As baseball season comes to a close, we as fans are presented with several questions. What is the playoff picture going to look like? Who is going to make it to the World Series? What the hell happened to the Red Sox? This is also the time when we start to predict who is going to win the MVP for the AL and the NL.
Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, José Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays and Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox have all had fantastic seasons, and are all seemingly deserving of the award based on stats alone. But the award doesn’t go to the player with the best stats. It goes to the player with the best stats who has meant the most to his team and came up strong in the clutch.
First, we have the Toronto outfielder Bautista, who followed up a career year in 2010 with a spectacular 2011. He didn’t approach his 54 home runs from a year ago, but 43 is nothing to sneeze at. And this year, he added a new facet to his game: a decent average. Though he displayed great power last season, he hit a mediocre .260. This year he’s set to finish the season with a .304 average and a .449 on base percentage, almost 100 points higher than last season. A guy with that much power that also gets on base that often is always going to give you a chance to win. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays are nowhere near the same area code as the first place Yankees. Bautista, while a great player, did not do enough to make his team a contender, and for that reason he will not win the AL MVP.
Adrian Gonzalez is in a similar boat. He’s having a fantastic season. The first baseman leads the Red Sox and is third in the AL in batting average (.338) and RBIs (117), is third on the team in home runs (27) and ranks in the top 10 in runs scored and slugging percentage. But he’s gone 6-22 over the last week with one RBI and no home runs. Those are not MVP numbers, and this is the time when MVPs step up.
Justin Verlander has a decent shot at winning the award. He is 24-5, and is first in the AL in wins (24), ERA (2.40), strikeouts (250), innings pitched (251) and WHIP (.92). But the Tigers don’t live and die by him. The rest of their pitching staff has also fared well this season, and they hit as well as any team. In any case, it will be tradition that kills his chances. History has shown that it is difficult for pitchers to win the AL MVP. The last AL MVP that was a pitcher was Dennis Eckersley of the 1992 Oakland Athletics.
That just leaves us with Ellsbury, who not only deserves that award but is going to win it. The Boston outfielder has had a monster season. He is fifth in the AL in batting average (.322), fifth in home runs (32), sixth in RBIs (105) and fourth in steals (38). Still, more importantly, he is the only reason the wild card race came down to the last game of the season. His 14th inning home run against the Yankees on Sunday kept them one game up in the wild card race at the time. Without that win, they would have been one game down with one left to play and all but eliminated from contention. Over the last seven days, while the rest of the team struggled, he has gone 11-28 with four home runs and seven RBI. If the Red Sox do make the playoffs, the MVP trophy is his, but even if they fall short, Ellsbury will win it for putting the team on his back.