As the MLB season draws near, it’s time to start making predictions if for no other reason than reflecting at the end of the World Series to see just how far off they were. Today, I will examine the MVP races and predict who I believe will hoist the award in November.
National League MVP: Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals
Sure, it’s easy to go with the chalk selection, but if history is any guide Albert Pujols is in for a monster 2011. In the offseason Pujols and the Cardinals were unable to reach agreement on a long-term contract extension. This means that Albert will be entering a contract year, and will be out to prove his worth, meaning you can expect a bump in Pujolsproduction in 2011. Historically, MLB players have experienced a between 10-20% increase in performance during their contract year. This can be partially attributed to the theory that players realize their performance that season year will directly affect the size of their next contract. While Pujols is the best position player in baseball and a consummate professional who gives 100% at all times, let’s assume for the sake of this projection that he lands in the middle with a 15% production increase in counting stats.Using his average over his past five seasons as the baseline (41.4 HR, 121.8 RBI, 111.4 R) Pujols may be in position to deliver MLB’s first Triple Crown season since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. With this bump, as well as increases in ratio statistics, Pujols 2011 season may very well look like this: .345 BA, 48 HR, 140 RBI, 128 R, .455 OBP, 1.126 OPS. A stat-line like that would excite more than just the Cardinals, baseball fans as a whole would be on the edge of their seats watching the great Albert Pujols chase history. Pujols main issues is that he’s become the Michael Jordan of baseball; clearly the best player in the league but penalized by MVP voters because of his consistent excellence. However, a Triple Crown season would certainly guarantee Pujols his 4th MVP award in mid-November.
American League MVP: Evan Longoria – Tampa Bay Rays
If American League pitchers were afraid of Evan Longoria before, they will be terrified to their cores this season and beyond. Longoria, already a 3-time All-Star is now just entering his prime. At 25 years-old, his eye at the plate is getting even better as reflected by his walk and strikeout rates, which have improved each of his first 3 seasons. As you would expect his batting average has also improved and he is in line for a major breakout 2011. He has yet to maintain a .300 average over the course of a full-season (a far-less important stat than it gets credit for, but a benchmark nonetheless), but I think that will definitely change in 2011. My stat-line projection for 2011 is: .309 BA, 37 HR, 126 RBI, 110 R, 15 SB, .395 OBP, .974 OPS. Aside from Longoria’s obvious excellent offensive skills, his Gold Glove defense at the hot corner for the Rays can’t be overlooked. Some naysayers will discount Longoria’s MVP chances because they feel Carl Crawford’s departure will negatively impact his RBI total; I see it quite a bit differently however. The Rays will still score runs, and an increased HR/Fly Ball rate (which was flukily down last season) will not only raise Longoria’s RBI totals, but will also vault him into the conversation as the best MLB player not named Albert Pujols. Expect Longoria to win multiple MVP awards in his possible hall-of-fame career, beginning with his first award in 2011.