets' david wright finished 5th in that category.)

pujols remains the front runner, in my estimation. he places first in 6 of the 12 categories under consideration, and either first or second in 10 of the 12; he alone rates among the top 5 in all 12 categories. having said that, howard has improved his case tremendously. as of late august he ranked only 17th in the league in on-base percentage, 7th in VORP, 18th in win shares; his teammate chase utley had better numbers in all those categories. howard's only claims on the trophy at that time were his gaudy hr/rbi totals. but after september 1 he put up a bonds-like .387 / .561 / .763 line and helped the phillies --- who'd dumped abreu and cory lidle at the trade line --- stay in playoff contention until the final weekend. he actually overtook pujols in one important rate-stat category, RC/27, and finished right behind him in most of the others --- VORP, equivalent average, OBP, slugging, OPS, and WPA. howard finished the season first in 3 of the 12 categories, and either first or second in 8 of the 12; that's a strong candidacy. if he wins, the injustice will not be extreme.

but pujols is still the more deserving player. let's just compare the top two contenders, side by side --- the better figure in each category is highlighted in red:

avg hr rbi runs obp slg ops vorp win sh eqa rc/27 wpa
pujols .331 49 137 119 .431 .671 1.102 85.4 39 .356 9.94 9.24
howard .313 58 149 104 .425 .659 1.084 81.5 31 .346 10.19 8.20

pujols beat howard head-to-head in 9 of the 12 categories, and one of howard's 3 victories --- rbi --- is a hollow one: howard had far more rbi opportunities than pujols, and converted them far less efficiently. his batting avg with runners in scoring position was .256, which ranked 51st among the nl's 71 batting-title qualifiers. albert led the league in this category with a.397 average. howard batted with 509 men on base in 2006, which led the league. albert batted with 72 fewer men on base (427) than howard, but still drove in nearly as many guys --- only 12 fewer, in 16 fewer games.

howard's incredible september is compelling --- his team outplayed the cardinals by 6 games in september, and finished with 3 more wins than pujols' --- but albert was no slouch down the stretch; he went .368 / .464 / .679 after september 1 and hit the crucial home run on september 27 that ended the cards' final losing streak. factor in his gold-glove defense and his major-league-leading total in win-probability added, and i think you've got your answer: pujols is the mvp.

we'll know soon if the voters saw it the same way. if they did, pujols will become the first back-to-back mvp winner in franchise history, the 6th in nl history, and the 13th in major-league history.

fully elaborated data tables after the jump.

pujols beltran howard cabrera berkman
HR 49 (2) 41 (6) 58 (1) 26 (t21) 45 (3)
RBI 137 (2) 116 (7) 149 (1) 114 (t9) 136 (3)
R 119 (5) 127 (2) 104 (14) 112 (11) 95 (21)
AVG .331 (3) .275 (48) .313 (8) .339 (2) .315 (7)
OBP .431 (2) .388 (14) .425 (5) .430 (3) .420 (6)
SLG .671 (1) .594 (4) .659 (2) .568 (6) .621 (3)
OPS 1.102 (1) 0.982 (5) 1.084 (2) 0.998 (4) 1.041 (3)
pujols beltran howard cabrera berkman
VORP 85.4 (1) 68.5 (5) 81.5 (2) 78.7 (3) 70.7 (4)
WinSh 39 (1) 38 (2) 31 (6) 34 (t3) 34 (t4)
EqAv .356 (1) .328 (8) .346 (2) .342 (4) .339 (5)
RC/27 9.94 (2) 8.39 (5) 10.19 (1) 8.72 (4) 9.34 (3)
WPA 9.24 (1) 4.93 (4) 8.20 (2) 4.30 (5) 5.37 (3)
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