Votto vs. Zimmerman: What does it mean to be the MVP?

It’s the age-old debate. What are the qualifications to be named the league MVP? Some say it is the player who puts up the biggest numbers and is the most outstanding player, while others argue it is the player that means the most to their team, a player that essentially wills and carries their team to heights that would not be possible without their presence.

Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds took home the NL MVP honor on Monday, ending the two-year reign of Albert Pujols who placed in second, with Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez finishing in third.

That got us thinking here at The Nats Blog, how does the Nationals Ryan Zimmerman compare to Votto in his 2010 MVP season? As sabermetrics continues to have a growing presence on the game, it is only fitting we use it to help us get to the bottom of this matter.

One of my favorite sabermetric measures is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, and that is the stat we will be using in our comparison. WAR measures the true value of a player to their team by wins and losses. What better way to determine the impact of a player than their affect on the teams record?

For National League hitters, Pujols led pack with a 7.2 WAR. Votto finished third overall behind Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez with a 6.2 WAR. Zimmerman had a 5.3 WAR in 2010 and finished sixteenth in MVP voting. So should Zimmerman really be in the argument for MVP?

Team performance is the deciding factor for many voters. For example, if it was the St. Louis Cardinals who reached the playoffs this year instead of the Reds, then Pujols most likely would have landed his fourth MVP award, and third in a row. Unfortunately for Zimmerman, the Nationals record is nothing to brag about and the team hasn’t had a sniff of the playoffs since their relocation to DC.

I think the voters got it right this year, with Votto and Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers taking home the American League honor. If you take those two players away, their teams simply would not have reached the same heights, and for Hamilton that was a surprise run to the World Series.

Zimmerman certainly has MVP potential, but his team needs to win and he needs to put up bigger numbers. That’s a lot to ask for. To win the MVP you either need to be a legend like Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols, or have a career year like Ryan Howard or Jimmy Rollins. What all of those players have in common is that for the most part, they led their teams to post-season appearances.

This was Votto’s year. I don’t even think there is a comparison between him and Zimmerman. Its hard to evaluate the best player on the worst team, so that’s why I don’t think players on losing teams really deserve to take home the honor. Wins are in the Nationals future, but when they come, Bryce Harper will be viewed as more of an MVP candidate than Zimmerman. Quite an interesting situation if you think about it.