The Most Valuable Player award is the most coveted individual award in all of baseball. It is, with only a few exceptions, awarded to the best offensive player on one of the best teams in the league. This year those four A.L. teams are the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, and Tigers. I'll exclude other deserving players like Jose Bautista because players on teams that are going to miss the playoffs must absolutely dominate the competition, and while Bautista is excellent, he's not head and shoulders above the rest.
The Rangers are a very good team that lacks a great MVP candidate this year because no one is having a monster season this year for the Rangers (maybe Michael Young if voters can look past his 11 home runs). The Tigers have an excellent M.V.P candidate in the absolutely dominant Justin Verlander. But the real battle is between the Yankees and Red Sox best players. As Adrian Gonzalez and Curtis Granderson are the clear front runners for the MVP.
And if the voting were to happen today, the choice is clear: Curtis Granderson is the MVP of the American League whether you are a disciple of sabermetrics or plain old-fashioned old school statistics.
Adrian Gonzalez and Curtis Granderson are both having excellent seasons.
The old-school stats for each:
|2011 - Curtis Granderson
|2011 - Adrian Gonzalez
The two things that stand out for Gonzalez immediately are the significant advantages he holds over Granderson in both batting average and on-base percentage, which are indeed important numbers. Average is now a much less important stat than it was a generation ago, but it still is flashy. On-base percentage is the new average and Gonzalez holds that advantage as well.
But even though Gonzalez leads in average and on base percentage he loses in the other major categories of runs scored, RBI, HR, and stolen bases.
Granderson leads the league in RBI AND runs scored (the player in second is Jacoby Ellsbury 28 less runs scored than Granderson).
Even though Granderson has nearly 50 less at-bats than Gonzalez has this season he has 15 more home runs and six more RBI. Even though Granderson has been on base considerably less than Gonzalez, he has scored 30 more runs. The argument that Gonzalez plays in a less important offense is not a viable argument in this scenario as the Yankees as a team have only scored 18 more runs than the Red Sox (they are first and second in runs scored, respectively).
What's the most impressive aspect of this?
Curtis Granderson has put up these numbers as a center fielder! I can't believe how little that is brought into the discussion. That should be almost a focal point of the M.V.P race. A center fielder!
First basemen are supposed to be hitters. Center fielders not so much.
The thing that has hurt Granderson is that he's not having an excellent season defensively, and the argument is that Brett Gardner should be the starting center fielder, which is valid. But as Joe Pawlikowski from fangraphs.com points out. Granderson may not be as bad as his defensive sabermetrics suggests.
One interesting issue Barbarisi raises is that of positioning. The following paragraph is particularly telling.
The way Gardner covers ground allows the Yankees to use different defensive alignments, shifting Granderson more toward right field in some situations because they assume Gardner can cover all of left-center.
Despite the shift, Granderson is responsible for the same zones as all other center fielders. While it’s true that he’s not debited for plays that Gardner makes in Granderson’s zones, Granderson also does not get the credit for those plays. 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
BBWA voters, it's cut and dry. As of today, the AL MVP is Curtis Granderson.