Jose Bautista or even Justin Verlander may have something to say about it, but the AL MVP race may very well come down to a neck-and neck duel between two fine center fielders.
They are men arriving at similarly impressive ends through different circumstances. For both Granderson and Ellsbury, however, 2011 has been about putting 2010 in the past.
The 30-year-old Granderson, in his second season in the Bronx, has reasserted himself among the game's elites after an inconsistent 2010 season. He has never hit this well for power, and he's on pace for a career-high on-base percentage.
Across the line is Ellsbury, who played in all of 18 games last season and came into spring training this February still needing to answer questions about his toughness and desire to play in light of his struggle with rib fractures last season. Ellsbury, who turns 28 next Sunday, answered his critics with a breakout year. Ellsbury's turned on the power this year, bringing to the table the fifth of baseball's classic five tools.
Jacoby Ellsbury, the fearsome home run hitter? Such a descriptor would have never been attached to Ellsbury before 2011, however the formerly power-deficient leadoff man has hit 24 home runs so far this season.
Prior to this season, Ellsbury had just 20 homers in 349 career games. Ellsbury's 35 doubles and 84 RBI this season are also an improvement upon his former career highs of, respectively, 27 and 60, his totals in those two categories from 2009.
Ellsbury's power surge has been a welcome and awaited addition to his offensive arsenal. Ellsbury has always been billed as a five-tool player capable of moderate power, but the results before this season had been far from spectacular.
And now? Well, his eye-catching power numbers are arguably the main reason why his name is in the AL MVP discussion.
While Ellsbury's power has exploded this season, it has not come at the detriment of his ability to hit for average and get on base.
Ellsbury's plate discipline has only improved this year, as reflected by an improved knack for drawing walks and making pitchers throw more pitches. His on-base percentage, currently at .372 through Sunday, would improve upon his career-high by nearly 20 points.
His .313 batting average is currently 12 points above his career-high in that category.
For all of the ink Ellsbury's improved batting has received this summer, it has been easy to forget that this guy is an absolute demon on the base paths.
His 36 stolen bases this season will come nowhere near his MLB-leading 70 from 2009, however he still ranks third in the AL this season, six off the pace of league-leader Brett Gardner of the Yankees.
Ellsbury's improved offense disposition has made him a more valuable member to the Red Sox lineup. Deep and potent as it is, it is undeniable that, in 2011, Ellsbury's taken on a larger role in the offense.
He's clutch: he's batting .347 with RISP and .373 with RISP and two outs. Ellsbury's had a couple of walk-off hits (one a home run), in back-to-back games last month against Cleveland.
The bottom line is that Ellsbury's blossoming talents as a power hitter this season have turned him into one of the more feared hitters in Boston's deep lineup.
Yet another factor in Ellsbury's MVP candidacy is his phenomenal defense. His 15.8 UZR is third-best in the AL this season.
As a little extra proof that this is a worthy UZR figure, Ellsbury's overall UZR since 2008 is 13.4.
What's been particularly impressive is that Ellsbury has been a rock in center this year while the teammates flanking him from day to day in the outfield have been far from consistent. Both Carl Crawford and J.D. Drew have missed considerable time this year.
It's now time to turn to door number two and the Yankees' Curtis Granderson...
Mr. Granderson found his power stroke last September, clubbing nine dingers in 2010's final full month. That success has carried over to this season: Granderson's 38 home runs are second only to Jose Bautista's 39.
Granderson is quick to give credit to Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, who spent considerable time working with Granderson on his swing last August, just prior to his September power surge.
It's worth noting that Granderson's home-away split on home runs is very even: 20 in the Bronx and 18 on the road. The friendly factors of Yankee Stadium aren't hurting Granderson's homer total, but they aren't inflating it either.
MLB award voting has come under scrutiny in this era of sabermetrics, which some favor over baseball's more traditional statistical measures. For his part, Granderson leads the AL in two classic baseball stat categories: runs and RBI.
Obviously, a player needs runners on base to drive them in and he needs strong hitters behind him to drive him in when he's on base. Granderson does not suffer for either, as say, Jose Bautista does up in Toronto. However, Granderson should receive his due justice for getting the job done at the plate and on the base paths. He has not stumbled in the spotlight of the Bronx this season.
Like Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson is getting on base at a career rate this season. Granderson's .375 OBP through Sunday is a slight improvement over his .365 OBP in 2008.
Granderson hasn't hit or drawn walks this well since 2008. In addition to his sterling OBP, he is currently batting .271 this season after batting a combined .248 over the prior two seasons.
Speed has never been as central to Granderson's game as it has been for Ellsbury's, but the former ain't too shabby, either.
Granderson's 24 stolen bases this season are only two off his career-best 26 swipes in 2007. And bear in mind that Granderson now plays in a less steal-friendly offense than he did back with the ’07 Tigers.
Granderson does not get much love in the UZR category, as Joe Pawilkowski of FanGraphs writes.
As mentioned earlier, Ellsbury has a very favorable UZR this season as well as over the past three.
Granderson, meanwhile, is rocking a -5.9 UZR in 2011-- that's just plain awful. Can C-Grand's defense really be that bad?
Pawlikowski writes how positioning might adversely affect Granderson's UZR:
Since UZR compares players on a positional basis, Granderson’s low UZR might simply be the product of him not making the same number of plays as his fellow center fielders. Since poor left fielders flank many of them, they have more opportunities to improve their UZR scores by making plays in the left fielder’s zone. Granderson has no such opportunity. Gardner is responsible for those zones, and he typically makes the plays.
Granderson had better UZR numbers during his Detroit days, and, yes, he has probably lost a step or two over the past few years, but he has not declined precipitously. He may not be as good as Ellsbury, but he's certainly not among the worst center fielders in the AL, as his UZR might suggest.
Ultimately, Granderson should take the cake if the AL MVP comes down to him versus Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury's defensive stats help give him an edge in WAR; at 7.7, he is second in the AL while Granderson is fourth at 6.8.
However, Granderson's superiority in virtually every important offensive category is the swaying factor. Granderson is simply more valuable to New York's winning formula. Granted, what Granderson has meant to the Yankees is not what Jose Bautista has meant to the Blue Jays or what Justin Verlander has meant to the Tigers, but it is more than what Ellsbury has meant to the Red Sox.