Two years ago Ryan Howard — prime slugger on a non-playoff team — defeated Albert Pujols — prime slugger on a World Series champion — for National League Most Valuable Player.
Well, what do you know.
Two years later, and the roles are reversed. In fact, the 2008 Cardinals finished 86-76, just one game better than those 2006 Phils, at 85-77. Weird, eh? But what matters is Howard and Pujols are battling for NL MVP yet again. This time they have interesting competition — Manny Ramirez, who made a bandit’s run with the Dodgers; David Wright, who had another sparkling season; CC Sabathia, who pitched the Brewers into the postseason; Lance Berkman, the prodigious slugger who never gets enough due; Chipper Jones, who hit the heck out of the ball for a few months; and Hanley Ramirez, the all-world shortstop coming into his own. But I don’t think the competition will win — seriously, this one is purely Pujols.
We can hope for a Howard win, but the numbers tell you everything. Pujols hit .357 and drove in 116 runs, collecting a .462 on-base percentage. Yes, he almost reached base half the time. Like Howard, he did have teammates who drove in some runs, but when you factor in Pujols’ two injuries — a calf that sidelined him two weeks, and an elbow that should’ve sidelined him all season — and look at his still outstanding numbers, you can’t deny the man.
But if you need figures, here’s some statistical analysis. I have two formulas that determine a player’s value. One is SSR (subjective statistical record), which looks at numbers that most average fans consider relevant; the other is OSR (objective statistical record), which looks at numbers that stat-friendly fans consider relevant. Here are those numbers:
Howard SSR : .251 AVG / 48 HR / 1 SB / 105 R / 146 RBI / 92 WINS = 4.08086 SSR
Pujols SSR : .357 AVG / 37 HR / 7 SB / 100 R / 116 RBI / 86 WINS = 4.08765 SSR
SSR looks at your garden-variety numbers and team wins. I developed the formula to think as a sportswriter voting for MVP would think — offense is important, hard numbers are major, team performance must be factored. Each stat is multiplied by a variable to create a total, which is then divided by 162, the overall constant. An SSR of over 4.00 is elite. Pujols won by a hair — just to add, David Wright had about a 4.06, Manny Ramirez finished just over 4.00.
Howard OSR : 413 TB+ / 105 R / 146 RBI / 475 OUTS = 2.15 OSR
Pujols OSR : 453 TB+ / 100 R / 116 RBI / 364 OUTS = 2.283 OSR
OSR looks at numbers according to plate appearances. Here, I take total bases and add walks and stolen bases, and also use runs, runs batted in and outs, to show how much a hitter accomplishes in his at bats. An OSR of over 2.00 is elite. Pujols wins again. And to add, Ramirez actually finished ahead of Howard with a 2.21 OSR, while Wright had a 2.086 OSR.
So to both your average sportswriter and your statistically-minded fan, Pujols had the superior year. Playoff team or not, the guy clearly deserves the award.