Ok, to start with, this collection of top five most important players on the 2011 New York Yankees and New York Mets is not an MVP list. Nor is it the top five best players. Or the top five most productive. Instead, it's a hybrid, a mixture of most valuable, most surprising, someone who has filled a key role successfully or a player going above and beyond what was expected. The old saying "there's no such thing as a sure thing" may be true, but CC Sabathia is as much of a sure thing as there is on the Yankees. He's passed every test given to him in his time in New York, and he's head and shoulders above the others in the rotation, but he's doing what everyone thought he'd be doing, so he doesn't make this list. Robinson Cano is in the prime of a wonderful career, so is anything he's accomplished this year a surprise? He's surely important, but again, he's doing what he's supposed to be doing. And Mariano Rivera just keeps on being Mariano Rivera. For the Mets, though they'll be playoff-less again and under .500 for the year, important things have taken place this season that will impact the team's future. At any rate, here we go:
5. Brett Gardner: His defensive prowess is now becoming legendary, with a few metrics putting him at the top of the list of all outfielders. He gets on base, he has speed, he can hit first, second, seventh, eighth or ninth and he has the third best overall WAR (4.4) on the Yankees. His versatility has been invaluable.
4. Russell Martin: It was a gamble for the Bombers to sign the down-on-his-luck Martin, who hadn't had a good year since 2008 and only played 97 games last season. But he's solidified the catching position, has gelled with the pitching staff, calls a good game, throws out base stealers at a 29 percent rate (which Jorge Posada hasn't done since 2006) and leads AL catchers in Range Factor per 9 Innings (8.30). He's also added power to the already powerful Yankee lineup and has a chance to set a career high in home runs this year, only needing three to top the 19 he hit in '07.
3. Ivan Nova: We could have gone three places with this pick: Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon or Nova. While Colon and Garcia came out of nowhere and helped carry the team early in the season, they've both been running on fumes lately, and it's Nova who's now been the most consistent and reliable starting pitcher on the staff (besides Sabathia, of course). Nova gets the nod, with a better ERA (3.62), ERA+ (122), HR/9 (0.7) and WAR (3.4) than both of his teammates, and he's also thrown more innings (159). He could be pitching the second game of the playoffs come October.
2. David Robertson: Rafael Soriano was supposed to be the eighth-inning guy and heir apparent to Rivera, but he's been bust material for most of the year. And the injury to Joba Chamberlain (not to mention Pedro Feliciano, et al.) has left a hole in the bullpen. Thank god for Robertson, who's having a phenomenal season and may ultimately be the replacement for Rivera. While he may walk too many batters, Roberston's ERA (1.13) and ERA+ (393) lead the staff, and he has a 13.5-per-nine-inning strikeout rate, which is also best on the team.
1. Curtis Granderson: Cano may be making a late surge, but Granderson has been the team's MVP this season. With Alex Rodriguez injured and not his old self this year, Derek Jeter struggling for the first half of the season and even Mark Teixeira, besides his power numbers, not quite having a Teixeira-like year, someone had to pick up the slack and produce more than was expected, and Granderson's been the man to do it. His 5.5 WAR leads the team, and he leads the Yanks in home runs, RBIs, runs scored, triples, OPS, OPS+, as well as leading the league in much of those categories. He picked the right season to have a career year.
5. Terry Collins: The Mets haven't been known for their accountability, hard work or play-the-right-way philosophy the past decade or so, so Collins has had his hands full trying to foster a new, tougher era for the franchise. Maybe too much is made of him or too much credit given to him, but the team just doesn't have much talent on the field this year and he's kept them from having any extended losing streaks or feeling sorry for themselves. His postgame tirade last week was a breath of fresh air after years of Jerry Manuel's guffaws and Willie Randolph and Art Howe's "Well, at least we battled" clichés. If anything, Collins has gotten rid of the "oh-well, who cares, we're not close to contending anyway" attitude. Talent or no talent, he demands that his players play the game the right way for 162 games, and that counts for something.
4. R.A. Dickey: Even though he's relatively old, the knuckleballer is really a greenhorn, with last year being his first full season throwing that novelty pitch. So he was still a mystery coming into this season, not knowing whether 2010 was merely a fluke. But after some early season struggles, Dickey's been the team's best and most consistent starter. He leads the team in ERA (3.35), ERA+ (112), WHIP (1.25), WAR (4.6) and even BB/9 (2.4), and he's a big part of the team's future. Jon Niese will be here next year (and hopefully Johan Santana), but who knows about any of the other starters. It looks like Dickey's the real thing after all.
3. Carlos Beltran: Along with Jose Reyes, Beltran carried the team the first half of the season, so that counts for something, and he, amazingly enough (or maybe not so amazing), still leads the team in home runs, RBIs and doubles. But even though he's no longer with the Mets, he gave them a parting gift in Zach Wheeler, so his 2011 season was important just for that trade. When was the last time the Mets traded for the future, getting a big-time prospect in return for a veteran?
2. Lucas Duda: This year is all about next year for the Mets (and maybe even the year after that), so any infusion of youth and hope the team can find, the better. Duda's taking full advantage of his extended playing time, and after his struggles last season and the first 100 at-bats or so this year, he's taken huge strides in his plate discipline and knowledge of the strike zone, and now his power is starting to bloom. With the Mets most likely not spending money this off-season, Duda looks like a shoe-in as the team's 2012 right fielder. Ruben Tejada gets an honorable mention nod, as well.
1. Jose Reyes: The dynamic shortstop has been the Mets' best player this year, giving the team's fans something to cheer for and get excited about. He was so good and so popular the question of whether the Mets would trade him became moot by the trade deadline. Now all he has to do is re-sign with the club -- oh, and stay healthy as well, which, is, of course, the biggest question mark surrounding the shortstop. But Reyes is now seen as part of the solution and not part of the problem. And he may be the first-ever batting champion in franchise history.