We're down to the nitty gritty, the most important awards of all: the most valuable player. There's a wide open competition in the American League, which is where I'm going to focus on first. Names like Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox, Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees, Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers are the ones who you'll find at the top of most ballots across the internet. What did the OC's staff think of the race?
Midseason winner: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
1) Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (86 points, six first place votes)
2) Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox (72 points, two first place votes)
3) Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (62 points)
4) Justin Verlander, Tigers (60 points, one first place vote)
5) Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (53 points)
6) Curtis Granderson, Yankees (42 points)
7) Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox (34 points)
8) Ian Kinsler, Rangers (27 points)
9) CC Sabathia, Yankees (17 points)
10) Alex Gordon, Royals (14 points)
11) Evan Longoria, Rays (7 points)
12) Mike Napoli, Rangers (6 points)
13) Ben Zobrist, Rays (4 points)
14) Adrian Beltre, Rangers (4 points)
15) Robinson Cano, Yankees (3 points)
16) Jered Weaver, Angels (2 points)
17) Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians (1 point)
18) Dan Haren, Angels (1 point)
Here's the thing. Despite Jacoby Ellsbury leading baseball in fWAR (with an outstanding 9.4 mark), our staff chose to give the nod to Jose Bautista instead. Now, for those of you who realize that fWAR is kind of the be all and end all of a player's value, why did we choose Bautista over Ellsbury. Simple: offense. A good bit of Ellsbury's value comes from his defense, while Bautista loses a little bit defensively. But Bautista's offense is ungodly good. His OPS was 1.055, which led baseball by 22 points over Miguel Cabrera, another player whose value is sapped by his defense. The next highest player after those two was seventh place Adrian Gonzalez, at .957. That's right, there were only two players within 100 points of Bautista's OPS. That's pretty special. In case rate stats aren't your thing, Bautista also led baseball with 43 homers and 132 walks, which are baby Bondsian numbers. Bautista was a much less complete player last year, when he led the league with 54 homers. The career .254 hitter hit .302 in 2011, which shows a dramatic change in philosophy. Don't get me wrong, I don't THINK Bautista will win. The narrative is too strong behind guys like Ellsbury and Justin Verlander. But damn, Bautista was good.
Let's talk about the rest of the upper tier now. Ellsbury was a freak this year. He went 30/30 (32 homers, 39 steals) a year after getting just 84 plate appearances due to a rib injury. He drove in and scored over 100 times each (as a leadoff hitter, mind you). He played unreal defense in center field. Ellsbury was really, really good, and if he wins the award, I'm not going to complain about it. Speaking of really, really good, Cabrera was also excellent this season. He's a guy that has been so good for so long, that it's getting to the point where he's underrated, which is insane when you consider that he makes $20 million a year. 2011 was the best season of the 28 year old's career so far. He only hit 30 homers, his lowest output since 2006 when he was still a Marlin, but his batting average and on base percentage were both career highs (.344 and .448 respectively). He also walked 20 more times than he struck out, and struck out under 100 times. The season was insane, and it's almost criminal that he's not getting more attention.
I went over Verlander's season in detail yesterday when I was talking about him winning the OC's Cy Young unanimously. Putting his season forth in comparison to the league's hitters, his 7.0 fWAR would rank tied for sixth. The 24 wins seem like a nice shiny bauble to point at, but at the end of the day, a pitcher needs to have a Pedro in '99/'00 type of year to win the MVP. I don't think Verlander's season was really at that level. But it was still good. Dustin Pedroia's 2011 season is getting overshadowed by Ellsbury's year, but it was still a damn good season. He had excellent defense like Ellsbury, but didn't possess the power that Jacoby did (only 21 homers..."only", coming from a middle infielder. I should shut up now). He also stole 26 bases. It was a fine year for a fine player, especially after his disastrous 2010 season.
Curtis Granderson of the Yankees had a year that was getting a lot of publicity from the New York media, but at the end of the day, I can't rationally vote him ahead of Bautista. A lot of people are pointing at his total of 136 as somewhat significant, ignoring the fantastic lineup that he has behind him. Granderson still hit just .262 with a lower OPS than Ellsbury (.916 for Granderson, .928 for Ellsbury). He's not as good as Ellsbury, he's not as good as Bautista...all he has in his favor are the runs, which don't do a lot to change my mind. Gonzalez (yeah, ANOTHER member of the Red Sox...) was a strong MVP contender in the first half before falling off a bit in the second half. He still finished with a .958 OPS (tied for a career high) and a career high .338 batting average, but what the hell happened to his power? Leaving the cavernous Petco Park was supposed to help him immensely, but yet, his ISO was his lowest since 2006, his first season.
Ian Kinsler of the AL champion Texas Rangers got some support from our staff, despite a .255 batting average. He still managed to go 30/30 on the season, and was great defensively. With his batting average falling off though, Kinsler isn't getting much love from the mainstream media anymore, but he's still the same awesome player as always. Another pitcher got some love, with Cy Young runner up CC Sabathia finishing ninth in our voting. I covered Sabathia yesterday in the Cy Young voting. And how about Alex Gordon of the Royals, once left for dead as a prospect, having a fantastic year and garnering some MVP support? An .878 OPS, 23 homer, 17 steals, and if you really care, a Gold Glove is the makings of a solid season.
Touching on some of the others receiving votes...Evan Longoria started slowly and had a crappy batting average, but still hit 31 homers and had 99 RBI. Mike Napoli finally earned some consistent playing time in Texas, and absolutely crushed it with his boomstick. Ben Zobrist bounced back after a down 2010, and was fantastic defensively yet again. Adrian Beltre was a great free agent pickup who helped the Rangers get into the playoffs. Robinson Cano pretty much did what he always does at second base, and is starting to get a little underrated again. Angels pitchers Jered Weaver and Dan Haren got some love yesterday in the Cy Young voting, and helped nearly carry the Angels into the playoffs. Finally, Asdrubal Cabrera had a fantastic year for an Indians team that was left for dead coming into the season, and very nearly finished at .500
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