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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Baseball Primer’s 2003 National League MVP
So, Bonds or Pujols?
For an assortment of reasons, Barry Bonds missed 31 games this season. That was the only thing that put the outcome of our MVP ballot into doubt, despite an Albert Pujols run at the triple crown. In the end however, there was only enough doubt to sway one of the 9 voters off of Hurricane Barry, as it battered NL pitching into submission (literally whenever runners were on and first base was open) for the 3rd straight season.
It wasn’t just Bonds and Pujols as this was a great year for individual performances in the NL. The fact that Todd Helton (and his 168 OPS+) only finished 7th in this field says a lot about the competition.
1. Barry Bonds 121 points (8 of 9 first place votes)
Bonds did slip a little bit from his superhuman 2001-2002 this year. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still superhuman, the best offensive player since Ted Williams, and arguably the best ever. But it was the 3rd best year of his career and he was down slightly in 2003 from the level he established over the previous two seasons. His offensive environement rose some as Pac Bell played as a neutral park for the first time in its 3-year history. Because of this, the actual decline was a little more than the decline in his raw numbers would indicate. The league and park actually played as the most run-conducive environment of Bonds’ career this year. That a player can drop .050 off of his SLG (while the park-adjusted league rose .023), and .053 off of his OBP (while the park-adjusted league rose .012), while missing 13 more games (and 31 overall) and still be a nearly unanimous MVP explains just how great Barry Lamar Bonds has been over the last 3 seasons.
2. Albert Pujols 86 points (1 first place vote)
Albert Pujols will likely join the 1954 Yankees, the 1993 Giants, Ted Williams in 1941; Mickey Mantle in 1961; Mark McGwire in 1998, as great teams/players that finished 2nd (‘lost to’ just doesn’t seem right) to what was perceived at the time as even greater teams/players. In almost any year he would have won the MVP award unanimously. Pujols actually led the NL with 41 Win Shares (Bonds had 39). This happens more often than you’d probably think, however. If our voting replicates the BBWAA this will be the 23rd time (the complete list will be posted in the discussion portion) since they started voting in 1931 that a player with at least 40 Win Shares did not win the MVP award.
Pujols was amazing, hitting .359/.439/.667 (OPS+ 189). It’s true that Pujols had by far the best year of his career, but people forget that he finished 2nd to Bonds in the BBWAA MVP vote last year also (10th in the Primer vote). He would be a rare back-to-back BBWAA winner if it weren’t for Bonds posting one of the best (arguably the best) 3-year runs in history at the same time.
3. Gary Sheffield 64 points
It’s amazing, but Sheffield also had a truly great season, a season worthy of an MVP Award in a ‘normal’ year. If the Braves were in the AL 2003, I’d have voted for Sheffield over ARod (barely). In this race, he only gets the Bronze.
Sheffield, one of the most underrated stars in the game (and one of my personal favorites) is at the point in his career where he must be seriously considered as a Hall of Famer. His outstanding 2003 doesn’t even stand out in his career as you could argue that is was only his 5th best season. He’s going to start annexing some big-time career numbers over the next 3-4 seasons. He’s at the point where all he has to do is play as a regular for 4 or 5 more years and he’ll pass 2600 hits and approach 500 HR.
Interesting fact that a lot don’t realize: Sheffield is still sneaky fast, he’s 30-for-36 as a basestealer over the last two campaigns and he finished 2nd to Derrek Lee in the NL for Power/Speed Number in 2003.
He was an absolute steal for the Braves, who gave up Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez and a minor leaguer for the star with the ‘attitude problem’. Moves like that are how you can win 100 games a year, despite playing scrap like Robert Fick and Vinny Castilla on the corners and giving Shane Reynolds and his 77 ERA+ 29 starts.
4. Javy Lopez 51 points
Here’s where Javy Lopez’s career was in February of 2003: I was offered Javy Lopez and Rey Sanchez for Todd Hundley and Tim Worrell in a Diamond Mind league, and I turned it down without batting an eyelash. Didn’t even consider it as a serious offer.
Where is he now? He’s coming off one of the greatest offensive seasons a major league catcher has ever produced. Lopez hit 43 HR and drove in 109 runs in just 495 plate appearances. He hit .328 and slugged .678(!). His being left off two of our ballots is absolutely ludicrous.
Sheffield played 26 more games, and that gave him an advantage in the counting stats, but Lopez had one of the greatest renaissance seasons we’ve ever seen.
At this point in his career he’s where Roy Campanella was after 1955. Not that Lopez has ever been on that level - except for this year - but he has been a poor man’s Campanella offensively. Campy had a truly awful (OPS+ 75) 1954 season at the age of 32. He bounced back with an MVP year in 1955 (a campaign that was not as great as Lopez’ 2003). In 1956 and 1957 however, Campanella returned almost all the way to his 1954 form. It’s just one example, but catchers in their 30s tend to go the route of Campanella (who was just about done anyway when that tragic accident ended his career) or Lance Parrish (who also had an unexpected uptick - in 1990) as opposed to the route of Carlton Fisk. I don’t expect Lopez to remotely approach his 2003 numbers in 2004, in fact, I’ll be suprised if his OPS+ cracks 100.
5. Jim Thome 43 points
The most ballyhooed free agent signing in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies paid excellent returns - for 2003 at least. As could be expected, Thome suffered a decline this year, but he was still an outstanding player. After peaking in 2001-02, he returned to the production level he established from 1995-2000. His regressed level was still good enough for an NL home run title, and a fifth place finish in the Baseball Primer MVP voting (he finished second in our AL voting last year. The key to this deal working out for the Phillies is if Thome can maintain this level of play for the next several years. He’s going to be 33, so obviously I’d say the odds are against it, but it’s not an impossible ‘gamble’ for the Phillies to win.
6. Marcus Giles 23 points
By finishing sixth in the Baseball Primer MVP balloting, Giles has been declared the 2nd best young player in the National League by the staff here at Primer. It’s been quite a ride for the 5’ 8” former 53rd round draft pick. After a couple of years of battling for playing time, Giles arrived for good in 2003. He hit .316, with 49 doubles and 21 home runs. Giles has all sorts of ‘little things’ that add to his resume - 59 walks, 14-for-18 as a base-stealer, 11 hit-by-pitches, he only grounded into 7 double plays and he’s a great bunter. All of those little things, when tacked onto the big things (72 extra base-hits from a secondbaseman) make him an outstanding all-around player.
RK Player Pts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 1 Barry Bonds 121 8 1 2 Albert Pujols 86 1 8 3 Gary Sheffield 64 6 1 1 1 4 Javy Lopez 51 3 3 1 5 Jim Thome 43 1 3 2 2 6 Marcus Giles 23 1 1 2 3 2 7 Todd Helton 22 1 2 1 8 Edgar Renteria 19 1 1 1 1 1 9 Mark Prior 18 2 1 10T Eric Gagne 14 2 1 1 10T Jason Schmidt 14 1 1 1 1 12 Bobby Abreu 11 1 1 1 13 Jim Edmonds 8 2 14 Richie Sexson 7 1 1 15T Luis Gonzalez 6 2 15T Scott Rolen 6 1 1 17 Derrick Lee 5 1 18T Richard Hidalgo 4 1 18T Mark Loretta 4 2 20T Brian Giles 2 1 20T Ivan Rodriguez 2 2 22 Jose Vidro 1 1
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