Friday, 4 December 2009

The Best of the Rest

I hate to say it but maybe Albert Pujols isn’t the most valuable player in the National League after all.

Certainly all the boxes are ticked when it comes to Pujols being MVP-worthy. The guy rakes, his OBP is consistently high, his glove is amongst the best in the league at 1B and you know that year in, year out Albert is going to hit around .330. But is this enough to make the NL award the foregone conclusion it seems to have been for a while now?

I’m not going to make any case whatsoever for Prince Fielder, the guy is just Pujols-lite in my opinion. If you stack up Fielder’s 46HR, 141 RBI .299/.412/.602 offensive line from 2009 against Pujol’s 47HR, 135RBI .327/.443/.658 you find that RBI totals aside Albert is by far the superior offensive player (even with his turgid September hitting slump). What’s more Albert is a gold glove calibre defensive first baseman. While I’ve slated the gold glove voting in previous posts and still maintain that a player’s ‘star-quality’ unduly impacts the likelihood of them taking home the trophy, it should be clear to anyone watching the Cardinals or the Brewers on a regular basis that Albert is vastly superior to Fielder defensively. Fielder will be lucky to last more than a few more seasons playing defensively every day whereas Albert is the calibre of player who one could easily see playing out the rest of his likely-to-be hall of fame career at the position.

OK, that’s Fielder dispensed with.

Now comes Hanley Ramirez, who, as far as I’m concerned IS the 2009 NL MVP.

Just thinking of how good Ramirez is fills me with chagrin regarding the fact that this guy was never given the opportunity to suit up at Fenway Park. Yes, I know, we got Lowell and Beckett out of that deal, and likely would not have won in 2007 had it not been for the trade. But nevertheless, with Mike Lowell becoming the 10 million dollar white elephant in the room for all of the Sox’ off-season plans and Josh Beckett never quite being the perennial Cy Young candidate he should be, one can’t help but wonder ‘what if’ when it comes to the Ramirez deal.

Ramirez has had a phenomenal season. 24 HR, 106 RBI .342/.410/.543. Those are elite numbers. As the Marlin’s website tellingly states, Ramirez was “second to one” in the MVP voting this year.

The trouble is, the MVP award is not about crowning the best player in the division. If that were the case Dustin Pedroia would not have had a prayer in 2008. It is about choosing that player which was most valuable to his team. That the Cardinals still limped into the playoffs despite Albert not going deep once in September must surely tell us something about his value to that team. While Pujols is the face of the organisation and a vital, invaluable part of that team, it is not like the Cardinals were devoid of talent without him. Holliday, Carpenter, Wainwright, even guys like Skip Schmacher and Ryan Ludwick all made up the pieces of the puzzle for the Cards in ’09. It was not simply the Albert Pujols show.

Not so the Marlins. While the team benefitted from the emergence of Chris Coghlan and got another year of all-or-nothing production from the soon-to-depart Dan Uggla they were a very different team from the Marlin’s sides of 2006 and 2007. Gone is Miggy Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez is now, to once again pilfer the infamous Reggie Jackson quote: the straw that stirs the drink. Simply put, (Josh Johnson’s pitching aside) Hanley is everything to the Fish.

The Marlins were a contender for much of 2009. Without Ramirez the story would have been far different and would have seen them rival Pittsburgh and DC for the most hopeless franchise in baseball.

All that and what’s more is that Hanley is a short stop. A short stop! The very heart of the infield. In the thick of everything, all year long. Surely one could make a convincing argument that having an elite offensive player at a position generally reversed for mediocre hitting, fleet-footed players is inherently more valuable that having a slightly more productive player at first base, a position renowned (along with LF) for housing hulking, defensively sub-standard players of the Adam Dunn/Ryan Howard variety.

I for one expect Hanley to win this award comfortably in 2010. Hopefully then this guy will finally get what he deserves; the opportunity to play for a team that cares one iota about winning, can actually draw an attendance that isn’t a league-wide joke and give him the treatment an MVP calibre player deserves.

Love that dirty water, Boston, you’re my home.

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