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Troy Tulowitzki: NL MVP?

On Friday, we recorded our latest version of the podcast, which focused on the postseason awards. During the discussion, I suggested that I’d lean toward voting for Troy Tulowitzki, and that was before he launched two more home runs on Saturday. His numbers in September are just crazy good(.357/.407/1.000, .577 wOBA), and he’s a big reason why the Rockies are right back in the NL West race. But I’m not throwing my support behind him just because he’s bashing the baseball of late; I think there’s a pretty decent argument to be made that he’s been the league’s best player, even after accounting for the time he spent on the disabled list.

I think we can probably all agree that he’s been the best player in the NL on a rate basis. His .420 wOBA ranks second to Votto in the NL, and he’s a shortstop. Yes, his numbers get a boost from Coors Field, but his park adjusted wRC+ is still a fantastic 158, and translates out to 42 runs above average per 600 plate appearances. Votto’s 174 wRC+ translates out to 53 runs above average per 600 PA, leaving a gap that is easily overcome by the difference in scarcity between SS and 1B.

Of course, Votto actually has 600 PA (611, actually), while Tulowitzki has racked up just 476 trips to the plate this year. While Colorado’s shortstop has been the league’s best player when he’s been on the field, Votto has a significant edge in playing time, which is why he’s right there with Ryan Zimmerman at the top of the WAR leaderboards, and why he’s likely to win the award.

Even with Votto holding a +1 win advantage by WAR, I still think a vote for Tulowitzki is justifiable. WAR is more blunt hammer than precise chisel, so while it does a great job at telling you whether a player is good or bad, it is not designed to be used to separate out small differences among players having similar seasons. Votto’s +7.0 WAR isn’t so much better than Tulowitzki’s +6.1 WAR that we should definitely say that Votto has been more valuable. The best interpretation of those two numbers is that both have been fantastic, and that there’s room for discussion about which one has been better.

While we’re obviously big proponents of the usefulness of Wins Above Replacement, we do not encourage the use of it as a definitive ender of discussion when the subjects are within the margin of error. It’s one thing to use WAR to declare that Votto has clearly been better than, say, Aubrey Huff, but its another to state that it is perfectly accurate down to the decimal point. Votto and Tulowitzki are both good candidates, as is the always overlooked Ryan Zimmerman. To me, it is not nearly as clear cut which one should take home the trophy as it is over in the American League. I think reasonable cases can be made for all of them, and given the level to which Tulowitzki has been performing, it’s likely that the gap between he and Votto will decrease even more before the season is over.

Quantity or quality? Tulowitzki has the latter, having shown himself to be the NL’s best player when healthy. Does the time spent on the DL hurt his value? Certainly. But I think he might be the NL MVP anyway.