- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2011


If Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista doesn’t deserve the MVP award because his team didn’t make the playoffs, then neither do any of the three Boston Red Sox who were supposed to be better team players.

That leaves the New York Yankees’ Curtis Granderson and two Detroit Tigers — Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera — as the final MVP candidates. That is, if you hold to the “playoffs standard” for voting.

For most of the season, voters and fans turned a blind eye to Bautista. He was an exciting player, who put up arguably the best statistics in baseball, leading the league with 43 homeruns, while sporting a .302 batting average and 103 RBI. But he played on a bad team, and if he couldn’t elevate the Blue Jays to the playoffs, how was he more valuable than players who were on winning teams?

The focus shifted to three Red Sox — Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia — who were leading the best team in the American League at the time.

Gonzalez was the top candidate for much of the season. He finished second in batting average (.338), third in RBI (117), and in the top 20 for homers (27).

Ellsbury got his share of consideration toward the end of the season. He was fifth in batting average (.321), tied for fifth in home runs (32), and tied for sixth in RBI (105).

Pedroia was also in the conversation, although he faded later in the season, finishing with a .307 batting average, 21 home runs, and 91 RBI.

Voters were willing to overlook the fact that maybe, just maybe, their stats weren’t as good as Bautista. They, clearly, were more valuable because they played on a winning team, a team that was all but destined for the playoffs.

So one of those three must be the most valuable, right?

Not anymore.

In the last month of the season, the Red Sox fell apart. After they completed the worst collapse in baseball history Wednesday night, I would argue these three players are now much less deserving than Bautista.

At least Bautista played on a bad team and couldn’t do anything about it. Babe Ruth, himself, couldn’t make the Blue Jays better. One player, no matter how good he is, doesn’t make a team. Maybe in basketball, but not in baseball.

The three Red Sox, on the other hand, played on a great team and, therefore, had plenty of opportunities to seal the deal for their team. They started September as the best team in the American League. Even after a dismal month, they were in position to win and force a one-game playoff last night. But they blew a lead in the eighth inning, and completed the worst collapse in baseball history.

Let’s not forget Bautista was on a bad team and never got a chance to put his team in the playoffs. But all three of these guys had plenty of opportunities and failed time and time again. If there was an award for the opposite of MVP — let’s called it the Least Valuable Player — I would let these three guys split it. Talk about disappointing performances.

So that leaves voters with Granderson, Verlander and Cabrera.

Granderson is a fan favorite, and voters want to like him, but he also carries a batting average of .262. He leads the league with 119 RBI and is second with 41 home runs, arguably the best power numbers in baseball. But that’s a really low batting average for an MVP.

That brings us to Cabrera. He has been overlooked for MVP all season, but quietly snuck into the discussion with a strong September. He won the batting title with the best average (.344) in all of baseball, and has competitive homerun (30) and RBI (105) numbers. In comparison, he has more consistent numbers than Granderson, but not as much power.

Either player would be a deserving MVP. It will be interesting to see which direction voters go. On one hand, no one likes the idea of a MVP with such a low batting average. But, on the other hand, Cabrera has slipped under the radar all season long, and it might be difficult to change voters’ minds at this point.

Thanks to the Red Sox’s epic failure, however, these might not be the only candidates. The “playoff clause” could fly out the window for most voters. I don’t see any of Boston’s three players getting many first-place votes. But it could open the door for Bautista to get back into the race. Voters didn’t like him when he was the only candidate not in the playoffs, but now that more than half the candidate pool has dropped out of the Hunt for October, maybe they will reconsider him.

While we’re on the topic of reconsidering players, voters should throw out one more silly unwritten rule of MVP voting: the rule that pitchers can’t qualify, because they’re not everyday players and they have the Cy Young anyway.

In a year when it’s difficult to determine the best positional player in the game, Verlander has dominated on the other side of the ball, winning the American League Triple Crown. He’s pitched a season so great that it would make guys like Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez jealous.

Verlander finished with a 24-5 record, when no other pitcher in the American League even got 20 wins. In fact, the last pitcher to get 24 wins was Randy Johnson in 2002. Verlander also led the league in strikeouts (250) and ERA (2.40).

Many baseball experts have compared his season to Roger Clemens’ 1986 season, the last time a starting pitcher won the MVP award.

It will be interesting to see if Verlander can match the feat with his own trophy.

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