So today we'll find out if Andruw Jones is the first Brave to win the MVP award since the other Jones did it for Atlanta in 1999. It‘s unlikely Andruw will have as easy a time as Chipper did six seasons ago, when he got 29 of 32 first place votes.
There are not many seasons where the MVP race is a runaway or uncontested. Each year there are several candidates to win the honor, and this year is no exception. Jones faces stiff competition from Cardinals' first baseman Albert Pujols and Cubs' first baseman Derrek Lee.
Lee's Cubs did not do very well last season, so that really hurts his chances, even though he put up some great statistics. Since Pujols has been edged out by Barry Bonds for several seasons, some believe this might be his year. And therein lies the age old debate about what constitutes a most valuable player. Should it be reserved only for players whose team had a solid season? Should a player that's been passed over before get the nod? Should stats be the biggest factor in the decision? Or is the award really for the player that was the most valuable to his team?
If it's all about statistics, then Jones might be in trouble. His batting average was 67 points lower than Pujols and 72 points lower than Lee. His on base percentage was .347, while Pujols posted a .430 OBP and Lee had a .418 mark. Jones slugging percentage (.575) was lower than Pujols' (.609) and much lower than Lee's (.662). And forget about even looking at the OPS figures, where Jones was significantly lower than the other two.
Of course, Jones had the edge when it came to home runs (51 compared to 46 for Lee and 41 for Pujols) and RBI (128 to 117 for Pujols and 107 for Lee), but the statistically minded will try to convince you that for some reason those numbers just aren't important anymore.
But if the award was all about statistics, then they should rename it the Best Statistical Player Award, and you could argue over the three until you were blue in the face. That's not the name of the award, however, and that's what makes Andruw Jones the obvious choice.
Jones started out the 2005 season looking like he was on his way to one of his typical seasons. He had averaged 32.4 home runs and just under 100 RBI over the last seven seasons, but fans had always expected much more. So after the first two months of the season, when he had hit 12 home runs and driven in 30 in 187 at bats, it looked like Andruw was being Andruw.
But then, when Chipper Jones went down in early June with an injury, John Smoltz told Andruw that his team needed him. If the Braves were going to have any chance at winning their fourteenth straight division title, Andruw Jones would have to lead them. If he failed to produce with Chipper out, there was no way the Braves would make it back to the playoffs.
Andruw answered the call, and for the first time in his career, he became a leader. From June through August, he hit .308 with 31 home runs and 78 runs batted in. His production saved the Atlanta lineup. With Chipper out, and with a turnover at three positions (catcher, left field, and right field), the Braves' centerfielder made the Braves dangerous. At no point could a pitcher take advantage of the Braves with the big bopper doing his magic in the middle of the lineup.
I know. Albert Pujols had to pick up the slack also. Scott Rolen was out for the second half of the season, and there's no doubt that Pujols helped the Cardinals win anyway. But Andruw Jones did something that he had never done before. He stepped up when his team needed him the most, and his excellent production kept the team alive when it could have easily died a slow death.
Something should be said about being valuable, and even though I shared with you Andruw's numbers from June through August, those of us who watched him on a daily basis know what he meant to the Atlanta Braves - without the statistics. Andruw Jones turned the corner this season, becoming the player most everyone believed he could become at some point in his career. And he did it just when his team needed him the most. To me, that's being valuable, and that‘s what this award should be all about..
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andruw should win the MVP award
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