Albert Pujols: Can a Player Win a Triple Crown Without an MVP Award?
It happened to Chuck Klein in 1933. It happened to Ted Williams twice, in 1942 and 1947. Could it happen again in 2010?
Could Albert Pujols win the Triple Crown without winning his league's Most Valuable Player Award?
If this article seems like it is coming out of nowhere, that is understandable.
The answer to this question should be, and in all practicality probably is, no. It has been so long since we've had a hitting Triple Crown that if a player were to pull it off, the feat itself would so drastically overshadow the accomplishments of any other player. The Triple Crown would be all we talked about.
And besides, in the 1930's and 1940's, when Ted Williams and Chuck Klein were robbed of Most Valuable Player Awards, the award itself was still in its infancy. The Baseball Writers Association of America only took over MVP voting in 1931; in 1933, 1942, and 1947 the notion of what makes a player "valuable" was still being bandied about.
Thus, Williams lost out to an infielder, Joe Gordon, who had an inferior season while playing for a pennant winner in 1942, and to Joe DiMaggio, who had lesser numbers but also played for a pennant winner in 1947.
Consider also that Chuck Klein lost to Carl Hubbell, a pitcher, in the pre-Cy Young Award days. This would not likely happen in 2010.
Nevertheless, one need not torture logic to imagine the perfect scenario under which Pujols might win the Triple Crown and lose the Most Valuable Player Award. Imagine the following happens.
First of all, imagine that the St. Louis Cardinals fail to make the playoffs, and do so by a wide margin.
The Cards currently have the sixth best record in the NL, are three and a half games behind the Reds in the NL Central, and are in third place in the NL Wild Card race behind the Phillies and Giants. Suppose the Cards go into September six games behind the Reds and aren't even in the thick of things coming down the stretch.
If there is anything we know about the Most Valuable Player award-voting, it is that voters like players from playoff teams. In the past several seasons, voters have avoided the best players in the league to give the award, instead, to Jimmy Rollins, Dustin Pedroia, Justin Morneau, and Miguel Tejada, because they played on teams that went to the postseason.
But that, alone, wouldn't be enough to sway the voting from a Triple Crown winner.
So, imagine that we have a memorable/historic finish in either the NL East or the NL West.
Both divisions have relatively close races at this point in the season, though the Padres are beginning to pull away from the pack. Imagine, though, that either the Phillies or the Giants make a triumphant run down the stretch to catch the Braves or the Padres, and the whole shebang comes down to the final day of the season.
In 2009, the Minnesota Twins made a miracle run at the AL Central division and Joe Mauer came away with the AL MVP. In 2007, the Phillies came back from seven games down with 15 games to play, and Jimmy Rollins won the NL MVP.
In 2004, Vlad Guerrero got lightning hot for the Angels in the final month of the season and won the AL MVP after the Angels clinched the division on the last day of the season. Miguel Tejada had a similar run for the A's in 2002.
What if Aubrey Huff goes white-lightning in September for the Giants or Ryan Howard or Jayson Werth go ballistic for the Phillies, and one of those two teams wins the division on the final day?
Would that be enough to bump off Albert Pujols?
Finally, what if it is determined that despite Albert's Triple Crown, another player is simply better?
The last time we had a Triple Crown was 1967, back before the statistical revolution and back when we thought home runs, RBI, and batting average were the end-all be-all of baseball statistics.
What if Pujols were to win the Triple Crown, but his runs created, batting runs, OPS+, or WAR were to tell us that another player was actually the better player?
At this point, Votto and Pujols are in a statistical dead-heat for the best player in the National League. They have virtually identical OPS+ (Votto leads 169 vs. 167), WAR (Pujols, 5.0 vs. 4.7), and batting runs (Pujols, 45.3 vs. 43.3). Pujols leads in home runs, RBI, and total bases; Votto leads in runs, batting average, and OPS.
The difference between them is within the margin of error.
As for Gonzalez, he would be right there in the conversation, if not for being absolutely mugged by Petco Park. His road numbers dominate Pujols' road numbers. But I digress.
Imagine, for a moment, that Pujols manages to hold off Votto in the home run, RBI, and batting average departments, winning each category narrowly, but Votto still leads the NL in runs scored, bases on balls, and OPS. Imagine, also, that Votto takes the OPS+ crown, pulls ahead in WAR, and finishes the season with more batting runs.
And imagine that he does all of this for a team, the Reds, that wins the NL Central, beating the Cardinals by six or more games in the standings.
Wouldn't Joey Votto necessarily end up winning the National League Most Valuable Player over Albert Pujols, the Triple Crown Winner?
Actually. . .
No, I don't think it would happen, either.
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