AL MVP Award: Handicapping the Race and Picking a Favorite
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What does it mean to be the Most Valuable Player?
Every year the debate occurs. Does MVP mean the recipient was the best player in the league?
Or does it mean the player was the most valuable to his team?
Should the MVP voting take into consideration where a team would be without this player’s contributions?
Can a player whose team doesn’t make the playoffs win the award?
Or can or should a pitcher win the award?
Again, in 2011, those questions will arise during debates about who should be the American League Most Valuable Player.
In the discussion for the award are players on non-playoff teams, the best team in the league and (yes) a pitcher.
It will be an interesting race and there will be plenty of heated discussions on the issue until the day the award winner is announced. But here are the Top Four candidates to win the award:
FAVORITE: Jose Bautista, 3B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista has hit more home runs than anyone in baseball the past two seasons (97) and has 43 in 2011.
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This man has been arguably the best hitter in baseball for the past two seasons. In 2010 he hit 54 home runs to lead MLB and, to date, he has 43 home runs in 2011 which leads MLB again.
In 2010 Bautista only hit .260, which combined with his presence on a losing team, cost him the MVP award—which went to Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. But in 2011, his average stands at .303.
Again, the knock on him will be that his team won’t appear in the postseason. Voters put a lot of stock in making sure the MVP is a member of a playoff team— only one AL MVP in this century was on a non-playoff team (Alex Rodriguez in 2003 as the shortstop of the Texas Rangers).
Bautista has the numbers to warrant the award and if voters can look past his membership on a non-playoff team then this is your MVP.
Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees
Curtis Granderson leads the AL in RBI (119) and is second in home runs (41). He is also the best hitter on the best team in the AL.
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New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson is the best hitter on the best team in the American League. And that fact often trumps anything else any other candidate can offer.
Granderson’s 2011 season (.264 batting average, 41 home runs, 119 RBI, 24 stolen bases, .557 slugging percentage) came out of nowhere after a downtrodden 2010 campaign (24 home runs, 67 RBI, .247 batting average, 12 stolen bases), which was his first as a Yankee.
Granderson leads the AL in RBI, is second in home runs and is third in slugging percentage. If his batting average were closer to .300 then the race would be over: Curtis Granderson would be the AL MVP.
But his low batting average will probably cost him the 2011 AL MVP.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox
Jacoby Ellsbury has been one of the best hitters in MLB since July 1. Since then he's hit 22 home runs, driven in 63 runs and posted a .346 batting average since then.
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Boston’s center fielder has been one of the best hitters in all of baseball since the calendar turned into July.
July through September he’s hit 22 home runs, driven in 63 runs and compiled 113 hits in 327 at bats (.346 batting average) during that stretch.
The Red Sox haven’t helped out their center fielder as they are on the verge of missing the playoffs altogether, after having had a snug lead in the wild card race most of the season.
If Boston makes the playoffs Ellsbury has a better shot, but voters still may be turned off by how heavily the Sox have tanked. But Ellsbury still has a shot because he’s an all-around hitter in 2011: He's got power, speed and batting average.
DARKHORSE: Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander has the most wins in MLB (24) and leads the AL in strikeouts (250), ERA (2.40) and WHIP (.92).
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Does the best performance by an AL pitcher in this century warrant the AL MVP award and the Cy Young award?
That’s what voters have to decide.
Justin Verlander will finish the 2011 season with a 24-5 record, 250 strikeouts, a 2.40 ERA and a .92 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) in 251 innings pitched.
Verlander went through May, June, August and September undefeated. He hasn’t lost a start since July 15.
Verlander will win the AL Cy Young. But voters will be reluctant to give him the MVP award on top of the Cy Young. Twice in the past 30 years the AL MVP has also been the Cy Young winner. The last time a National League pitcher won the Cy Young and NL MVP was 1968 when Bob Gibson went 22-9, with a 1.12 ERA and 268 strikeouts.
To say the least, it’s extremely rare for a pitcher to win the AL MVP. Verlander should receive serious consideration, but he’ll come up short.