Just as Adam Wainwright lost unanimously to Roy Halladay for the NL Cy Young Award, Albert Pujols was also on the wrong side of a one-sided decision for the NL MVP. Just one man stood between Pujols and a historic third straight (4th overall) MVP Award, and that man was Red’s first baseman Joey Votto. There weren’t many people who saw this coming in the beginning of the year, but by season’s end, Votto certainly showed us all what he is capable of.
In just his third full season in the majors, Votto posted career highs in nearly every major offensive category. At the all-star break, leading the league in homers, RBIs, and batting average, he was a legitimate threat to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Although that didn’t quite pan out, Votto did become the 12th Reds player in franchise history to win the MVP Award. He hit .324 (2nd in NL) with 37 home runs (3rd in NL) and 113 RBIs (3rd in NL) in 2010. Votto also finished with an OBP of .424, a SLG of .600, and an OPS of 1.024, all of which led the National League. Offensive production is often defined by the ability to reach base safely, something that Votto seemed to do with ease this season. In all, Votto ranked in the top three in 11 offensive categories, and his production on the road was just as good if not better than it was at Great American Ballpark.
While Votto walks away with the reward for his outstanding performance, Pujols was no slouch in 2010 either. The Cardinals first baseman hit .312 (6th in NL) with 42 homers (1st in NL) and 118 RBIs (1st in NL). He also added 103 walks (2nd in NL) and 115 runs scored (1st in NL). Like Joey Votto, Pujols’ name was in the Triple Crown discussion up until about the final month of the season. Pujols also appeared in 159 of 162 games, quite a remarkable feat in its own right. As crazy as it sounds, his .312 average was the lowest for a full season in his career. Fair or not, we have come to expect these kinds of numbers from Albert year in and year out. At this point, the expectations for baseball’s greatest current player are almost ridiculous, but Pujols never seems to disappoint. He put his typically outstanding statistics in 2010, and they would be enough to win the MVP in many other years.
Although Pujols failed to win his fourth NL MVP Award, he was quick to congratulate fellow first baseman Joey Votto on his accomplishment.
“I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Joey on winning the National League MVP Award,” Pujols said. “As a player, you like to see how other guys improve, and I’ve noticed that with him — he just keeps getting better and better. Joey is an outstanding young player that works extremely hard both on and off the field, and I’m proud to welcome him to the family.”
Pujols’ second place finish will not go unnoticed when it’s all said and done, as it only solidifies his legendary status in history. 2010 marks his fourth career second place finish, which, combined with his three MVP wins (2005, 2008, & 2009), matches the totals of Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial. Pujols has finished either first or second in MVP balloting in seven of his ten MLB seasons, and he has never finished outside of the top ten. Just saying this makes me take a step back and admire just how unbelievable Albert is in comparison with some of the game’s all-time greats.
For Votto, on the other hand, the road to success has been anything but easy. After finishing runner-up in the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year voting, Votto was primed to have a breakout season in 2009. However, Votto missed 31 games that year due to anxiety and depression issues after the sudden death of his father late in 2008. He still managed to put together a solid 2009 season, but Votto admits that he initially had some difficulties getting over the loss of his father.
“I had a really, really difficult time I guess getting over the death of my father,” Votto said. “It’s still difficult for me sometimes now. It’s hard when you lose someone in your life that means so much. It was a difficult 2009 and quite a bit less difficult in 2010, and I think that was definitely a big reason why I was able to stay on the ballfield every day and succeed and make progress and feel better about life.”
Even after Votto put up great numbers during the first half of the 2010 season, he was left off the original NL All-Star roster. It took 13 million fans on MLB.com’s final vote to get him a spot on the all-star team, which he clearly deserved. After fighting through all of the adversity, Votto, who was born in Toronto, is now just the third Canadian to win the MVP Award, joining Larry Walker and Justin Morneau.
When I originally heard that Joey Votto had received 31 of the 32 first place MVP votes, I must admit that I was a bit surprised. I did think Votto deserved the honor, but not by such a large margin. In my opinion, you could make a case for both players to win the award. Perhaps the deciding factor for the voters, Votto led Cincinnati to their first division title since 1995, which, oddly enough, was the last time the Reds had an MVP winner (Barry Larkin). Votto’s extremely clutch hitting may also have played a role in the outcome. He hit .369 with runners in scoring position and had 34 go-ahead hits in 2010.
Following Votto and Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Troy Tulowitzki finished third, fourth, and fifth respectively in the voting. Carlos Gonzalez won the batting title with an amazing .336 average, and he came up with many clutch hits down the stretch for Colorado. Between him and Tulowitzki, the Rockies will be a scary team in the near future. Matt Holliday and Adam Wainwright also received some consideration for the award, finish 12th and 17th respectively.
If nothing else, the 2010 postseason awards have shown us just how loaded with talent the National League is right now. Joey Votto is just 27 years old, and I expect his production to continue to increase from year to year. At the age of 30, I wouldn’t bet against Pujols reaching Barry Bonds’ record of seven MVP Awards. It turns out that in the year of the pitcher, there were some pretty darn good hitters out there too. There has been at least one Cardinal in the mix for every award this year, and now it’s time for all of this talent and production to translate into a strong bounce-back 2011 season.