Should Ryan Howard Be the N.L. MVP?

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2008

There's no denying that Ryan Howard is the greatest home-run hitter in the game today. Since entering the league full-time in the middle of the 2005 season, Ryan has 172 HR and 485 RBI in just three-and-a-half seasons, tops in the majors.

However, his penchant for striking out in large amounts has been troubling, and never more so than throughout much of this season, in which he now has 190 K's, only 10 shy of breaking the all-time single-season record he set last year and becoming the first player ever to strike out 200 times in one season.

With all that said, the question at hand is this: Should he be the NL MVP this year?

Despite the lofty strikeout totals and low batting average (.249, but rising), he has 45 HR, eight more than the nearest competitor, Adam Dunn, and 137 RBI, an astounding 23 more than David Wright, who is second in the N.L. in that category.

His ability to produce a huge number of runs and carry the Phillies offense for long stretches makes him one of the most valuable players in the game for sure. Even with his batting average being so poor all season, he has racked up 310 total bases, third in the league. The production numbers are undeniable.

The N.L. MVP race is very wide-open right now, and this is why Howard has been able to jump back into the picture as a viable candidate after struggling for much of the season. The other top candidates right now are most likely David Wright, Albert Pujols, and Lance Berkman. Each presents strong evidence to support their candidacies, but they also have their flaws.

Although Pujols has been great once again this season, I will dismiss his case because he is playing for a fourth-place team with no shot at the postseason. Yes, for much of the year the Cardinals played over their heads and looked like contenders, but they have cooled off now, and Pujols' numbers aren't far enough ahead of the pack to separate him.

Pujols leads the league in batting average and slugging percentage, but he has done little else to separate himself, even from teammate Ryan Ludwick, who has the same number of homers (33) and RBI (101) as Albert.

The thing that separates Howard from Pujols is that Howard has 36 more RBI and has also scored five more runs than Pujols. The run-production differential is large enough to excuse Howard's other flaws.

The next competitor to challenge is Lance Berkman, who got off to a torrid start in April and May and appeared headed for the trophy. Although the Astros have caught fire of late, Berkman has actually cooled off significantly.

He is hitting .273 since the All Star break, as compared to .347 before it, and he has just six homers and 27 RBI in the second half of the season! It is basically as if the Astros have been winning lately despite Berkman, not because of him. His batting average of .163 this month is certainly not becoming of an MVP.

By comparison, the Phillies' recent surge has come because of Howard, who, by comparison, has 17 HR and 53 RBI in 56 second-half games. He has ramped up that production in September, hitting .393 with eight HR and 23 RBI this month alone, basically equaling Berkman's run production for the entire second half.

We have now shown that Howard is more deserving of this award than Berkman and Pujols, now how about Wright? David Wright, to me, is the most worthy adversary here, and the two happen to play in the same division.

While the Phillies and Mets are battling for the N.L. East title, it is very likely that these two are also battling for the MVP.

Let's try to dissect this one. Let's first get out of the way that Wright is a superior defensive player, and in a close call would have that tiebreaker on his side. Now for the hitting stats.

For the season, Howard has huge advantages in HR and RBI, while Wright has the higher batting average and has scored more runs. They have virtually identical slugging percentages (Howard's is .536, compared to .530 for Wright), and are certainly the heart of their respective teams' lineups.

Wright, like Howard, has picked it up in the second half, hitting .318 with 14 homers and 44 RBI after the break, compared to a .276, 17, 53 stat line for the Phillie. In the September stats, Howard really separates himself, though, with the aforementioned .393 BA, eight HR, and 23 RBI. Wright has been good, but not great, with a .304/4/11 line.

Howard's slugging percentage in September is an absurd .964, and his Phillies have rallied around him to overtake the Mets and Brewers in the playoff positioning. With that said, Wright has been a consistently productive and steadying force on the Mets all year and has been certainly their best player.

It will go down to the wire, and it may come down to who wins the N.L. East. However, since both of these teams could get into the playoffs, that may not be enough. The voters will have a tough job of deciding between two worthy competitors. As for me, I'll cast my vote for Ryan Howard.