November 15, 2006
My Ballot: Everything Else
NL MVP PA AVG OBP SLG RBI RUN
1 Carlos Beltran 617 .275 .388 .594 116 127
2 Albert Pujols 634 .331 .431 .671 137 119
3 Ryan Howard 704 .313 .425 .659 149 104
4 Jose Reyes 703 .300 .354 .487 81 122
5 Chase Utley 739 .309 .379 .527 102 131
6 Miguel Cabrera 676 .339 .430 .568 114 112
7 Brian McCann 492 .333 .388 .572 93 61
8 Lance Berkman 646 .315 .420 .621 136 95
9 Andruw Jones 669 .262 .363 .531 129 107
10 David Wright 661 .311 .381 .531 116 96
When the actual voting is announced later this month, the National League MVP will no doubt go to either Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard. That's fine, of course, because both players had excellent seasons and are certainly legitimate MVP candidates. However, much like filling the top of my AL MVP ballot with an assortment of up-the-middle defenders, my preference for NL MVP is a guy who put up amazing offensive numbers and played a premium defensive position.
In terms of raw offensive production, Carlos Beltran isn't on the same level as Pujols or Howard:
AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI RC
Pujols .331 .431 .671 1.102 49 137 154
Howard .313 .425 .659 1.084 58 149 161
Beltran .275 .388 .594 .982 41 116 118
Regardless of which stat you choose to focus on, Beltran comes in third. He batted .275; they both hit well above .300. His OPS was .982; they each cleared 1.000 with ease. He hit 41 homers and drove in 116 runs; Howard managed 58 and 149, Pujols had 49 and 137. The all-encompassing Runs Created shows Beltran as having been worth 118 runs; Howard created 161 and Pujols was responsible for 154. If this were merely a hitting contest, it wouldn't be particularly close.
However, as I discussed while making my AL MVP picks, baseball is about more than what you do at the plate. Beltran may check in about 40 or 50 runs behind Pujols and Howard when it comes to overall offense, but he makes up ground on them in nearly every other facet of the game. A quick glance at Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), which puts offensive contributions in the context of which position a player mans defensively, cuts the gap immediately:
Compared to other first basemen, the ridiculous numbers Pujols and Howard put up were worth about 85 and 82 runs above replacement level, respectively. Compared to other center fielders, the slightly less ridiculous numbers Beltran put up were worth about 69 runs above replacement level. The distinction between overall offense and offense in context of position is an important one and when that's accounted for the gap is suddenly closer to 15 runs than 50.
That's still a lot of runs, but it's not difficult to imagine Beltran's excellent defensive in center field being worth 15 runs more than the work Pujols and Howard put in at first base. In fact, depending on how much weight you give to defense, what you think of the specific players involved, and how much trust you put in advanced defensive metrics, it might be difficult to imagine Beltran's advantage defensively being as small as 15 runs.
In the end it comes down to which player you'd take on your team if the 2006 season was being replayed. I recognize that much of the baseball-watching public, including many of those with an actual say in who wins awards, would choose one of the slugging first basemen. I would choose the Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who hit .275/.388/.594 with 41 homers, 38 doubles, 95 walks, 116 RBIs, and 127 runs while stealing 18 bases at an 86-percent clip, and there would be little hesitation.
AL CYA IP ERA SO BB HR OAVG OOPS
1 Johan Santana 234 2.77 245 47 24 .216 .616
2 Roy Halladay 220 3.19 132 34 19 .251 .656
3 C.C. Sabathia 193 3.22 172 44 17 .247 .654
This is as big a no-brainer as an award can be, although Roy Halladay had a really good year. Johan Santana led the league in ERA, wins, WHIP, strikeouts, innings, starts, Quality Starts, strikeout rate, opponent's batting average, opponent's on-base percentage, opponent's slugging percentage, and just about every other stat you could possibly think of. In doing so he became just the eighth pitcher in baseball history to win the pitching Triple Crown by leading all of MLB in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.
As the world's biggest Santana backer from before it was cool to be a longtime Santana backer, his blowing away the competition makes it even more of shame that the voters couldn't see how deserving he was of the same award in 2005. Santana deserved to beat out Bartolo Colon and Mariano Rivera for the AL Cy Young then, except the voters weren't able to look past his modest 16 wins to see it. Three straight Cy Young wins would've put Santana in rarified company, although he's basically there anyway.
NL CYA IP ERA SO BB HR OAVG OOPS
1 Brandon Webb 235 3.10 178 50 15 .246 .650
2 Roy Oswalt 221 2.98 166 38 18 .263 .702
3 Chris Carpenter 222 3.09 184 43 21 .235 .643
The NL Cy Young candidates are bunched so closely together that I'd have no problem with any of the top three guys winning the award. Even beyond the three pitchers listed on my ballot, Bronson Arroyo, Carlos Zambrano, John Smoltz, and Aaron Harang are close enough to have decent arguments. In the end I went with Brandon Webb because his pitched more innings and gave up fewer homers than Roy Oswalt and Chris Carpenter, and did so in an extremely hitter-friendly ballpark.
AL ROY IP ERA SO BB HR OAVG OOPS
1 Francisco Liriano 121 2.16 144 32 9 .205 .564
2 Justin Verlander 186 3.63 124 60 21 .266 .741
3 Jonathan Papelbon 68 0.92 75 13 3 .167 .464
Justin Verlander had an outstanding rookie season and would be deserving of the award in a lot of years, but Francisco Liriano was about as dominant as a starting pitcher can possibly be and that beats 186 innings of a 3.63 ERA in my book. Jonathan Papelbon narrowly gets the nod over Jered Weaver and Joel Zumaya in the third spot, which shows what an extraordinary crop of rookie pitchers the AL had in 2006.
NL ROY PA AVG OBP SLG RBI RUN
1 Hanley Ramirez 700 .292 .353 .480 59 119
2 Ryan Zimmerman 682 .287 .351 .471 110 84
3 Dan Uggla 683 .282 .339 .480 90 105
The AL boasted five stud pitchers, but the NL had one of the deepest rookie classes of all time. No fewer than a dozen NL rookies would have been legitimate Rookie of the Year contenders many years, but the sheer number of great rookies left guys like Prince Fielder, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham, Conor Jackson, Cole Hamels, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, Adam Wainwright, Chris Duncan, Cla Meredith, Luke Scott, Josh Barfield, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez as afterthoughts.
I narrowed it down to Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Dan Uggla, Russell Martin, and Takashi Saito before eventually going with Ramirez over Zimmerman, but much like the NL Cy Young race I could have gone either way. So, there you have it. My MVPs are Derek Jeter and Carlos Beltran. My Cy Young selections are Johan Santana and Brandon Webb. And my Rookie of the Year picks are Francisco Liriano and Hanley Ramirez.