Today's injury of Jacoby Ellsbury is very disconcerting for Red Sox Nation. Ellsbury's career year last year put him in the discussion as one of the best center fielders and players in all of baseball.
Although Justin Verlander won the AL MVP, I believe that Ellsbury was the most valuable player in 2011. Advanced statistics back this rationale up.
One advanced statistic that has become popular in baseball circles is WAR (Wins Above Replacement). WAR measures just that: how much a starting position player contributes to his team as opposed to just an average minor league player.
Ellsbury had a staggering WAR of 9.4 in 2011, the best by any center fielder in baseball since Griffey in 1997—that's 15 years.
The New York Yankee's Curtis Granderson easily had the best season of his career in 2011, but fell short of Ellsbury's war by 2.5. Matt Kemp (who I feel should have won the NL MVP—maybe another article sometime) had the second-best WAR (8.5) in all of baseball last year.
Not only was Ellsbury's season impressive with regards to others in 2011, but it also ranks as an historical season.
In the last 41 years (1970-2011), Ellsbury had the ninth-best WAR of any AL position player in one season. The names above him on the list are all Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers.
Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. are the only AL position players to post better WARs. Pretty good company.
Should Ellsbury have won AL MVP in 2011?
This statistic revolves around runs created and runs prevented, and estimates that Ellsbury's presence contributed between nine and 10 wins to the Red Sox relative to an average replacement. Nine to 10 wins can be the difference between fourth/fifth in a division and first/second.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox last year, they did come just short of making the playoffs in 2011. Along with Verlander's sensational 34 starts, this likely was the biggest deal breaker in making Ellsbury the league MVP.
Even traditional stats themselves back up Ellsbury's play: He had a .321/.376/.552 line with 212 hits, 119 runs, 46 doubles, 32 homers, 105 RBI and 39 steals.
Sure, Verlander had a phenomenal year, but Ellsbury created runs at a better rate than anyone in baseball. He also prevented runs with his glove in the outfield.
If you quantify this effect over the 158 games he played, he had a greater impact on the team's performance than Verlander could have and did have in 34 games, no matter how well Verlander pitched.