08 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 NL MVP

With all due respect to Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre, is there really any serious argument to be made for an NL MVP other than the San Francisco Giants' left fielder? Pujols had a remarkable season. He's the best hitter on the best team in the National League, and at the age of 24, with the most impressive four-year start to a career that anyone has ever seen, Pujols should be winning MVP awards long after Barry Bonds has retired.

But not yet. Bonds' 45 homers did not quite lead the league, as Pujols, Adam Dunn (46 each) and Beltre (48) all had more. But each of those players had about 200 additional at-bats in which to hit their homers, while Bonds was lucky if he saw one good pitch to hit per night. He was walked an astonishing 232 times, 34 more than his own record set two years ago. The league so feared Bonds that he was intentionally walked 120 times, more often than anybody else in MLB was even un-intentionally walked. Mickey Mantle was only intentionally walked 126 times in his career.

Bonds won his second batting title, hitting .362, 15 points ahead of his closest competitor, Todd Helton, who had the help of Coors Field for half his games. His .609 on-base percentage, an all-time record, was 140 points better than Helton, his closest competitor, and marked the fourth consecutive year he's led the NL in that category. Ditto for slugging percentage, though his .812 clip marked only the fourth highest season in history. Boo-hoo. His 1.422 OPS also set a record, and outpaced Helton's Coors-inflated mark by about 350 points. There was, literally, no competition for him.

The Giants, however, did not make the playoffs, and some people like their MVPs to come from playoff teams. They finished a mere two games behind Los Angeles though, competing for the NL West until the very last weekend of the season, during which he went 0-for-3 with seven walks. That's right, three at-bats in a weekend, as the Dodgers refused to let him beat them.

It wasn't for a lack of effort on Bonds' part that the Giants missed the playoffs. He hit .349 in September, but with only 13 RBI, as his teammates tanked down the stretch. He even struck out 12 times, almost twice his total from any other month in 2004, apparently trying to make something happen for his team. This is not a selfish player.

This is a guy who wants to win and did the best he could with a weak supporting cast to get to the playoffs. According to Lee Sinins' Baseball Encyclopedia, Bonds had 152 Runs Created Above Average, which easily paced the majors (Helton was second with 78). This happened also to be exactly the number of RCAA that the entire Cardinals team had. The Giants were +90 overall, meaning that the rest of Barry's team racked up a nifty negative 62 combined. Put an average left fielder in his place and the Giants are on a par with the Expos and Rockies. With him, they had a shot at playoff glory until the second to last day of the regular season, when "closer" Dustin Hermanson coughed up four runs in the ninth inning of a game the Giants led 3-0. Hey, SuperMan can't do everything himself.

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