BY Tommy McAndrew
The coming of fall signifies the start of what should be an exciting NFL season, but the autumn leaves also indicate that it’s time to look back on the 2011 baseball season.
Enough of the season has passed to accurately select the two players that mean the most to their respective teams — two players who tapped into their inner-Marshawn Lynch and threw their teams on their backs. I’m talking, of course, about crowning the American League and National League Most Valuable Players.
In the AL, the best leadoff hitter in the show is the Red Sox’ Jacoby Ellsbury. As of today, he’s on pace for one home run shy of a 30-home run and 40-stolen base season. He’s second in the league to teammate Adrian Gonzalez in runs created, a new-age statistic that more accurately depicts how many runs a player adds to his team’s offense, beyond regular runs or runs batted in.
That said, there are three things that separate Ellsbury from Gonzalez: Ellsbury’s spot in the order, his wheels and his salary.
The first two go hand in hand, as normally the leadoff spot has some speed to couple with a knack of getting on base. Ellsbury has a little bit more than “some speed” — “game changing” would be the more suitable description. In addition to being a league leader in stolen bases (36), the center fielder has time and again taken the extra-base hit over a single, thereby putting himself in scoring position and keeping opposing pitchers nervous.
Finally, we must consider the concept of “value.” Adrian Gonzalez will make over two and a half times more money than Ellsbury this season. For his paycheck, Gonzalez has scored less runs (102 to Ellsbury’s 108) and hit less home runs (25 to 27) than his teammate in the outfield. So, if the question is whether Ellsbury is worth a fraction of the amount his superstar teammate earns, then the answer is perfectly clear.
The NL MVP has only one true candidate. The Phillies’ power hitters are all too close in value to choose any one clear candidate. The Brewers’ two-headed wrecking crew — Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder — as good as they are, have the benefit of relying on each other’s protection.
The Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, on the other hand, has posted the best stats of anyone in the National League, but like the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista in the AL, his team is well out of playoff contention.
Which brings us to the heat of Arizona, where Justin Upton has been doing everything but stenciling in the lineup card to put his team in first place atop the NL West. Upton leads the NL in runs scored (100), doubles (38) and extra-base hits (73), and is among the league’s best in home runs (30) and hits (164). His fellow Diamondbacks have offered little in terms of protection in the lineup, and, with a payroll over $30 million less than any other playoff team, the team goes wherever Upton takes them. This year’s MVP has taken them to the promised land of the playoffs.