11/23/09 11:46 AM EST
Fielder a Prince in King Albert's court
First baseman would be MVP front-runner any other year
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
Pujols is an incredible player who had an incredible year, and he's widely expected to win the league's top honor when the result of the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote is announced at 1 p.m. CT. Pujols, who led the Majors in 2009 with 47 home runs, 124 runs scored, a .658 slugging percentage and a 1.101 on-base plus slugging percentage, would be a third-time winner.Under almost any other circumstances, Fielder could be a front-runner. Consider his case: With a two-homer effort in the Brewers' season finale in St. Louis, Fielder finished with 141 RBIs, tying the Phillies' Ryan Howard for the Major League lead. After Fielder's ninth-inning homer tied the Brewers-Cardinals regular-season finale in the top of the ninth inning, he was issued an intentional walk in the 10th that cost him an opportunity to tie Pujols for the home run crown. Instead, Fielder finished second with 46 blasts, and he also finished second in the Majors to Pujols in total bases (356) and slugging percentage (.602). Only Minnesota's Joe Mauer came between Fielder's 1.014 OPS and Pujols' league-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. Asked which of those statistical achievements were the source of the most pride, Fielder didn't flinch. "Driving in runs, because that's my job," Fielder said. "It's not necessarily hitting home runs. My job is to drive in runs. I'm happy about the fact I was able to do that this year." The consistency with which he drove in runs was remarkable. Fielder didn't go more than three games without an RBI until June 20-23. He had only one more four-game drought until Sept. 14-18, when opponents kept Fielder in check for five games. Outside of those mini-droughts, Fielder was a run-producing machine. On Sept. 19 against the Astros, he notched RBI No. 127 on an eighth-inning sacrifice fly to set a new Brewers record. The previous record-holder, Cecil Cooper, happened to be managing in the visitor's dugout. "It's a cool achievement, just to be lumped with a guy like 'Coop,'" Fielder said that day. "He's a great player, and this organization has had a lot of great players." The Brewers have had three league MVPs. Mustachioed closer Rollie Fingers won the American League MVP in 1981 and shortstop Robin Yount followed in 1982. Yount won again in 1989, this time as a center fielder. The Brewers moved to the NL in 1998. Fielder's best finish was in 2007, when he belted 50 homers and ran third in NL MVP balloting. Other NL MVP hopefuls this year include the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez, who led the league with a .342 batting average, and Howard, who tied Fielder for the RBI crown while posting his fourth straight 40-homer season and leading the Phillies to the World Series for the second straight year. The Cubs' Derrek Lee rediscovered his power stroke and batted .306 with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs. 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. Pitchers will get some votes, including NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and Cardinals co-aces Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Don't forget about fellow Brewer Ryan Braun, who batted .320 with 32 home runs with 114 RBIs 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. Braun led the league with 203 hits. He got hot in the final week, batting .429 in an eight-game hitting streak to close the season. Braun became the fourth Brewer to reach the 200-hit plateau and the first in 18 years. "That wasn't one of my goals at the beginning of the year, but with the season winding down and it became attainable, it certainly became something I was focused on every day," Braun said. "It's an amazing accomplishment. It speaks to consistency, and I always talk about how that's my goal. I'm very proud, very pleased." Braun took some pride for playing a part in Fielder's RBI total. "He deserves 99 percent of the credit, but it's nice to have contributed," Braun said. "One of my goals was to improve my on-base percentage and take my walks, and I was a lot better at that. But let's be honest, Prince was incredible and he deserves all of the credit. "He's a great player. 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." Fielder will have more opportunities to win the MVP Award. He won't turn 26 until May.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.