PHOENIX, AZ: Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on during batting practice before taking on the Milwaukee Brewers in Game Three of the National League Division Series at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
You know, sometimes things just work out. Kismet, of sorts. Or subconscious brilliance, springing from one's very own mind. But enough about me.
When thinking about prospective Most Valuable Players in the American League this season, my own mind lit upon two names (and the supremely talented creatures to which they are attached):
Now, those might strike you as strange choices. Last year in the National League, Pujols finished just fifth in the National League's Most Valuable Player balloting, and he's now another year older and in the tougher baseball league. Meanwhile, Longoria, already in the Big Boy League, finished 10th in the MVP balloting.
But I just couldn't get excited about last year's top candidates in the American League.
Cano's and Ellsbury's and Granderson's seasons were all out of character. Bautista's Bautista, but if he couldn't win last season (or the season before) he probably can't win. Not on a fourth-place team. Cabrera's a great hitter, of course. And he might get extra credit for playing third base -- assuming he lasts the season there -- even if he's terrible at third base. And Verlander isn't going to win 23 games again, which means he won't win the MVP Award again. Probably won't get even a single point in the voting, actually.
So among that group, I give Cabrera the best chance. But he led the American League last season in home runs and batting average and still finished fifth. He might have to win the Triple Crown to be MVP.
Now, back to Pujols and Longoria. Those guys just popped into my head, when the question first came up. Why?
When looking for MVP candidates, you're essentially for guys who drive in a lot of runs for playoff teams. You're also looking for great players, generally.
The best way to measure talent isn't just looking at last year. Things happen in one year. Things happen in two years, too. And three years. But looking at three years will tell you more than looking at one year, or two years.
That's my story, anyway. So after coming up with Pujols and Longoria but before writing these words, I went to FanGraphs and sorted all major-league hitters by Wins Above Replacement, 2009-2011. Wanna guess who leads the way?
1. Albert Pujols (21.5)
2. Evan Longoria (21.3)
Dang I'm smart.
Or lucky. Mostly lucky, I suppose.
Seriously, though ... Do you have two better candidates?
I have chosen Pujols as the No. 1 candidate, but only because a big chunk of Longoria's value is his glove at third base, and MVP voters don't really care about such trivial matters.
But Longoria's still only 26 and he hit in terrible luck last season -- thus, his .244 batting average -- and he just seems about due for the monster hitting season that he's not quite had yet.
So those are my guys in the American League. Remember, you read it here first.
Meanwhile, the National League's a bit trickier.
Here are the six best N.L.ers over the last three seasons, WAR-wise:
There's a big gap between Zimmerman and Matt Kemp (14.3), the next guy on the list.
Do you love any of those guys? Utley's out, of course. Holliday's not a young man, and isn't likely to stand out from good-hitting teammates. Braun ... well, that's problematic. Zimmerman's coming off an injury-plagued season and even if he comes back super-strong the voters won't appreciate his defense.
Which leaves Votto and Tulowitzki, neither of whom play for a team likely to make the playoffs.
Oh, one more name for you ... Justin Upton, who is Dave Cameron's pick. Upton's right behind Kemp on the three-year WAR list, and played MVP-caliber baseball in 2009 and '11. And while he picked up just a couple of MVP points in the former season, last year he finished fourth. So the voters do seem to appreciate him.
I make the top three candidates Votto, Tulowitzki and Upton. But not necessarily in that order. The National League Most Valuable Player Award might hinge, as it so often does, upon how well the candidates' teammates play.
That makes sense, right? Why judge a player completely on his own merits?
Who's going to be the National League's MVP this season?
Joey Votto (127 votes)
Justin Upton (115 votes)
Matt Kemp (52 votes)
Troy Tulowitzki (71 votes)
Another National League star! (131 votes)
496 total votes