MLB Fan Cave Great Debates: NL Central 1B
Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols or Joey Votto?
If baseball blogs are supposed to inspire disagreement and conversation, I've been doing a damn fine job of that in the last couple of weeks. And I mean that in the best way possible. My blog comparing the five center fielders in the AL East earned me the ire of Red Sox Nation when I put Adam Jones ahead of their beloved Jacoby Ellsbury, and I got absolutely blasted by Phillies Phans for placing the 1-2 punch of Weaver and Haren above Halladay and Lee.
I'm loving the criticism, and in no way does being disagreed with hurt my feelings. In fact, it inspires me to write even more posts just like the last few. I want to get as many fans involved in these discussions as possible, so keep it up.
Next up, first base in the NL Central. We have some pretty incredible options to choose from. For the sake of this discussion, let's focus on the top three guys in the division: Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto. Between them, they have Gold Gloves, All-Star appearances, MVPs, home run titles, batting titles, and the list goes on and on. But which one would you want on your team? Let's break it down.
Prince Fielder hits the ball farther than anyone in baseball not named Mike Stanton. The guy even has an MLB commercial (link to video) that features him hitting a home run around the entire circumference of the planet. Maybe that's stretching his power a bit, but he still hits a baseball pretty damn far. He put on a show in Phoenix this year, and had Mikey and I running for cover on more than one occasion when his dingers went splash-down in the pool at Chase Field. He has one of the most powerful left-handed swings I've ever seen, and his home runs have that fantastic, majestic quality to them. No line drive home runs for this cat.
In 2011, Fielder has been the guy we've all come to expect, bashing 26 home runs and driving in 85 runs through Monday's games. He has also been a lot more consistent from an average standpoint, batting .304 and flirting with his first .300-plus season ever. Prince has also been one of the most dependable guys in the league when it comes to showing up everyday. Since becoming a full-time player in 2006, he has yet to complete fewer than 157 games in a season. Cal would be proud. Now, as with most great players, there is a caveat. The guy is not what we would call "nimble" around the bag at first. He is not going to threaten to win any Gold Gloves in his career, but he's steady. One last piece of advice about Prince: if you're playing first base, and the guy hits a groundball to short, and the throw pulls you into the baseline…just let it sail over. In the words of Jack Parkman, "You don't want to be standing on the tracks when the train's coming through." Just ask Brett Wallace.
What else can I say about Albert Pujols that hasn't been said, and said, and said again, and elaborated on? The guy is the best there is in the business. He is easily the greatest hitter of his generation, and I don't think anyone else even merits being in the discussion. His career batting line of .328/42/127 can only be described in one word: stupid. Almost every other guy in the League would kill to have ONE season that looked like that. Albert has averaged it for 11 years now. Ridiculous. The guy has three MVPs on his mantle, to go along with two Gold Gloves and six Silver Slugger awards. It's not enough to simply say that Phat Albert is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Hell, they might already have his plaque ready to go in Cooperstown. Just induct him after his farewell press conference and get it over with. Did I mention that he is also a Gold Glover? Well, it's worth talking about again. How is it possible for a guy who hits the way that he does to also play superlative defense? Some guys are just born to be ball players, I guess. Enjoy watching him while you can, folks, because guys like him don't come around very often.
Joey Votto, the new kid on the block. I want to see a show of hands. How many of you, outside of those in Cincinnati, had ever heard of Votto before he burst onto the scene in 2010? Anyone? I didn't think so. The guy simply erupted last season, stole the MVP away from Pujols, and (in what I imagine to be a very Clint Eastwood, "Unforgiven" sort of way) declared that there was a new sheriff in town. He single handedly led the Reds back to the Promised Land, and while they may have scuffled a bit in 2011, it's not because Votto has regressed. His home run total may have slipped a tad, but he's still on pace for 30 or so, and will top 100 RBI for the second consecutive season. He is the pride of Skyline Chili land, and for good reason. He is young (only 27), handsome (gotta love the Italian Stallion thing he's got going on), and is one of the best all around players in baseball. The Reds, even with their slight fall back to earth in 2011, have the feel of a team that will be in contention year in and year out in the Central, and Votto is the key component in that.
Alright, so we have our contenders. Now the tough question: who you got? Maybe I'll surprise some people, and I'm sure to catch some wrath from the Gateway City and the Land of Cheese, but I'm taking Votto. He is younger than Pujols, more complete than Fielder, and could be a cornerstone for any franchise. I will add one caveat. If this question were being posed five years ago, Pujols would be the pick hands down. Unfortunately, his recent injuries have me thinking that we are coming to beginning of the end for Albert, even though he should still have five or six years left at his current level. Votto should have ten of those years. And one more caveat. If I'm the GM of an American League team, and you'll give me the option to slot Prince in at DH in a season or two, I might give him a little more consideration.
But for now, my pick is Votto. Disagree? Let me know @rwags614.