Can a player who is hitting .243 and is on pace to become the first player in major league history to strike out more than 200 times really be a legitimate MVP candidate? In short, probably not.
But here are some reasons why you could make the argument:
1) Howard currently leads the majors with 43 home runs and is on pace to finish the season with 47.
2) Howard's 129 RBIs are 20 more than the next closest player in the National League. He is on pace to finish with 142, which would be more than he had last season when he finished fifth in MVP voting.
3) He is currently hitting .307 with runners in scoring position, better than all leading candidates except Albert Pujols (.320) and Lance Berkman (.362). In fact, Howard is hitting almost 50 points higher with RISP than he did during his MVP year of 2006.
4) He is hitting .318 with two out and runners in scoring position, better than anyone except Berkman (.362)
5) He has played extremely well down the stretch when it matters most. No player has more than Howard's six home runs this month.
Here's an interesting email from loyal reader Chris Bovasso:
Recently I thought to myself: What would Ryan Howard's stats look like this year if he was hitting .300? This year he has 136 hits in 560ABs which is an average of .242. With those 136 hits he has driven in 129 runs and hit 43HRs this year...If instead, he had 170 hits in 560ABs he would be hitting .304....With 170 hits he would have 161 RBIs and 54HRs. (129RBIs/136Hits = X/170Hits and 43HRs/136Hits = X/170Hits - cross multiple it out...)
If you think about it with 36 more hits, which is just 1 hit more every FIVE games, his stats would be: .304, 54HR, 162RBI in 147 games which for a full 162 game season equals: .304, 60HR, 179RBIs. If you think about it further he has 43HRs with only 136hits, that is a 3:1 ratio of Hits to HRs...AND he has 129RBIs with 136 hits which equates to almost a 1:1 ratio. Crazy huh? I know this isnt terribly news worthy but I have to assume very few (if any) other players have statistics anywhere close to that.
Now, you know what they say: if a frog had wings it wouldn't bump its rear end. But it's interesting to think about.
Frankly, I think you can build just as strong a case against Howard as you can four him. Just start with the 208 strikeouts he is on pace for, and the fact that his .342 on base percentage pales in comparison to almost every other leading MVP candidate.
Here are some of the pertinent numbers from the contenders I have identified. If I've missed anyone, feel free to speak up and make your case.
Chipper Jones: .362 BA, .462 OBP, 21 HR, 71 RBI
Albert Pujols: .360 BA, .465 OBP, 33 HR, 100 RBI
Lance Berkman: .328 BA, .432 OBP, 28 HR, 100 RBI
Chase Utley: .288, .377, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 12 SB
Carlos Delgado: .264 BA, .349 OBP, 35 HR, 104 RBI
Ryan Braun: .295, .340, 34 HR, 96 RBI, 14 SB
David Wright: .296, .384, 28 HR, 109 RBI, 14 SB
It's really tough to make an argument against Pujols, particularly with the way the Cardinals have played this season compared to what expectations were for them. I'd put Pujols, Berkman and Delgado in my top three right now.