With roughly one month remaining in the MLB regular season, the AL MVP race is still quite a mess.
Jose Bautista has the support of the sabermetric community, the Red Sox have three viable candidates in Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez and even Justin Verlander, a pitcher, is drawing consideration from a number of sources.
However, we shouldn't forget about the Yankees' Curtis Granderson, who is having the best season of his career. Let's take a look at how realistic of a shot he has at taking home the hardware once all is said and done.
The strongest argument for Granderson being the MVP is his dominance in nearly all of the big statistical categories. He ranks first in the American League in runs and RBI, second in home runs, fourth in OPS and ninth in steals. None of the other candidates can boast that sort of dominance across that many categories.
The one major factor working against Granderson is his one weak category—batting average. His average currently sits at .275, which isn't bad, but certainly isn't good either. In fact, if Granderson won, it would be the lowest batting average by an AL MVP since Zoilo Versalles (who?) in 1965. The only player ever to win with a sub-.270 average was Roger Maris in 1961—as most of you know, that was kind of a special season.
Also taking away from Granderson's case is his defensive play this year. While he has been known to make some spectacular plays, he ranks in the bottom 10 among AL outfielders in UZR. Compare this to Ellsbury, who ranks second among outfielders and Pedroia, who is first among second basemen. For those of you who are wondering, Bautista sits in the middle of the pack.
Although Granderson might not seem like the most deserving candidate, that isn't what we're here to determine. The most deserving player won't necessarily win. Here's why:
Bautista, who is putting together an offensive season that blows everyone else out of the water, unfortunately plays for the Blue Jays. Alex Rodriguez is the only player since 1991 to win the AL MVP while playing for a non-playoff team. It's not really fair, but voters have historically punished players solely because they have a poor supporting cast.
Verlander, the only pitcher of the bunch, also has substantial odds to overcome. Roger Clemens, who won the award in 1986, is the only starter to win in the past 30 years. And unlike Verlander, who currently trails Jered Weaver in ERA by .10 runs, Clemens had the lowest ERA in the league that year.
Now we're left with a gaggle of candidates from the Red Sox. And therein lies the problem: They're bound to split the vote. If a voter is finding it difficult to decide between, say, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Granderson and Bautista, he or she most likely won't decide to put both Ellsbury and Pedroia above the other two.
For those voters who think the award should go to the best player on a contending team, they're much more likely to decide on just one Red Sox player as their top choice, followed by some of the other contenders from different teams.
Granderson has the luxury of being the easy choice for MVP of the Yankees, and therefore essentially their sole candidate to win the award.
Ultimately, I believe the award will go to Granderson as long as the Yankees win the AL East. If the Yanks win, he'll be the easy choice as "the best player on the best team." Even if the Sox take the division, I think Grandy has a great shot due to the factors outlined above, but it will likely be a very close race.
Remember, I'm not arguing Granderson should win—personally, I think Bautista is the easy choice, but that's a whole other article—just that I think, at this point, Granderson has the best chance at winning the AL MVP.