Joe Posnanski
Monday November 24th, 2008

I think it is established that different people look at the MVP voting in different ways. And, despite my own rather overbearing view on the subject, I think that's part of what makes it all interesting. You want something to argue about. And if everyone looked at it the same way, who would even care? You probably know that there is a points system for golfers to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame -- a system that compiles victories, major victories and year-end awards. I appreciate the honesty of the system, but I don't like it at all. Half the fun of these things are the arguments they spark. You can't have a lot of fun arguing with a points system.

So, in the end, if someone really believes that pitchers, by their nature, cannot be the league's most valuable player, or someone believes that you can't be most valuable playing for a fourth place team, or someone believes that runs batted in are the most significant statistic for figuring a player's overall value ... well, I want to argue with that person. But I respect them as long as they've put a lot of thought into it and can argue their side in a compelling way. Heck, I might even be convinced if the argument is good enough.

But it seems to me that's the point -- I would love to see some compelling arguments. The whole thing has sort of gotten stale. I've been thinking about this Albert Pujols vs. Ryan Howard thing again, and it occurs to me now that there's no chance here for an especially interesting argument. The reason is: All we are arguing, really, is whether a guy on a fourth place team can, by definition, be more valuable than a guy on a first place team. That's all. I don't think there's a particularly good argument to be made that Ryan Howard had a better year than Pujols. I'm quite certain there's no good argument to be made that Ryan Howard is a better baseball player than Pujols.

So, we fall back to that age-old, dried-up argument about "value" and what it means. Hey, Howard's team won, Pujols' team lost, what about value, who has more value, value is what does, and all that. That argument, like the bars in Swingers, is dead anyway. Everybody's locked in, everybody is clinging to their own definitions, we aren't getting any movement.

But I do think there IS an interesting argument to be had about this year's MVP. And it is this: Let's say that we will only make players from playoff teams eligible. That is, in this scenario, the only people to be considered for the NL MVP this year are from the four teams that made the playoffs -- Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. You already know where I stand on this one but stay with me ...

You could argue for a half-season of MannyBManny, if you want. He's probably the only viable Dodgers candidate.

You could argue for a half season of CC Sabathia, if you want. Ryan Braun hit a bunch of home runs and is a reasonable candidate. Prince Fielder is somewhere in there.

You could argue for Aramis Ramirez or Geovany Soto from the Cubs, though you probably would not.

In the end, though, I don't think any of those guys really stand up as a true MVP candidate. Not one of them got a first place MVP vote, and I think it's clear why. So basically, it comes down to the Phillies. It might tell you something about this whole exercise that three of the four playoff teams do not have especially riveting MVP candidates ... but forget that for the moment.

There are three players who seem to be viable candidates, and they were voted in this order.

1. Ryan Howard: Led the league in homers (48) and RBIs (146) and had a big September.

2. Brad Lidge: Saved 41 games in 41 chances and had a 1.95 ERA, struck out 92 in 69.3 innings.

3. Chase Utley: Hit .292/.380/.535 with 33 homers, 104 RBIs, 113 runs, played excellent second base defense and had an excellent April. August and pretty good September.*

*I say that if you want, you can throw Cole Hamels in here too. No, he did not get any MVP consideration. He only won 14 games. He was good but not as good as Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, etc. But if you want to play this "Players on winning teams matter more," game, well, he did lead the league in WHIP, was third in shutouts, fourth in ERA+, sixth in strikeouts. And I don't think it should go unmentioned that also won both the NLCS MVP and the World Series MVP. I realize that the overall MVP voting is made BEFORE the playoffs, but I'm not sure it should be that way. I think that years from now, when looking back on this Phillies championship season, if you had to pick ONE MOST VALUABLE GUY, one guy who, more than anyone else, made the World Championship happen, I think you could do a lot worse than choosing Cole Hamels.

OK, so, who is the best MVP choice of those three (or four)? For me: It's very clearly Chase Utley. Hamels got plenty of postseason MVP hardware, so he's fine. Lidge had a very good year as a closer, but he only pitched 70 innings and several other closers were as good.

And that leaves Howard vs. Utley. And ... am I wrong here? Isn't Utley pretty clearly the better player? He got on base a lot more, slugged about the same, played a much tougher defensive position, played it much better, was much better on the bases, scored more runs and drove in 104 despite not having, you know, himself batting in front. Not to bring advanced stats into this kind of thing, but ...

I dunno. I'm thinking that Utley probably had a better offensive year than Howard. And even if you call it a draw on offense, heck even if you are willing to give Howard a slight edge because you love them RBIs and late-season heroics, well, when you look at all the other things Utley does -- defense, baserunning -- well, again, I think Utley is pretty clearly more valuable.

I think there was a similar case to be made in 1973, when Pete Rose won the MVP even though his teammate Joe Morgan had a better year. Rose hit .338, which is probably what got him the award, as Morgan only hit .290. But Morgan had the better on-base percentage, the much better slugging percentage, hit 26 homers (to Pete's 5), drove in 82 RBIs (to Pete's 64), scored one more run (116-115), stole 67 bases (to Pete's 10) and won the Gold Glove at second base while Pete played the significantly less-demanding leftfield.

Of course that year, the guy who really could have won it was Willie Stargell, who had a 186 OPS+ and led the league in slugging, doubles, home runs, RBIs and offensive win%. Trouble is, his Pirates went 80-82 and finished out of the race. And that's where we started the crazy ride.

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