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Jacoby Ellsbury for the MVP?

Sep 26, 2011, 10:30 AM EDT

Jacoby Ellsbury Getty Images

To be clear: I do not buy into the premise that a guy who “carried his team to the playoffs” deserves the MVP. Mostly because I don’t believe that one player can truly do that.  Baseball is not basketball. It takes an entire team to win anything, and even if some guy gets hot at the right time, there were wins earlier in the season that helped the team into the playoffs that were attributable to others’ contributions.  The baseball season is just too long and too many things happen to say one guy dragged his teammates to glory.

But if you are someone who buys into that — and given how much support Justin Verlander has received of late for that very reason, there are many — don’t you have to think hard about switching your vote to Jacoby Ellsbury?

The Sox have been truly awful in September, but Ellsbury has been a bright spot. He’s hitting .322/.377/.551 with seven homers and 19 RBI on the month. Add in last night’s heroics for the narrative-lovers and you have a much more solid case — if the Sox hold on and make the playoffs — that Ellsbury dragged his teammates over the hump than you do for Verlander who, while awesome, is pitching for a team who clinched last week and has a huge lead.

Not to say that Ellsbury isn’t a fine choice even if you don’t subscribe to the “he carried them in” school of thought — he is — but if that’s the basis for your vote for Verlander, how do you not switch to Ellsbury right now?

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    In their pathetic 6 wins this month, Ellsbury is 13/29 with 3 HRs and 9 RBI, 12 runs scored, 4 walks and 4 doubles. I think it is safe to say they would probably have a couple less wins without him in those games. And a couple less wins means more likely no playoffs. Ellsbury is my MVP. Verlander a close 2nd. Bautista 3rd.

  2. Joe - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    There’s definitely a strong case to be made without the new narrative. Ellsbury leads the majors in WAR at Fangraphs, though he’s third in the AL by the B-R measure. His full-season numbers have him in the conversation regardless of his September performance. He’s definitely the last man standing among Boston’s MVP candidates.

    • proudlycanadian - Sep 26, 2011 at 1:00 PM

      Boston fans are desperate to win something this year after being the big preseason favorite to win it all.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 26, 2011 at 1:35 PM

        I understand why someone who hates Boston fans would want to bash us right now, but this is pretty stupid. There’s no solace in having Ellsbury win the MVP if the team misses the playoffs.

      • Ari Collins - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:21 PM

        Umm. We’d like to see Ellsbury win the MVP, sure, but I don’t think we’re desperate. We have a very good team that’s struggled lately but is still the favorite to make the playoffs.

  3. dailyrev - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    JB is still it for me. And BTW: I’ve been waiting to see someone writing the post today that asks: why is he still running into walls in a meaningless game? (the answer, of course, is that he doesn’t know any other way to play this game). I’m also wondering what his medical status is today (he was pulled an inning or two after the incident): I’m sure Blue Jay Inter-nation is holding its breath.

    • nolanwiffle - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:24 AM

      If you ever saw Bautista play in an Oriole uniform, you’d know that he, indeed, DOES know another way to play the game.

  4. offseasonblues - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    38 stolen bases
    31 home runs
    45 doubles
    103 runs batted in
    208 hits
    117 runs
    9.2 WAR
    .402 wOBA
    .377 OBP
    .322 AVG

    That’s rare company, and now you add playing 23 innings yesterday and hitting a 14th inning game winner last night. I think he’s jumped to the top of the list.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:08 PM

      Have his teammates apologized to him for calling him soft in the media, and accusing him of not trying hard enough when he was hurt last year?

    • artisan3m - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:10 PM

      Impressive stats, I grant you. I wonder how another player whose stats come very close to Ellie’s ~ and who has played FOUR different infield positions this season, plus DH, would stack up? That would be Michael Young of the Rangers whose walk-off heroics came much earlier in the season and are now overlooked because nothing was riding on them except a single game W-L. I would not consider Verlander for MVP but he is hands down the Cy Young winner. Opinions will vary.

      • Joe - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:26 PM

        Young’s numbers pale when you consider that he plays in the best offensive ballpark in the league. His SLG is 75 points lower, and he’s played a total of 13 games (poorly) at a premium defensive position, whereas 68 of his games have been at DH. Not to mention the fact that Ellsbury is a superior base runner. Young’s case is pretty weak.

