Fielder, Hanley chasing Pujols for MVP

Fielder, Hanley chasing Pujols for MVP

MILWAUKEE -- Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols led the Majors with 47 home runs, 124 runs scored, a .658 slugging percentage and a 1.101 on-base plus slugging percentage, perhaps the best measure of offensive production. The whole world is expecting him to be named the National League's MVP for the second consecutive year on Tuesday.

Including his closest competitors.

"Just look at his year," Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder said. "He's an incredible player."

"[Pujols] is No. 1 in the National League," said Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez. "He's a good player."

But in any other year, perhaps Fielder or Ramirez would be waiting for a call from the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the body of voters who decide the league's top honors.

For also-rans, Fielder and Ramirez, plus Ryan Howard of the Phillies, for that matter, had MVP-caliber years. Here's a look:

Fielder

With a two-homer effort in the Brewers' season finale in St. Louis, Fielder tied Howard for the Major League RBI crown with 141 and finished second among all Major League hitters to Pujols in home runs (45), total bases (356) and slugging percentage (.602). Only Minnesota's Joe Mauer came between Fielder's 1.014 OPS and Pujols' MLB-best mark.

At the same time, Fielder boosted his batting average to a career-best .299, a 23-point jump from the previous season. He walked a career-best 110 times. And he was the only player in baseball to appear in all 162 games.

"He's a great player," said Brewers teammate Ryan Braun, who bats in front of Fielder and should draw a few MVP votes of his own. "Look what he did defensively. He takes pride in his baserunning. He had an incredible year.

"He was right there with anyone in baseball. It was an MVP-type year, and probably the best year in Milwaukee Brewers history. It was incredible to watch every day."

Had Fielder put up his 2009 numbers in 2008, he might have had a chance to unseat Pujols as the league's MVP. Fielder would have trailed Pujols in batting average and OPS, but led him handily in home runs (Pujols hit 37 homers in 2008) and RBIs (Pujols had 116). Howard still would have won the homer and RBI crowns, but Fielder would have led handily in batting average, walks, slugging and OPS.

Plus, the Brewers made the playoffs in '08 and the Cardinals did not. Some writers weigh that fact heavily in picking their Most "Valuable" Player, including SI.com's Jon Heyman, who wrote in a column that he would have not voted for Fielder this year. he Brewers went 82-80 and missed the postseason. Heyman is not a participant in this year's MVP voting.

CANDIDATES BY THE NUMBERS
Pujols Fielder Ramirez
G 160 162 151
AB 568 591 576
AVG .327 .299 .342
R 124 103 101
HR 47 46 24
RBI 135 141 106
SB 16 2 27
OBP .443 .412 .410
SLG .658 .602 .543
OPS 1.101 1.014 .954

Speaking of great players left out of the playoffs:

Ramirez

Pujols, Fielder and Howard can hit the ball a country mile, but ask general managers around baseball who they would rather build around and many would choose Ramirez, the slick-fielding Marlins shortstop who doesn't exactly swing a light bat.

Ramirez led the NL in 2009 with a .342 batting average, 15 points better than Pujols' .327, tied for sixth in the league with 27 stolen bases and 106 RBIs all while playing a premium position.

When the Marlins and Cardinals met in September, Pujols said he was impressed.

"He has more tools than I have," Pujols said. "He can run. He has a great arm. He plays a position that you're expecting a lot from.

"But it's hard to compare players. I don't like to compare myself with anybody. I don't like anybody to compare themselves with me. Because it's hard."

Ramirez had been the Marlins' leadoff man, but in 2009 he moved into the No. 3 hole and produced his first 100-RBI season. During Spring Training, Ramirez, who is married to one of Pujols' cousins, asked the St. Louis slugger for advice.

Whatever Pujols said, it must have worked.

"Oh, he's much better than me," said Cubs great Ernie Banks, the Hall of Fame shortstop. "When I look at him play, I sit up there in the stands and in the press box, and I say, 'Boy, I wish that was me.'"

Ramirez will get more chances to win an MVP. He won't turn 26 until two days before Christmas, and last season signed a six-year contract extension that bought out his first three years of free agency. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Fielder won't be 26 until next May, and while he's under team control for two more seasons, the Brewers are plotting talks with agent Scott Boras about a contract extension. Those discussions might not begin until Milwaukee settles other offseason needs first.

Fielder and Ramirez certainly aren't locks to follow Pujols in a field of talented NL hitters. Howard had another big year, belting at least 40 home runs for the fourth straight season and once again leading the Phillies to the World Series. The Cubs' Derrek Lee rediscovered his power stroke and batted .306 with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs. Braun led the league with 203 hits and became the eighth player in Major League history with at least 100 runs, 100 RBIs, 200 hits, 30 homers, 20 stolen bases and a .300 average in the same season. Dodgers outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp each topped 25 homers and 100 RBIs and led Los Angeles to the NL's best record. Arizona's Mark Reynolds broke through with 44 home runs.

All of those hitters, though, are likely to follow Pujols when NL MVP results are unveiled on Tuesday.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.