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Archive for Saturday, August 18, 2001

MVP voting could be tricky in NL

August 18, 2001

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Some of the great debates of our time:

Ginger or Mary Ann.

Tastes great or less filling.

Now we have another: Who is the National League's Most Valuable Player?

The candidates: Arizona's Luis Gonzalez, Chicago's Sammy Sosa and San Francisco's Barry Bonds.

This should be the closest MVP race in the National League since Pittsburgh's Willie Stargell and St. Louis' Keith Hernandez each received 216 votes in 1979 and shared the award.

Obviously, what happens in the next 112 months will determine the winner. If one of the trio puts an "S" on his chest and carries his team into the playoffs, as Oakland's Jason Giambi did last September, he'll deserve the hardware.

But if one of the three teams falls out of contention, its player's chances are shot. With no clear winner in the statistical comparison, a team's finish will get serious play. All three teams make the playoffs? Try rock, paper, scissors.

The relevant numbers:

Gonzalez: .344 batting average, 45 homers, 111 RBIs, .434 on-base percentage, 329 total bases.

Sosa: . 308, 43, 115, .425, 293.

Bonds: .307, 53, 106, .486, 295.

You can make a strong case for each player.

Bonds' numbers are phenomenal considering that he's had 96 fewer at-bats than Gonzalez and 55 fewer than Sosa. The reason? Bonds has been walked an NL-leading 120 times.

Much has been made of Gonzalez's quest to eclipse Babe Ruth's 80-year-old record for total bases. But if you add walks to each player's total why walks aren't included in total bases makes no sense Bonds has 20 more bases than Gonzalez and 31 more than Sosa.

Hurting Bonds is the fact he's almost exclusively a home-run hitter. Almost half of his hits have gone out of the yard. If Bonds was willing to change his swing and go to left field when teams put a shift on, his batting average might be 30 points higher.

Some people in San Francisco believe recently acquired Andres Galarraga has been more valuable than Bonds.

Sosa started slowly but has been a terror the past couple of months. He has four more homers and five more RBIs than Gonzalez since the All-Star break.

Most important, Sosa has put up MVP-type numbers while having little or no support from the rest of Chicago's lineup.

Until the Cubs acquired Fred McGriff from Tampa Bay late last month, their cleanup hitters were Matt Stairs and Ron Coomer. It's amazing Sosa got any fastballs to hit.

Conversely, Bonds has reigning NL MVP Jeff Kent for protection; Gonzalez has Mark Grace and Matt Williams.

You can paint Gonzalez's candidacy by the numbers. He's the only player in the NL to be ranked among the top three in batting average, homers, RBIs, runs and hits.

Only two National League players have accomplished that feat since 1970: Colorado's Larry Walker in 1997 and Houston's Jeff Bagwell in 1994. Both were named MVP.

So, who's the favorite with six weeks to go? Depends on your definition of MVP. If it's based on numbers, then Gonzalez gets the nod. He's clearly had the best statistical year of the three.

But if most valuable is the player whose team can't live without him, then it's not so simple.

Ask yourself this question: Which club would suffer most if it lost its MVP candidate? Love ya, Luis, but it's the Cubs. Which gives Sosa the edge.

But if Bonds breaks Mark McGwire's home run record, how can he be ignored?

Having said all this, my pick is ... Ginger.

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