      • Bill - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:39 PM

        10th on his own team in Baseball-Reference WAR.

    • bigleagues - Sep 26, 2011 at 1:52 PM

      2 More SB’s and Ellsbury will have put up a season (at least .300, 200 H, 30 HR, 100R, 100RBI, 40 SB) that only 3 other players have been able to claim.

      And he’s done it from the lead-off spot. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but I haven’t been able to locate another-off hitter who has ever posted such impressive numbers across the board – let alone coupled with excellent defense.

      Red Sox fans, we may have just witnessed the greatest overall season by a lead-off hitter in history.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 26, 2011 at 2:09 PM

        Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson come to mind, depending on what your benchmarks are.

      • bigleagues - Sep 26, 2011 at 2:16 PM

        The benchmarks are what I included in the parentheses above. Neither Henderson nor Bonds ever achieved all 6 in any one season.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 26, 2011 at 2:27 PM

        No they didnt hit each benchmark, but we’re really splitting hairs. Ellsbury has 646AB’s so far this year. The closest year for Bonds would be ’93 in which he had 539AB. Bonds walked far more than Ellsbury so he didn’t get the chance to put up some of those counting stats, but still he was 19H away and 2SB.

        Willie Mays also came pretty damn close a few years.

      • Kevin S. - Sep 26, 2011 at 2:53 PM

        Alfonso Soriano had some really excellent years leading off with the Yanks (and I think he generally led off with the Nats in ’06, too).

      • Joe - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:02 PM

        ‘Course Bonds wasn’t technically a leadoff hitter, what with him batting 5th for most of the season, and 3rd or 4th the rest of the time.

      • Kevin S. - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:07 PM

        Yeah, Soriano hit every one of those numbers in 2002, when he lead off in 150 games. Probably not as good of a season overall as Ellsbury (defense, run environment), but since you seemed to be discounting Bonds and Henderson because they didn’t meet the benchmarks, I don’t see why you wouldn’t count Soriano.

      • bigleagues - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:22 PM

        Soriano was indeed one of the other three that I eluded to. The other two were Vlad Guerrero (2002) and ARod 1998.

        Soriano 2002 is very comparable to Ellsbury 2011. And Soriano is the closest I have found in terms of comparing best seasons for lead-off.

        2002 was the year Soriano nearly went 40/40. Digging a little deeper, technically, neither Soriano nor Ellsbury accomplished their season totals hitting exclusively at lead-off.

        Soriano hit .296 in 150 Games he started at lead-off (he had 17 additional AB’s in which he hit .353 which was enough for him to finish at even .300 average.

        Entering tonight, Ellsbury has hit .328 in 141 Games at lead-off (and has 43 additional PA in which he hit .154).

        Soriano also finished with 8 more HR’s (39) than Ellsbury had entering tonight.

        Ellsbury entered tonight batting .322 with a far higher OBA (.377) to Soriano’s (.332). Ellsbury has also struck out 60 fewer times.

        If someone out there knows a method by which I can search for season totals by Batting Order Position on Baseball-Reference – please let me know. I’m probably gonna drop them an email and suggest that as an additional option to the Play Index.

      • bigleagues - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:27 PM

        And just as I hit Post Comment. Ellsbury drops that ball in CF on would have otherwise been a spectacular inning ending catch.

        The Bambino is dead . . . but man has there been some weird energy surrounding this team.

  5. canucks18 - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Verlander has been great there is no doubt… But there is no way that someone who is on the field 1 out of 5 games should even be considered among the guys that play every day of the year. Why do you think the Cy Young exists?

    • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:19 AM

      I normally agree with you, but in 1999, Pedro was the MVP. He was jobbed by two douches who left him off the ballot completely…New York’s George King and Minneapolis’ LaVelle Neal…who said that pitchers don’t deserve MVP votes. That was the greatest season by a pitcher though…so it was probably an exception.

    • Bill - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:46 AM

      I don’t think pitchers should win MVPs as long as there are only two major awards and one is exclusively reserved for them. But the “on the field 1 out of 5 games” argument is ridiculous.

      Verlander faced 969 batters this year, came to the plate 4 times and had 50 chances in the field. That’s 1023 opportunities to affect the game.

