Award season is here, and in the days ahead I am going to delve into the MVP races of the 1970s. But before I do, I want to get something off my chest about this year’s National League race.
Can someone explain to me why Joey Votto of the Reds is the trendy pick now for NL MVP? Colorado’s center fielder Charlie Blackmon won the league batting title. He also led the league in hits, triples, total bases, and runs scored. From the leadoff spot he hit 37 HR and drove in 104. He had a higher slugging % and more RBI than Votto, who is a middle-of-the-order hitter. He plays a premium defensive position, and for what its worth, plays it far better in my opinion than what the advanced metrics say. Finally, the Rockies made the playoffs while Votto’s team lost 94 games. I know the sabermetrics guys love walks, and Votto had a lot of them. Personally I think walks are less valuable from a slow-footed guy being paid to drive in runs than from a leadoff hitter with speed.
Also, Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins had incredible numbers, and has some support for the award as well. 59 homers is a great accomplishment, but not quite what it would have been in the 1970s or 1980s. And the Marlins were never in the pennant race, finishing with a losing record.
Blackmon should clearly be the MVP in my opinion. Thoughts?
Part of the issue, of course, lies in the lack of a standard definition for the award. My own definition lies somewhere between the two extreme criteria of 1) player of the year with outstanding statistics regardless of team’s success, or 2) best player or leader or most irreplaceable player on a winning club regardless of personal numbers. (Votto meets neither criteria, by the way, while Blackmon meets both). Its very subjective for sure, but in some years we walk away relatively satisfied with the results when one player has such outstanding numbers that he blows away anyone else from consideration, or when the league’s most outstanding player is also recognized as a great leader and/or an irreplaceable cog on a very successful team.
Here are the three finalists, with my pick, Blackmon.
What are the voters thinking? Obviously the bias of Coors Field, which can undoubtedly produce inflated offensive numbers, played a big part in some voters’ decision to leave Blackmon off. And Blackmon certainly had very favorable home-road splits. Ultimately I think the idea of penalizing Blackmon, or his teammate Nolan Arendado, for the park they play in is ridiculous. It can be a consideration, but should not dominate the vote or eliminate deserving players.
If you look at the above chart we can see that basically the only category Votto stood out in is walks. Walks. From a number 3 hitter who cant run. Votto’s incredible walk totals resulted in 106 runs scored. Nice total, but he only ranked 6th in the NL. Votto fans will say that’s only because he played on a team without many good hitters to drive him in. And they would be right. If Votto had Giancarlo Stanton hitting behind him, those 134 walks would have been much more valuable. Though its unlikely pitchers would have been nearly so careful pitching to Votto. Maybe pitchers weren’t too concerned about Votto walking, given the lineup he hit in.
So why are MVP voters getting so worked up about a guy batting 3rd, with no speed, without many guys hitting behind him to drive him in, taking 134 walks? Maybe Votto should be a little more aggressive, and try to drive in more runs? He did knock in 100 runs, but that was no better than 10th in the National League, and actually 4 less than Blackmon, a leadoff man.
Isn’t baseball about scoring more runs, and ultimately winning games, or is it just about piling on statistics like OBP?
Defensively, Votto is an excellent first baseman, well above average, while Blackmon is good, but not great, in center field. I’d say defense is not much of a factor in the voting because no one can say Votto’s contribution at first base is more valuable than Blackmon’s in center field, a premium defensive position.
In just ranking the players above, I’d say Blackmon should be the MVP, followed by Stanton, and Goldschmidt. Stanton really did have a monster year, belting 59 HR, 20 more than anyone in the league, while also leading in extra base hits, RBI, and slugging, all in a relatively big park, and while playing a very good right field. Goldschmidt was far and away his team’s best hitter, and a Gold Glove first baseman for a playoff club.
None of this is to bash Votto as a player, or for his accomplishments this season. He had a good year. But how can a player who ranked 6th in the league in runs scored, and 10th in RBI, playing first base for a last place team, POSSIBLY be that league’s most valuable player? He can’t be, or at least shouldn’t.
I say Blackmon, Stanton, Goldschmidt, and then others like Nolan Arenado (Colorado’s Gold Glove third baseman, 130 RBI, league-best 43 doubles), or Justin Turner (.322 for the pennant-winning Dodgers) were all far more valuable to their teams in 2017.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His new book, 1970s All-Star Baseball: A History of the Decade’s All-Star Games was just released on Amazon:
His bestselling 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: