As the home stretch to the playoffs approached, it is time to start thinking about the individual player awards. In particular, the American League MVP race has been tight all year, with no clear-cut candidate having completely separated themselves from the pack. Fortunately, I have evaluated the evidence and determined the current frontrunner for the award.
The Case for Jose Bautista: The label of “best player in baseball” has been bandied about quite a bit this year in conjunction with Bautista’s name. He has followed up a shocking 2010 season with numbers that have even exceeded those totals. He currently leads the American League in home runs, WAR, walks, and OPS; throwing in a .316 batting average for good measure.
Cynics might point to Toronto hovering around the .500 mark the whole year as a reason why Bautista does not deserve the MVP, but that line of reasoning is wrong. He is currently the most dominant position player in baseball, and does everything he can on a daily basis to help his team win.
The Case for Dustin Pedroia: The diminutive Pedroia looks more like a pizza delivery guy than he does a ballplayer, but make no mistake about it, he has game. He is not only the vocal leader of the Red Sox, but his incredible versatility is what ties his team together. He has played Gold Glove caliber defense, hit over .300 with some pop, and even stolen 24 bases, in proving that he is the most complete second baseman in all of baseball.
Despite lacking intimidation, Pedroia has even batted cleanup on a number of occasions this year, producing a 1.040 OPS in 11 games in the four-spot. He produces whenever and wherever the Red Sox ask him. Quite simply, he is Boston’s heart and soul, and a major reason why they are hurtling towards a 100 win season, despite their rough first few weeks of the year.
The Case for Jacoby Ellsbury: The Red Sox have enjoyed a typical Carl Crawford season this year. Unfortunately it has not come from Crawford, who they paid 142 million dollars this past off-season, but rather from Ellsbury. Crawford will probably be fine down the road, but the improvement of Ellsbury has to be quite a pleasant surprise for Boston.
Ellsbury has rebounded marvelously from a disastrous 2010, where he missed the majority of the season with injuries, and even had his own teammates doubting his heart. He has not only significantly upped his power, but he has maintained high stolen base numbers, hit over .300 for most of the year, and turned in very good glove work in center field. He has been the catalyst at the top of the order for Boston’s big boppers, and allowed Crawford to be shifted around to work out his own issues, without as much pressure as would normally be expected. Right now, Ellsbury might very well be the most complete player in the American League.
The Case for Curtis Granderson: I have always seen Granderson as one of the nicest guys in baseball, and while I was happy to see his quick start to the 2011 season, I never thought he would sustain it as long as he has. Not only has he kept up his pace, he seems to have increased it as of late.
125 games into the season, Granderson is on pace to finish 2011 with 45 home runs, 127 RBI, 31 stolen bases, and 148 runs scored. He is the bargain priced heart of a potent offense, renowned for its expensive parts. With New York having to deal with the public decline of core players like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, Granderson has been a major driving force in keeping the team at the top of the standings all year.
The Case for Justin Verlander: Traditional thought, whether it is accurate or not, dictate that pitchers shouldn’t be eligible for the MVP since they have the Cy Young Award. Anyone who may subscribe to that theory certainly has to be reconsidering after seeing the season that Verlander is having.
Verlander is in serious contention for the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins and strikeouts, and currently only 0.18 behind Jered Weaver in ERA. He is also on pace for 267 innings, a staggering amount in today’s era of babying pitchers. His dominance also includes a no-hitter and a couple of near misses.
The consistency of Verlander in the Detroit starting rotation helped overcome a strong start by the Cleveland Indians, and catapulted Detroit into first place in the Central Division. He ensures that the Tigers will never endure a long losing streak, and is the main reason why nobody is looking forward to facing them in the playoffs.
Honorable Mention: Adrian Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jered Weaver, and Michael Young.
Final Decision: I honestly didn’t know who I was going to pick until I got to this point. I think going over each of the main candidates helped me come to the conclusion that Curtis Granderson has to be the current frontrunner for the American League MVP. He has made the giant machine that is the Yankees go, by putting up extraordinary run production numbers on a consistent basis all year.
Adding to Granderson’s impressive resume is how he has done it on baseball’s largest stage. In most years, the powerhouse Red Sox would be a runaway favorite to take any division, but the Yankees show no sign of letting up. The Yankees have experienced a number of distractions and injuries this year, but the team has hardly skipped a beat, in large part because of Granderson. He is having a career year at the best possible time, and deserves to be recognized as the MVP for his accomplishments.