Tomorrow, the National League MVP Award will be announced. When it is, one of two first basemen will likely be selected as the 2010 recipient: Albert Pujols or Joey Votto. Both players had incredibly similar years. Both are more than deserving. If I had an official vote, I know that I'd have a very difficult time deciding over who would be my choice with the award. The voters of season-end awards hold a great responsibility, as these awards are used as supporting "proof" in Hall of Fame cases. Perception of a particular player's performance in a given season (or seasons) can have a long lasting effect on our view of his career. Sometimes it's positive, but others it's negative.
Pujols is a modern day Joe DiMaggio. He’s a three time MVP (and three second place finishes) who hits for average and power, gets on base, runs the bases well, and plays excellent defense at this position. A model of consistency, Pujols has hit at least .300/.400/.500 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI ten consecutive seasons. Pujols’s plate discipline is unheard of in our current era. Where high strikeout totals , are the norm, Pujols controls the strike zone better than any hitter of the past 25 years not named Barry Bonds. In every season since 2002, he’s accumulated more walks than strike outs. While I don’t want to call his production routine, for him it almost was routine. The man is a machine. To put it simply, if Pujols were to retire today, he’d be a lock for the Hall of Fame.
In 2010, Pujols put together yet another solid season. He put up a .420 wOBA (his tenth consecutive season above .400) and produced a 55.4 wRAA (second in the NL) while exhibiting his patented plate discipline and excellent defense at first base. His production was so valuable, he put up 7.2 WAR, which was good for second in the NL and third in baseball. Despite his tremendous 2010 achievements, he falls just short of MVP in my eyes.
My vote for the NL MVP Award (if I had one) would go to Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto. Votto had an outstanding season, outpacing Pujols in several key categories: wOBA (.439 to .420), wRAA (61.3 to 55.4), OBP (.424 to .414), SLG (.600 to .596), wRC+ 177 to 169, UZR (1.6 to 1.5), and WAR (7.3 to 7.2). Yes, I know. Votto barely beat out Pujols in these categories, but the margin of victory isn't important. He was slightly better, and that's what matters.
Even if we came to a consensus and called it a virtual statistical tie, I would still give my vote to Votto. Why? While Votto had a talented cast supporting him, it wasn't anywhere near the cast Pujols had. Pujols was armed with a companion MVP quality candidate (Holliday), two top tier starting pitchers (Carpenter and Wainwright), and a Rookie of the Year candidate (Garcia). The Cardinals should've coasted into the postseason--easily. Instead, they wilted down the stretch. While it's unfair to punish Pujols who carried the Cardinals in September, Votto's performance down the stretch is what set him apart. He was just a little bit more valuable. He had to be. The Reds starting pitching rotation wasn't exactly playoff caliber. Made up #3 and #4 quality starters of the Scott Baker/Ted Lilly variety, the Reds pitching staff finished eighth in ERA, eleventh in strikeouts, and twelfth in home runs allowed. (Those pitchers are nice to have, but not when they are your front of the rotation starters.) That's not exactly a recipe for success. To win, the Reds needed to outscore their opponents, meaning Votto had to be on top of his game at the most crucial point in the season. On top of his game, he was. He hit .308/.429/.571 with five home runs, nine doubles, and 16 RBI. By season's end, Votto led his team to the postseason for the first time since 1995, finishing five games ahead of Pujols's Cardinals.
So there you have it. I've chosen Joey Votto for the 2010 NL MVP by the narrowest of margins. Like I said before, both players are more than deserving of the honor. If the BBWAA announced tomorrow that Pujols had won his fourth MVP, I would neither be surprised nor disappointed. That said, it'd be shame. Votto put together what's likely to be his career season, and he deserves to be rewarded for it.