Last nigh, with one swing of the bat, Jacoby Ellsbury thrust himself upward as perhaps the top contender for AL MVP. Stats are one thing, but some of the baseball writers that vote on awards seem to love when a player asserts himself down the stretch, especially if his team is in a pennant race. The thing is, Ellsbury is but one of three Red Sox players who have a legitimate shot at the award.
Are they all chasing Joey Bats?
Jose Bautista is in the midst of a monster season. As of Wednesday, Bautista was hitting .324/.460/.662 with 32 home runs. On top of that, he has displayed his versatility in the field, playing both rightfield and thirdbase. His wOBA is the highest in the American League, currently 46 points better than Adrian Gonzalez, who is in second with a .421 wOBA. Bautista is on pace to finish in the top three in most offensive categories. However, will the fact that he doesn’t play for a contender hurt his chances? We’ve such voting trend in an opposite direction in the last few years. Now, many voters have a greater understanding of advanced stats and their significance as to who was actually the “most valuable” player in each league.
Pedroia on Fire
It was a slow start to the season for Dustin Pedroia, but since having work done to clean up a right knee ailment, he has been playing like a man possessed. As of Wednesday, Pedey had brought his line to .312/.406/.487 with 15 home runs and 22 stolen bases. According to calculations from FanGraphs, Pedroia only trailed Jose Bautista in overall wins above replacement (WAR) by 0.1 points. In other words, despite much less power, Pedey’s defense and balanced offensive game combined to make up a lot of the ground he lacks in hitting the long ball. Even that category, home runs, hasn’t exactly been dry. If he can hit three more home runs this season, he will have set a career high in both home runs and stolen bases (he’s already set a career high in steals).
Ellsbury, the breakout star
There were a lot of questions centered around Ellsbury dating back to his injury riddled 2010 season. Ellsbury wasn’t healthy enough to do much of anything last season and his time in the trainer’s room caused many riffs between him, the fans and the medical staff. Is all forgiven now? Ellsbury is having his breakout year and it doesn’t even involve stealing 70-plus bases. Instead, Ellsbury has added to his power game and is now knocking on the door of a 20/30 season, which could end up closer to 25/40 given his current pace. On top of the power/speed production, Ellsbury is headed for a career high in AVG/OBP/SLG. Both his contact rate, chase rate walk rate and strikeout rate have remained consistent with his career numbers. The big difference seems to be his ability to select pitches to drive more frequently that ever before. His groundball rate is lower than in previous seasons and his line drive rate has jumped up to almost 25 percent.
A-Gonz going gonzo
After a slow start to the season, Adrian Gonzalez has been one of the best hitters in baseball. While he isn’t on pace to put up a huge home run total, he has done plenty in other areas to compensate. As of Wednesday, A-Gonz had a crazy good line of .365/.417/.569 with 17 homers and a league leading 90 RBI. His RBI total should continue to remain very healthy given the lineup around him.
There are other contenders for the AL MVP, most of which also come out of the AL East (Curtis Granderson and Ben Zobrist). Miguel Cabrera is certainly making a run, but his defensive skills are far below those of the aforementioned names.
It is very rare to have a team with three legitimate MVP candidates in a single season. However, whether one of Pedroia, Ellsbury or Gonzalez wins the award is inconsequential really. What this team needs is for it’s pitching staff to come together. While a postseason birth seems likely at this point, anything can happen and a season without going deep into the playoffs would certainly be a disappointment, MVP or not.