MLB History: Revisiting the Wild 2006 NL MVP Race

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Throughout MLB history, there have been many questionable award winners. Few award races, though, were as highly debated as the 2006 NL MVP race. That season, the National League was loaded with stars on the mound and at the plate, however, many thought the wrong player was voted MVP. Here, we will re-rank the top 10 of this race and the way the players should have finished.

MLB History: The 2006 NL MVP Race

The top 10 finishers of the vote didn’t exactly line up with the statistics that most people rank players based on such as WAR. Some voters also value team performance when voting for MVP, which may explain why a relief pitcher managed to finish 10th in voting, and how four Mets players finished in the top 12.

10. Garrett Atkins, COL (Real Finish: 15th)

In the real vote, Trevor Hoffman finished in the #10 spot. While he was fantastic and is one the best relievers in MLB history, he was far from being worthy of a top-10 finish in the race. Atkins on the other hand had a career year in 2006. He hit a strong .329/.409/.556 (136 OPS+) with 29 homers, 48 doubles, and 120 RBIs, while walking more times than he struck out. Atkins also put up 5.0 rWAR, which is actually greater than his career total of 4.0 rWAR. Atkins likely got overlooked due to his home stadium being Coors Field and his team only going 76-86.

9. Andruw Jones, ATL (11)

Jones had his second consecutive strongest season in 2006, batting .262/.363/.531 (126 OPS+) with 41 homers and 129 RBIs. He also put 5.6 rWAR and won a Gold Glove while racking up a 12 DRS. Unfortunately for Jones, the Braves only finished 79-83 and their dominant run of 14 consecutive division titles, which is one of the most impressive stretches in MLB history, came to an end.

8. Ryan Howard, PHI (1)

Don’t get me wrong, Ryan Howard had a fantastic season in 2006. He followed up his Rookie of the Year winning season by hitting .313/.425/.659 (167 OPS+) with an MLB-best 58 homers and 149 RBIs. The 36-homer increase from his previous season represents the largest increase in homers in MLB history. The BBWAA recognized Howard’s performance by voting him as the NL MVP. You may be wondering, how does the NL MVP winner rank so low in this re-rank?

Howard only ranked outside of the top 10 in the NL in rWAR at 5.2. He also played below-average defense at first base, logging -9 DRS. Stark Raving Sports recently put together a video on Howard’s career, in which they detail a terrifying 16-game stretch from Aug. 23rd through September 8th where Howard hit .464/.569/1.214 with 13 homers and 26 RBIs.

Over the final three weeks of the season though, Howard only hit two homers, and the Phillies couldn’t catch the Dodgers for the NL Wild Card. While this was still one of the best power-hitting seasons in MLB history, Howard was far from the best player in the NL.

7. Miguel Cabrera, FLA (5)

Miguel Cabrera is widely regarded as one of the best hitters in MLB history. Younger fans probably recognize him from his days in Detroit, but he was already a great hitter in Miami. In 2006, the 23-year-old Cabrera hit .339/.430/.568 (159 OPS+) with 26 homers, 50 doubles, and 114 RBIs. While Cabrera was a subpar defender (-10 DRS at third base), he still put up 5.8 rWAR –– beating Howard in that category. Unfortunately for Cabrera, the Marlins only went 78-84 that season, which probably cost him some votes.

6. Jose Reyes, NYM (7)

Reyes had arguably the best season of his career in 2006. The electrifying shortstop hit .300/.354/.487 (115 OPS+) with 19 homers, 30 doubles, 17 triples, and 64 stolen bases. Reyes had a 5.9 rWAR and led the majors in triples and steals. He was a big reason why the Mets were able to win 97 games and capture the NL East crown.

5. Lance Berkman, HOU (3)

Lance Berkman had the best season of his illustrious career in 2006. The slugging switch-hitter hit a scalding .315/.420/.621 (163 OPS+) with a career-best 45 homers and 136 RBIs. He also racked up 6.0 rWAR –– though that is likely weighed down because his defense in the outfield was less than stellar and he actually had to move to first base. Berkman also put up these numbers while having almost no protection in his lineup, as the Astros only ranked 12th in the NL in runs scored. Perhaps Berkman would have received more votes if the defending NL champs didn’t miss the playoffs too.

4. Alfonso Soriano, WSH (6)

2006 was Alfonso Soriano‘s lone season with the Nationals, and he made it count. He hit .277/.351/.560 (135 OPS+) with 46 homers, 41 doubles, and 41 steals. Soriano put up 6.1 rWAR and became just the fourth player in MLB history to record a 40-40 season. This was also Soriano’s first year as an outfielder, and he racked up 22 assists and a strong 18 DRS. The Nationals were a last-place team though, and very rarely has a player won MVP while on a last-place team.

3. Chase Utley, PHI (7)

It’s a little crazy that the Phillies had two players in the top 10 of MVP voting, yet they missed the playoffs. In terms of pure hitting, Howard had Utley beat, however, Utley was a fantastic defender, racking up an 18 DRS at second base. Overall, Utley hit .309/.379/.527 (125 OPS+) with 203 hits, 32 homers, 40 doubles, 15 steals, and 102 RBIs. Utley’s 7.3 rWAR ranked third among NL position players, proving that Utley, not Howard, was the Phillies best all-around player.

2. Carlos Beltran, NYM (4)

Carlos Beltran infamously became part of MLB history in 2006 for striking out while looking to end the NLCS. Looking past that though, Beltran had a career year. He hit a strong .275/.388/.594 with a franchise-record tying 41 homers, 38 doubles, 16 steals, and 116 RBIs. Beltran was also fantastic in the field, racking up 13 DRS and earning a Gold Glove. His 8.2 rWAR stands as the second-highest single-season total in franchise history. On a team filled with great hitters, Beltran was the best player on the Mets’ roster.

1. Albert Pujols, STL (2)

One of the greatest sluggers in MLB history, Pujols had arguably the best offensive season of his career in 2006, yet somehow he didn’t win MVP that year. He hit a scalding .331/.431/.672 (178 OPS+) with a career-high 49 homers and 137 RBIs. Pujols led the NL in rWAR, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+, and he walked 92 times against just 50 strikeouts.

Pujols also won a Gold Glove while racking up 17 DRS at first base. He had Howard beat in every offensive category except for homers and RBIs. Furthermore, the Cardinals snuck into the playoffs and stunned the baseball world by winning the World Series.

MLB History: Albert Pujols Got Robbed

If the MVP Award was based on just power-hitting, then Ryan Howard would have fully deserved this award. His numbers for this season are some of the most impressive in MLB history. Taking a closer look though, as Albert Pujols had a much more impressive season and had a better case for the award. The National League in 2006 was loaded, but Pujols was the best player not just in the NL, but in all of MLB.

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.