      Ellsbury will add on a few more, but so far he’s had 714 PA and 391 chances in the field — 1105 opportunities. And I’d argue Verlander has had more of a hand in each of those batters faced than Ellsbury did in most of his chances in the field, so all in all, it’s about a wash.

      It’s like if you’ve got two employees, and one works only one day a week, but puts in a 10-hour day, and the other is there Monday through Friday, but only for two hours a day. You wouldn’t punish the first because the second is there “every day.”

  6. hystoracle - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    I have a hard time giving anyone an MVP award on a team circling the Drain. 6 wins in a month is pathetic. Really?? Why not start nominating members of the Orioles for MVP. I’m sure they have players that without they may have only won 50 or 55 games. Ridiculous. The MVP was originally designed as the best position player and took into account the big hitting stats – triple crown type stuff.. I always thought the Cy Young was the Pitcher’s equivalent to the MVP. I think the Cy Young is even more prestigious because Pitching wins championships in baseball.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:21 AM

      The MVP was originally designed as the best position player and took into account the big hitting stats – triple crown type stuff

      No, it wasn’t. Once the BBWAA* started voting on it, pitchers routinely won it. In fact, the first ALMVP was a pitcher.

      *a pitcher also won the Chalmers Award and the precursor the MVP.

  7. seanmk - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    wait so marco scutaro hitting .378/.429/.527 and mike aviles hitting .333/.348/.556 during this same month because it’s ellsbury it supposed to mean something? this narrative doesn’t even hold up, the one game that ellsbury hit two of the home runs THEY LOST. red sox pitching is why they are losing not their lack of hitting

    • bigleagues - Sep 26, 2011 at 1:56 PM

      There is some merit to your point, but Ellsbury bats lead-off and, this month, has hit safely in 23 of 24 Games with 10 multi-hit games, and hasn’t had back to back hitless games since June.

      • seanmk - Sep 26, 2011 at 2:54 PM

        credit joe pos for this but shouldn’t we also take away from ellsbury that they had the losing streak and he was playing everyday?

  8. yankeesgameday - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    Sigh. I was seven months ahead of everyone on the Ellsbury for mvp talk. I predicted this in march.

    Some team or media outlet really does need to give me a job already.

  9. proudlycanadian - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    J Bautista: .615 Slug (i), .447 OBP (1t), 1.062 OPS (1)
    M. Cabrera: .579 Slug (2), .447 OBP (1t), 1.0252 OPS (2)
    A Gonzalez: .550 Slug (6), .445 OBP (3), .955 OPS (3)
    D. Ortiz; .557 Slug (4), .397 OBP (4), .953 OPS (4)
    C. Granderson: .561 Slg (3), .368 OBP (16), .930 OPS (5)
    J Ellsbury: .551 Slg (7), .377 OBP (10), .928 OPS (6)

    Ellsbury is the third best hitter on his own team. The Sox have 3 of the best 6 hitters in the Al and are in danger of an epic failure. The most feared and productive hitters are Bautista and Cabrera. Bautista should win, but I would not complain too much if Cabrera won it.

    • Bill - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:11 PM

      This would make all kinds of sense if the award we’re discussing were called the Most Valuable Hitter Award.

      Bautista vs. Ellsbury is a valid debate, but Ellsbury beats Cabrera and everyone else on this list very easily.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:12 PM

      But there’s far more to playing baseball than merely hitting. Ellsbury is having a phenomenal year on defense (regress it if you want, but he’s still playing really well), and he’s providing value with his baserunning as well.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:14 PM

      Ellsbury is also the only lead-off hitter on that list. Does he get any credit for that? You don’t mention steals on that list at all. Also, he doesn’t get pitched around all that much so his OBP will be less than the sluggers. Also, he isn’t a slugger so his SLG isn’t as high as the other guys. Give me a break if you are going to just use those 3 stats and say he isn’t the MVP. It is just as bad as the RBI guys who throw RBIs around and say that Howard is an MVP candidate.

      • proudlycanadian - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:57 PM

        Of course nobody pitches around him. He does not rate that kind of fear and respect. Pitchers do pitch around Bautista and Cabrera. He may steal a lot of bases, but in a crucial situation managers would rather pitch to Ellesbury than Bautista and Cabrerra. Bautista has 24 intentional walks, Cabrera has 22 and Ellsbury has 1. The managers have voted and Bautista and Cabrera are the 2 hitters they fear the most.

