In the 2008 regular season, even though his St. Louis Cardinals failed to make the postseason, it is clear that Albert Pujols was the most valuable player in the National League.
In all statistical categories, Pujols dominated the field.
Pujols led the league in park-adjusted weight on-base average (wOBA) (.468), VORP (96.8), EqA (.372), OPS (1.114), OPS+ (190), and WARP (13.0).
Pujols was obviously levels ahead of any of the competition in terms of hitting. Despite playing the non-premium defensive position of first base, he also put up great defensive numbers.
Pujols' plus-minus was +20 for the year, second among MLB first basemen behind the Angels' Mark Teixeira.
If you take into consideration that Pujols was obviously overall best offensive player in the league over the course of the season and consider that he is also one of the top defenders at his position, it is obvious that he is the most valuable player in the National League.
The main argument against Pujols is that his team did not make the playoffs.
However, Pujols and the rest of the Cardinals' line-up did enough to make the playoffs, finishing fourth in the National League in runs scored (779) behind the Cubs, Mets, and Phillies.
The main problem for the Cardinals was their pitching (4.19 ERA, 7th in the NL) and last time I checked, Albert Pujols is not a pitcher, nor can he give the pitchers any tips or hints on how to pitch well, since his forte is hitting.
Pujols also kept a team without many playoff aspirations in the beginning of the year in contention for most of the season, when without him they would have been in the cellar all season.
Now that I have explained why Pujols is easily the MVP of the National League, here are my picks for the rest of the top five.
2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
Leading the National League's fifth-best offense, the Florida Marlins' shortstop Hanley Ramirez quietly put together a season that had the Marlins in playoff contention until late in the season.
Ramirez was fifth in the league in OBP (.400), OPS+ (146), and park-adjusted wOBA (.414). He also finished second in the league in VORP (80.7) and fourth in WARP (10.3)
Ramirez was also a threat on the basepaths (35 stolen bases with many other bases gained), which immensely helps his value.
Finally, despite being right around the league average in terms of fielding for a shortstop, shortstop is the second-most premium defensive position behind catcher, and most teams will take league-average fielding with the amazing offense of Ramirez.
3. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
The best player of any of the playoff teams this season, Utley was a true great all-around performer throughout the course of the season for the Philadelphia Phillies.
His offensive stats were great, with an OPS+ of 138 (10th in the league), a wOBA of .389, which equated to him placing eighth in the league in batting runs above average (33.69)
Taking base-running into consideration, Utley's MVP case improves slightly, as his VORP of 62.2 was seventh in the National League. However, VORP does not take into consideration the asset that turns Utley from a top-10 MVP candidate to a top three candidate—defense.
Using John Dewan's plus-minus system, Utley, while playing a fairly premium defensive position of second base, led the entire league with a mark of +47. The next-highest National League second-baseman was Adam Kennedy, with a mark of +19.
WARP, which uses defense as well as hitting and base-running, puts Utley at 10.4, third in the NL.
4. Lance Berkman, Houston Astros
Berkman was fourth in the league in VORP (72.2) and second in the league in WARP (10.7), which alone exemplifies his great value to the Houston Astros this season.
Berkman had great offensive numbers with an OPS+ of 159 (third in the league), while ranking in the top five of both OBP (.420, third in the NL) and SLG (.567, fourth in the league).
Like Pujols, he played great defense at the easily-replaceable position of first base (plus-minus of +18).
Berkman fell off slightly at the end of the year, ending his chances of winning the award, but his early contributions place him at a very respectable fourth.
5. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves
When healthy, Chipper Jones was the second best hitter in the National League this season, but the key words in that phrase are "when healthy".
Jones led the league in OBP with an amazing mark of .470, while ranking second behind Pujols in numerous percentage-based categories, including park-adjusted wOBA (.452), batting runs above average (53.66), and EqA (.362). He also ranked third in VORP (75.4).
However, Jones' biggest problem this field was staying healthy, which took away from his plate appearances. The results of what these plate appearances would have done for Jones are debatable: he could have regressed or continued his pace.
Still, because of the missed time and average base-running and fielding, Jones had a WARP of 9.8 for the season, great when compared to the rest of the league, but behind all of the players listed above him in my list.
Honorable mentions: Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers and CC Sabathia, Milwaukee Brewers
Although neither of these players deserve serious contention due to the fact that they did not play the whole season in the National League, their contributions during their small sample sizes while in the NL deserve some mention, as they were the best hitter and pitcher during the league while in the NL.
Ramirez had an astounding OPS+ of 219 and an amazing park-adjusted wOBA of .498.
Meanwhile, Sabathia had an ERA+ of 260 and an equally impressive tRA of 2.38.
I don't think either of these players warrant spots in the top-5, but they still had great contributions on getting their teams to the playoffs.
Not listed: Ryan Howard, Phillies
The 2008 season of Ryan Howard has to be one of the most overrated seasons that I can remember.
Sure, he hit a lot of home runs (48 to be exact), but Howard also had a measly on-base percentage of just .339.
That means that 66.1 percent of the time that Howard came up to the plate, he made an out. By comparison, Albert Pujols made an out 53.8 percent of the time that he was up at the plate. By that comparison, Howard should not even be put in the same light as Pujols in their respective season.
Howard had just 15.9 batting runs above average (equated from wOBA), which is a full 55.27 runs below what Albert Pujols produced this season.
Sure, Howard had a lot of runs batted in, but with a line-up of Jimmy Rollins, either Shane Victorino or Jayson Werth, and Chase Utley ahead of him, as well as the luck of when he got his hits, make the insignificant stat of RBIs unusable in this scenario (or any for that matter).