As the playoffs and award season gets underway, we want to take a gander at some players who had outstanding seasons in 2009 but whose teams ended up just shy of making the postseason and who will (most likely) not pick up any fancy trophies. Quite a consolation prize: a round of golf and a write-up on a low circulation sports blog.
First up, Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers as written by Larry Granillo of the blog Wezen Ball:
There's a certain feeling that crops up for many sports fans every year when awards-time comes around. Whether it's for the Hall of Fame, the All-Star game, or the annual post-season awards (MVP, ROY, etc), it's something that can't be avoided. It's the feeling that fans of a certain player or team get when they know that, although the player or team that they root for has had a season worth celebrating, it is not quite good enough to merit the award.
You hear it all the time: "Bonds is clearly the MVP this year, but it'd be nice if Beltran got some consideration" or "I don't think Harold Baines had a Hall of Fame career, but I'd like to see him stay on the ballot for a few years anyway." Call it the "consideration clause" or the "honorable mention". We as fans just don't like the "yes" or "no" nature of the "Is he a HOFer/MVP/All-Star?" question. There's a gray-area that we think needs to be filled in. Clearly there's no shame in not being the MVP in a year where Albert Pujols or Barry Bonds goes crazy, but the finality of the "no" is hard to get used to. So we try to qualify it, usually with something like "No, but I think he'll get some votes".
All of that is to say that, for Brewers fans, that's exactly how we're feeling about Prince Fielder this year. With Albert Pujols having another MVP season, Milwaukee fans really shouldn't be ashamed that Prince won't wind up with the hardware this year. But that doesn't mean that, when prompted, we won't give you all of the reasons why he could be the MVP if he didn't have the misfortune of competing against the best player in baseball every year. You can consider this post that argument - the lamentation of the silver medalist, if you will.
Here are Prince's final numbers: 46 HR, 141 RBI, 103 R, 110 BB, .299/.412/.602, 164 OPS+. It doesn't matter if you're a fan of the advanced or traditional stats - that's a fabulous line no matter what. He finishes second in the NL in home runs (one behind Pujols) and tied for first with Ryan Howard in RBIs. His walks are also good enough for fourth in the league, while the SLG, OPS and OPS+ numbers are second only to Pujols himself.
In many other years, any of those stats would be good enough for best in the league. As it stands now, it might just qualify him for best offensive season ever for a Brewer - though even that's not as clear-cut as you might imagine. The 141 RBIs and 110 walks are both easy club records (previous records were 126 and 99, respectively), while the 46 HRs are second only to Prince's previous career high set in 2007 (50 HR). The OBP and SLG numbers also put Prince in the top 5 of all-time Brewers seasons, while the OPS+ ties him for second. He is also the only player in the majors to play in all 162 games this season (and only fifth Brewer ever).
So who is Prince's main competition for best offensive season by a Brewer? There are some surprisingly strong seasons from a few unlikely sources - Tommy Harper hit 31 HRs with 104 Rs, 38 SBs, and a 146 OPS+ in 1970; Sixto Lexcano hit 28 HRs with 77 walks, 101 RBIs and a .321/.414/.573 line with a 164 OPS+ in 1979; Paul Molitor scored 114 runs with 41 doubles and a .353/.438/.566 line with a 161 OPS+ in only 118 games in 1987 (that's not all that surprising, I suppose) - but the answer shouldn't be a big shock. In 1982, Robin Yount had 29 HRs, 46 doubles, 210 Hs, 129 Rs, and 114 RBIs with a .331/.379/.578 slash line. Maybe that doesn't seem like as strong a season as Prince's 2009 at first, but, when you consider that it breaks down to 367 total bases (11 more than Prince) and a 166 OPS+, you realize just how fantastic of a season it was. Throwing in defense swings it wildly in Yount's favor, though that's hardly fair to the 260 lb. first baseman.
No matter how you place Prince's season on the all-time Brewers list, though, it's one to be celebrated and enjoyed. Otherwise we're back to where we started, spending too much time trying to rank and qualify his season in relation to others and not enough time appreciating what we saw. Instead of lamenting that he had to share his career year with YAAPMVP ("yet another Albert Pujols MVP"), go back to July and remember when he stole the Home Run Derby crown away from Pujols' in his hometown, or his September walk-off home run and (fantastic) celebration or even to the weekend at Miller Park that he broke the Brewers' single-season RBI and walk records in back-to-back games. It was truly a fun and amazing season for Prince and, no matter what happens this off-season, it's one that we'll remember for a long time, MVP trophy or not. Sometimes that's all that matters.
(Check out Larry's work at Wezen Ball.)