There is a tried and true method to writing these types of articles. You give a short overview of the season that was, and those players that performed exceptionally well. That was the old days. These days we have advanced statistics that can sum up a season's worth of production in one number much better than anything we've ever been exposed to in the past. These numbers don't answer the question of who the MVP should be, but they do lend a great deal of objectivity to the debate.
On the other side of any MVP discussion is what "Most Valuable Player" really means. Some say it should be the best player on the best team, or at least a playoff team. Others insist it should be given to the best player in the league, with no other considerations. Hanley Ramirez is a good example of someone who has played on a non-playoff team in the past, yet has put up tremendous statistical seasons. His second place finish last season shows that voters can appreciate great play even it comes from a player whose season stopped early in October.
This year there were many MVP-esque seasons put forth by a handful of players. Guys like Matt Holliday, Rickie Weeks, Jayson Werth, and Aubrey Huff all had humongous impact seasons in their own rights. Three performers were head and shoulders above the crowd in terms of production though: Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Ryan Zimmerman. A pair of teammates, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, make my list because of their out of this world second half stretches. Note that this isn't exactly the most definitive of MVP lists, but I'll do my best to explain why I chose these guys.
We begin with the man who will most likely win the 2010 NL MVP, Joey Votto. The Canadian leads the NL in WAR and wOBA. and was top four in home runs, RBIs, runs and batting average. The statistics were great, but his production when compared to that of his teammates is what makes Votto even more valuable than even the great Pujols. While Scott Rolen had a surprising good season, and Jay Bruce hit the ball well before a late August injury, Votto's production was consistently top notch. After making the playoffs for the first time since 1995, Cincinnati has to be overjoyed about the NL Central crown and the chance for their slugger to have the spotlight shone on him in October.
For debate's sake, it was a little easier to push King Albert to the second slot in this discussion because his stats didn't stack up to those of Votto. I mean, a BB/9 rate higher than his K/9 rate, a .285 ISO, and a total value only $100,000 less than Votto means that the 2008 and 2009 MVP wasn't exactly a slouch this season. Pujols' team was disappointing after coming into the season as the prohibitive favorites to take the Central crown. As opposed to the clockwork-like season of Votto, Pujols had four stretches of at least nine straight games where he did not hit a home run. In the end though, his numbers were nearly the equal of Votto's. After thinking about it, I don't know why I mentioned the home run droughts. I guess I needed to degrade his season somehow. Degrading a man who hit 42 home runs? I don't deserve to write about baseball.
The "He plays on a bad team, but he's really super-duper good" Candidate, Ryan Zimmerman
MVP is typically thought of as an offensive-based award. Most recent winners in the NL, though, have been good defensive players as well. I guess when Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds are winners of seven of the past nine MVP awards, that makes sense. Zimmerman plays third base, a much more demanding defensive position than either Bonds or Pujols. While his defensive skills are quantifiable, what isn't is just how difficult it is to hit as well as Zimmerman did this season while sacrificing his body as much as he did on defense. His range at third was far and away the best in the NL of any player at any position. The best combination of offense and defense on this list, his WAR total was nearly the equal (7.3) of both Votto and Pujols (7.4 apiece). I doubt Zimmerman will rank in the top five when the real results come in for MVP, but his season deserves praise nonetheless.
"Double Trouble" or some other predictable teammate moniker category: Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez
The MVP candidacy of these two men can best be summed up by looking at their second halves. Gonzalez' slugging percentage in June was a respectable .466. The following month, that number jumped up to .735 and his batting average jumped up a whole 100 points from .282 to .382. Perhaps the most impressive thing about his July, and August for that matter, was that over 27% of his fly balls left the ballpark. As with any Rockie hitter, Gonzalez' season will be scrutinized due to the Coors Field effect. It is true that his performances away from the Mile High City were pretty pedestrian, so there is a slight tarnish to his shiny numbers. Still, let's not poo poo a season like this from a 25-year old who came out of nowhere to put his name in the MVP running. Plus, he was on my fantasy baseball team. So there's that.
Troy Tulowitzki looks at Gonzalez' July and August and doesn't bat an eye. That's because his September was one of the more ridiculous months any major leaguer has ever had. 15 home runs in the month, and a 1.137 OPS helped propel the Rockies into the thick of the NL playoff chase. The Rockies won't be playoff-bound this season, but they made it to within a game and a half of the NL West lead at various points in September. What really gets me about Tulo's September was that it could have been even better. A .262 BABIP in that month suppressed his batting average and opportunities to get on base in comparison to his August. If nothing else, Tulo's September and October performances will be fun to look at in December when baseball seems so very, very far away.