By Tommy Rancel //
For years, Albert Pujols has reigned over the first base position in fantasy baseball. Sure, there are plenty of productive players at the position, but the order on most draft boards usually goes something like Albert Pujols…and no one else until several spots later. After posting a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .312/.414/.596 with 42 home runs and 118 RBI last year, Pujols is showing no signs of slowing down.
But a new challenger arrived in 2010. Playing the same position and battling for the same division title, Joey Votto exploded last season, hitting .324/.424/.600 with 37 home runs and 113 RBI. He took home the National League MVP – edging out the second-place Pujols in the process. Votto’s performance was so impressive that the Reds just signed him to a three-year, $38 million contract, despite him being years away from free agency.
The showdown for supremacy at the position will be a battle for years to come. Though it seems like he’s been around forever, Pujols will be just 31 this season. Votto, 27, will be entering his fourth major league season and likely hitting the prime years of his career.
So who’s the better choice headed into 2011?
If you’re lucky enough to be faced with the dilemma of choosing between the two, there is no wrong answer. Both players will give your team a ridiculous amount of production in power, run production, and runs scored. They’ll each swipe a few bases and have proven to be durable, even with Pujols’ recent injury scares. There are a few non-traditional categories that might tip the scale just a bit toward one side, though.
As mentioned, both hitters’ slash lines, home runs, RBI, and runs scored were pretty close to a push last year. This will likely be the case going forward, but while we know Pujols can sustain these gaudy numbers on an annual basis, Votto will be looking to repeat his MVP performance for the first time. In addition to the questions about duplicating his numbers from a season ago, Votto also had a bit more luck in 2010 than Pujols did.
First, Votto’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last year of .361 was well above the league average of around .300, as well as Pujols’ BABIP of .297. The good news is Votto’s line drive rate of 20% supports at least some of that spike. On the other hand, the fact that he held such a high BABIP with a high percentage of groundballs (45%) – without the speed of Carl Crawford – is a concern. His average could hover around the .300 mark going forward, but probably not as close to .330 as it was in 2010.
Also helping Votto in 2010 was a ridiculous home run-to-flyball rate (HR/FB). Though he hit a relatively low number of flyballs (under 35%), a full quarter of them found their way over the fence. This type of outcome is not impossible, but only four players (including Votto) had a HR/FB rate over 20% in the NL, and he was the only player with a rate above 22%. Playing in one of the most home run-friendly ballparks works in his favor, but Pujols’ 18.3% HR/FB is a number that is much more likely to be repeated.
Choosing between Votto and Pujols is like picking between a Mercedes Benz or a BMW as your mode of transportation. Each is a luxury item and each is almost guaranteed to produce at a high level. However, even though Votto is poised to make a run at the throne, Pujols is a safer bet to keep the crown.
Long live the king!