Over his last 18 games, Derek Jeter has hit an absurd .460 with an on-base percentage near .500. He's also shown some more power recently, with five home runs in that span.
With an average of .333, an OBP close to .400, 23 stolen bases and 17 home runs, Jeter his having one of his best all-around seasons.
This recent surge has brought up some talk of Jeter winning the MVP. I've also heard a lot of people simply mention that he's having an "MVP-caliber season."
Predictably, many non-Jeter supporters call this notion ludicrous and a clear example of East Coast bias/Yankee favoritism.
As someone who thinks Joe Mauer is the clear AL MVP choice (you can look it up), the winning the MVP statement somewhat confuses me. However, the MVP caliber statement is dead-on accurate.
To wit: There are plenty of great MVP candidates this season. Jeter, Mauer, Justin Morneau, Mark Teixeria, Miguel Cabrera even a Jason Bartlett, whose numbers are eerily similar to Jeter's. So I can understand why people are hesitant to jump on the Jeter bandwagon.
However, some people get equally dismissive when the "MVP Caliber" season gets brought up. And the only thing I can think of is that people don't understand the term.
Having an MVP-caliber season does not mean you're going to win the MVP award. It simply means you're having a season that could, when looked at independently, win an MVP award in the right season.
For example, Ted Williams did not win an MVP award in 1941 when he hit .406 (which he probably should have), losing to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
Williams had an MVP-caliber season that year. So did DiMaggio. In the end, only one of them could win it. But if Williams had produced what he did in 1941 in say, 1944 (just as an example) those numbers would have been good enough.
Derek Jeter's having one of those seasons.
Dustin Pedroia 2008:
.326/.376/.493, 118 runs, 213 hits, 54 doubles, two triples, 17 home runs, 83 RBI, 20 SB
Derek Jeter 2009 (counting stats taken from the ESPN player page projection total)
.333/.396/.479, 114 runs, 219 hits, 29 doubles, one triple, 22 home runs, 76 RBI, 29 SB
Other than a big difference in doubles, the overall numbers are pretty dead even. Pedroia's slugging percentage is higher, but Jeter's on-base percentage is higher. Pedroia's projected to have more RBI, but Jeter will finish with more homers and steals.
If Dustin Pedroia's 2008 performance is MVP worthy, then clearly Derek Jeter's 2009 season is of a similar caliber.
Again, I did not say Jeter deserves the 2009 award. He doesn't in my mind. Different seasons produce different MVPs.
In 2008, Dustin Pedroia wasn't going up against a catcher hitting .370 with a better OPS than everyone not named Albert Pujols.
If Derek Jeter had put together this season last year, Yankees fans and Red Sox fans would be fighting to the death about who deserved the award.
As it stands, Jeter's in the conversation. And who knows. Maybe this "bias" of writers and the Yankee "favortism" will put him over the top.
Note to all you Sabermetric fans who think the Yankees get the benefit of the doubt from voters: Derek Jeter led the American League in VORP (Value over replacement player) in both 2006 and 1999 (and ran away with the title in 1999) and has never won the MVP award.
So as the season winds down, and the MVP talk heats up, I hope this primer serves as a reminder that lots of players are MVP caliber, but only one gets the hardware.
Derek Jeter fits the former category, but not the latter.