Cardinals' Pujols Is Named the National League's Most Valuable Player

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In the latest example of how the sabermetrics movement in baseball has influenced the sport's mainstream media, a player who led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBI, while playing for the eventual World Series champions, finished a not-very-close runner-up for National League most valuable player honors to a player who collected about 20 percent fewer of each for a fourth-place team.

The beneficiary of the enlightened press corps was St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who won the second MVP award of his career, finishing a comfortable 61 total points ahead of Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard in voting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Pujols, 28, received 18 of a possible 32 first-place votes, while Howard received 12. The remaining two votes went to Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who still finished only eighth in the overall balloting, behind Ryan Braun, Manny Ramírez, Lance Berkman, CC Sabathia and David Wright.

Pujols's 37 homers and 116 RBI may have been dwarfed by Howard's numbers in those categories, but Pujols crushed his fellow first baseman in batting average (.357 to .251); OPS, or on-base-plus-slugging (1.114 to .881); and in most advanced metrics, such as value over replacement player, or VORP (96.8 to 35.3). Pujols also is by far the better defensive player.

Though voters tend to favor players who played for winners, the award is for regular season performance only -- so the Phillies' postseason success didn't count. And despite their fourth-place finish, Pujols's Cardinals were in contention for a wild-card spot until mid-September, largely because of his contributions.

"We had a pretty good chance all year long," Pujols said in a conference call with reporters. "So I wasn't surprised at all [by the vote]. I thought my numbers were good. . . . I think [the writers] do a pretty good job of voting. And I'm happy I don't have to make that decision myself."

Making Pujols's season all the more remarkable was the fact he was hampered by a strained calf muscle that forced him to the disabled list in June, as well as a nerve injury in his elbow that bothered him throughout much of the season and required surgery last month.

"The worst part was that [for] the last two months, it was really tingling and I was more uncomfortable from that than from the pain. I was more used to the pain. Sometimes after the game I wouldn't feel my finger or my hand. It was something I was really concerned about."

Pujols said he began a rehabilitation program just yesterday morning and hopes to be back in the weight room by Thanksgiving and 100 percent by spring training. However, he also said there is a 25 percent chance he would need ligament-replacement surgery in the elbow, which would threaten part of his 2009 season.

Yesterday's award once again highlighted the transcendent nature of Pujols's career to this point. He has finished in the top five in MVP voting in seven of his eight seasons -- including three runner-up finishes, twice to Barry Bonds -- and is the only player in history to have started his career with eight straight seasons of 30 homers, 100 RBI and a .300 batting average.

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