The Holy Grail of hitting in Major League Baseball is to win the Triple Crown as the league’s leading hitter in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average, all in the same season.
Usually by this time each year, hopes of seeing the first Triple Crown hitter since 1967 (when Carl Yastrzemski became only the 16th player in history to do it) have been long since forgotten. This year, though, there is not only a possibility of one player contending for the Triple Crown – We actually get to enjoy a race between THREE of the best hitters in the National League!
These three hitters each stand with a very real chance to earn the greatest hitting accomplishment in baseball, and have created baseball’s most exciting LEGITIMATE batting race (sorry Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, your races just don’t count anymore in my book) since Pete Rose chased Ty Cobb’s career hit total.
It will be fun to watch, and we can only hope that one of these three players can accomplish the seemingly impossible.
But that is not the only race that Pujols, Gonzalez, and Votto have created. As a side effect of this quest for possible baseball immortality, another very real competition has been formed between Pujols, Votto, and Gonzalez that is far more relevant to the context of baseball today. That is the race for the National League MVP.
Obviously, if any one of the three is able to pull off the Triple Crown, they should be a shoe-in for the MVP award. But let’s assume that things will play out in similar fashion to where they stand right now, and once more a season passes by without a Triple Crown winner.
Who wins the MVP award then?
While each can stake a claim for the crown, the clear frontrunner for the award in 2010 is once again Albert Pujols.
Pujols is already a three-time winner of baseball’s highest individual season honor, and has reigned uninterrupted as the National League MVP since the close of the 2008 season, and with good reason. No player has meant more to his team, and to the game of baseball, than has Albert Pujols.
Triple Crown statistics are one thing, and they already speak very highly of Pujols’ individual performance over the 2010 season. He leads the NL in homers and RBIs with 39 and 104 respectively, and has the fifth best batting average in the league.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg when you are discussing Pujols’ contributions to his team. There are other areas, arguably more meaningful to a team in the game of baseball, where Pujols also sets himself apart as being far more valuable than Votto or Gonzalez.
For starters, Pujols is not an all-or-nothing hitter. Some batters may swing for the fences with each at bat. Sure, they get their share of homeruns, but they also fail to have their share of quality at bats, often striking out in their quest for big hit glory.
Albert Pujols is different.
Compare his homerun and strikeout numbers to those of Votto and Gonzalez. Joey Votto has 34 homeruns and 112 strikeouts so far this season, and Carlos Gonzalez has 32 homeruns with 122 strikeouts.
Basically, Votto and Gonzalez are good for nearly four strikeouts to go with every one homerun they hit.
So where does Pujols fall? With his aforementioned league-leading 39 homeruns, Pujols has struck out only 69 times this season. That is less than two strikeouts for every homerun hit!
Now, let’s add walk totals into the mix – Once again, it is Pujols at the top with 85 walks, leaving Votto (83) and Gonzalez (33) trailing.
How about extra-base hits? You guessed it. Pujols leads the NL with 74, while Gonzalez (72) and Votto (66) once more fall short of Pujols’ exceptional standard.
Oh yeah, he also happens to lead the league in runs scored with 100 so far in 2010.
All of those numbers point to one single fact – Pujols is by far the most productive hitter in baseball. He is extremely smart at the plate, and is good for considerably more QUALITY at bats than either of his two likely MVP competitors.
So allow me to sum up the 2010 National League MVP race for you:
Albert Pujols has hit for more homeruns and bases than any other batter in the National League. He has personally crossed home plate more than anyone else, and has driven more teammates across the plate than anyone else. Even when he DOESN’T hit the ball, he manages to make it on base more than just about anyone else in the league.
Contrarily, Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez strike out almost twice as often as Pujols, walk less, and produce much less offense.
If my team is down to their last out, and I can pick the one person I want stepping up to the plate, I am going to take Albert Pujols every single time.