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Ryan Howard should be the National League MVP

Guest Author - Joe Mancini

David Landry wrote this in 2006 and I like it so I'm keeping it.

The Contenders
There are really only two contenders for the NL MVP this year and it’s a very close call. Both Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols have put up the kind of offensive numbers in a class all their own.

In my column on the AL MVP, I reviewed the potential disqualifiers and only one of them applies here. Howard played for a team that did not qualify for post season play. That said, they came within a game and a half of the wild card and they did as well as they did because Howard kept them going after Bobby Abreu’s bat was traded to the Yankees for a day old newspaper and a pack of gum.

Intangibles (see my AL MVP posting for more details)
The major criteria are offensive effectiveness and intangibles.

Intangibles are the mojo that makes a team perform better around a particular player. Pujols has been the guiding light of the Cardinals offense. He’s an inspiration to his team. He’s the solid rock foundation of the Cardinal’s success this year. Howard stepped into the size 14 shoes of Jim Thome and never gave Phillies fans a reason to look back. He more than matched Thome’s power numbers and had better OBP. After the trade deadline, he provided the consistency lost with the Abreu trade. Again, I think we have a wash.

Offense (see my AL MVP posting for more details)
Offense can be measured many ways. The simplest is batting average (BA). This is simply the number of hits divided by the number of at bats (walks and hit by pitch do not count as at bats). While this is a nice simple measure, it isn’t the most effective.

On Base Percentage (OBP) is refinement of BA and is, perhaps, the most important offensive statistic that non statisticians can readily grasp. OBP is a better measure of offensive productivity than batting average (BA) because it measures how infrequently a batter makes outs. Thus, walks and hit by pitch are included in the average. The difficulty is that each on base incident is counted equally, whether it is a walk or a home run.

This brings us to Slugging Percentage (SP), which is a measure of power. It is calculated like batting average, but a double counts as two hits, a triple as three, and a home run as four. Thus, where a perfect OBP or BA is 1.000, a perfect slugging percentage of all home runs would be 4.000.

Many people use a combination of OBP and SP, called On Base plus Slugging (OPS), which is simply the sum of the two as a refinement. The difficulty here is that you have two scales – a point of OBP is not equal to a point of OPS. Paul DePodesta, former GM of the Dodgers, used a refinement that I will adopt here that adjusts the SP by dividing it by three. This statistic, which I’ll call Adjusted OPS is the one I am using to rank and compare the MVP candidates.

Here are the numbers for each candidate - OBP, Slugging, OPS and Adjusted OPS respectively, sorted by Adjusted OPS.

Pujols 0.431, 0.671, 1.102, 0.6547
Howard 0.425, 0.659, 1.084, 0.6447

This is difficult. The numbers are not hugely different in either case. Pujols has fewer at bats and, as a result, fewer home runs – 49, versus an MLB leading 58 for Howard. A look at RBIs shows Howard ahead again with 149 versus 137.

OK, then why Howard?
Howard’s major advantage is the fact that he had more at bats. He was healthier throughout the season and therefore a consistent presence for his team. When you are as good as these two guys, 90% of success is just showing up. Howard showed up more consistently. Second, Howard got less support offensively than Pujols and still managed to put up better RBI numbers. In the end, the Phillies had a better season than the Cardinals, even though they didn’t finish “in the money”. They had a better record and Howard’s offense played a major role in making that possible.

Stating the obvious . . .
Johan Santana is the only choice for the American League Cy Young award. There’s not much point in my writing a column about someone who separated themselves from the pack to such a significant degree.

A little trivia . . .
I was reading a column in USA Today by Christine Brennan yesterday where she talked about how it was ironic that we call the baseball championship the World Series even though the US doesn’t necessarily have the best baseball players. It always shocks me that so few knowledgeable people know the origin of the term “World Series”. The name comes from the Albert Nobel newspaper, the New York World. The World was the first sponsor of the fall classic and the name was retained even after its namesake no longer published.

If you haven't read it already, check out the best baseball book ever written – Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract

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