      • bigleagues - Sep 26, 2011 at 1:58 PM

        Also, there’s that sort of unwritten rule that you don’t walk lead-off hitters with ++ speed, especially with Pedroia, Gonzalez and Papi right behind him.

      • Joe - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:05 PM

        Managers have voted that Bautista and Cabrera are the hitters they fear most, when compared to the batters who follow them.

    • offseasonblues - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:39 PM

      All of those guys, and Verlander too, are deserving and I won’t complain if any one of them wins it.
      Yes, he’s the third best hitter on the team by wOBA behind Gonzalez (.406), and Ortiz (.405). But Ellsbury (.402) is a center fielder / leadoff hitter, not a slugger, and the distance between first and third on the team is pretty tiny.

      Right now, after 159 games, Fangraphs WAR likes Ellsbury (9.2) more than Bautista (8.4) or Granderson (7.1) or Cabrera (6.9). They might be wrong about the defense component, so show me how and why and I’ll listen.

      As for your guy, he had my vote all season and I’d have voted for him yesterday. So yes, I’m riding the high from last night’s game. Still, it’s how you finish, not how you start and there are three more to go.

      • Kevin S. - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:30 PM

        UZR’s creator has said that it really needs a three-year sample to stabilize. Ellsbury’s had two full defensive seasons in CF plus three more partials that add up to a full season’s worth of innings. Taking his career CF UZR and dividing it by the ratio of CF innings this year against CF innings for his career would give him 5.4 defensive runs this year, essentially tying him with Bautista in RAR.

      • Ari Collins - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:34 PM

        Yes, it’s a bad idea to use a single season UZR alone. But when you look at single season UZR, other defensive stats, pro scouting reports, and fan scouting reports, that’s an awful lot of information pointing to Ellsbury having the elite defensive season UZR says he is.

  10. shawnuel - Sep 26, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    I would be fine with Ellsbury winning the MVP. To say he hasn’t been getting help this month just isn’t true, however. Pedroia has hit 364 /.379/.600 the past two weeks and Jed Lowrie (albeit in limited AB’s) has hit over .400 with a 1.000 Slugging this past week. Granted, Youk and Big Papi haven’t been much help.

  11. Ari Collins - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    It won’t be a crime if Bautista or Granderson wins it, but Ellsbury probably deserves it from both a statistical basis and a narrative basis.

  12. chrisnbeckett - Sep 26, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    If ellsbury doesnt win the mvp this year it will be a traversty plain and simple. After the season this young man had last year with being injured and questioned by the media,fans,his own teammates,and all you haters, he came out and put together the greatest season us nation fans have seen by a cf.The sox will back into the playoffs and get back to mid-season form this. The seaeon is not over and though the orioles beat us up last weekend i dont see that happening again !!!!!!!!!! GO SOX!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. kruker - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:24 PM

    Anyone have concern that Ellsbury had 30 career hr’s in about 2400 at bats including the minors before this season?

    Reminds me a little of Dykstra in 1993

    • bigleagues - Sep 27, 2011 at 2:31 AM

      Ehh, no. Have you seen him hit? He has a sweet swing and quick bat. He see’s the strikezone very well and while no one may have seen 30 HR’s coming – at least not this season – some certainly though he was capable of 20-25.

      Besides his power development is hardly unprecedented . . . Rickey Henderson had 11 HR in Class A, then hit 0 in a full season at AA. Then through his first 5 1/2 years in The Show he never hit more than 16 before hitting 24 then 28 in back-to-back seasons.

      Johnny Damon’s first 3 seasons in the minors he never hit more than 6 HR’s before hitting 16 in 111 Games at AA before being promoted to KC. In his first 2 1/2 years in the Bigs, 8 HR’s was the most he hit in a season, before hitting 18 in his 4th season.

      It’s not as if Ellsbury had hit 21, 13, 12 and 16 Home Runs respectively, then hit 50 at age 32, then hit 18, 18, 24 and 19 in the succeeding 4 seasons. That would cause concern – unless you were CEO Selig when said ‘anomaly’ occurred.

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