NEW YORK — Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and Chris Davis of the Orioles look to be the favorites for American League Most Valuable Player, but who is the Red Sox’ representative in the balloting?
So many players have saved the day. Will Middlebrooks did Sunday with a tying home run off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, though the Red Sox finally lost the game, 4-3, on a wild pitch by Brandon Workman in the bottom of the ninth to score Ichiro Suzuki.
Different guys have stepped up at different times this season, which is why it’s so hard to choose an MVP candidate from the Red Sox.
If you go by WAR (wins above replacement) you’d say Shane Victorino, who at 5.6 has the highest number on the team ahead of Dustin Pedroia’s 5.5, Jacoby Ellsbury’s 5.4, David Ortiz’s 3.9, and Mike Napoli’s 3.1. You would also have to include Koji Uehara in this mix, as well. After all, where would the Red Sox be had they not found a lights-out closer?
WAR basically answers the question, “If this player got injured and his team had to replace him with a minor leaguer or someone from the bench, how much value would the team be losing?”
You obviously don’t measure an MVP simply by WAR. While it’s a good measure of value, there’s nothing like the eyeball test, and other statistical measures such as OPS, home runs, RBIs, Total Average (created by Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell, in which Ortiz ranks fourth), runs created (Ortiz is seventh with 98, Ellsbury is ninth with 92), and clutch stats.
And you certainly can make the case for all of the Sox’ WAR leaders.
Manager John Farrell will tell you there are a lot of MVPs on this team, and that nobody really stands out over anyone else.
The WAR numbers tell how bunched up the players are, but winner for me is Ortiz.
“I could care less about the MVP,” Ortiz said. “I just want another ring.
“This team is full of guys who have come up big in big situations, so I’m not worried about who the MVP on our team is. I just go out and do the best thing I can every day. I missed the time early, maybe my numbers would be better right now, but all I know is in the time I’ve had I’ve tried to make the best of it and everybody on this team just does their job. If you do your job, then the team is going to succeed. That’s what I learned in this game.
“Victorino has done his job with the defense and the home runs and the big hits. Pedey does his thing every day. He’s amazing out there. Ellsbury does his thing at the top of the order. Koji, what he’s done, how valuable is that?”
Breaking it down:
1. Ortiz — Certainly Ortiz wins a lot of points in many statistical categories, but he truly is the centerpiece of the Red Sox lineup and the one who makes things go. Ortiz is hitting .312 with 26 homers and 90 RBIs and a .958 OPS in 121 games, missing almost three weeks at the start of the season. He’s overcome his serious heel injury. Ortiz seemingly can turn it on at a snap of the fingers. Sunday he was upset that a parking lot attendant wouldn’t let him park in a certain place and vowed to have a good day. Two doubles later, Ortiz seemed to get his payback. Sure, one can make the argument that by the time Ortiz started to play this season the team was 11-4. But he certainly continued the good times and, when Napoli started to struggle, Ortiz picked it up.
2. Uehara — He really has saved the day in doing the job after the Sox went through three other closers. He has become arguably the best closer in baseball. His numbers (other than total saves) are better than Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel. He’s gotten 27 consecutive batters. He’s had 24 straight scoreless appearances. His 57 scoreless games leads the AL. This might have been a disaster area for the Red Sox, but it’s turned into a strength because of Uehara.
3. Pedroia — Hard not to have him in the equation given his superb work at second base, where he saves the pitching staff runs on a daily basis. He’ll come close to 90 RBIs before the year is over. He remains the heart and soul of the team. He’s played in 144 games, tops in the AL, and leads the Red Sox with 22 go-ahead RBIs and 12 game-winning RBIs. Nuff said.
4. Victorino — One of the game’s best defensive players. The Red Sox haven’t had a right fielder like this since Dwight Evans (Victorino has nine assists in right), and now that he’s batting righthanded he’s become a power threat at the top of the order with his 14 homers. Victorino told me that he never will give up switch-hitting altogether, but he may pick his spots to hit lefthanded, as he did against Max Scherzer in his fourth at-bat.
5. Ellsbury — Ellsbury has had an excellent season with 52 steals, which lead the majors, an average of about .300 most of the season, and a .355 OBP as a leadoff hitter. He’s also played an excellent center field and is really the guy who ignites the offense. He’s out now with a compression fracture in his right foot, and if he’s out for the playoffs his base-running potential is taken away from the lineup. However, it’s expected he’ll return before the end of the regular season.
6. Napoli — His power numbers are second only to Ortiz. He’s had big hits and six four-plus-RBI games, tied for most in the majors. Yes, he’s disappeared at times this season. Yes, he’s going to set the Red Sox strikeout record, but you can’t deny his ability to hit in key spots. He’s been the catalyst to the recent run the Sox have gone on. You can’t be more clutch than Napoli has been of late.
There are honorable mentions for Jonny Gomes, for his clubhouse presence and big-hit ability; Jarrod Saltalamacchia, for the manner in which he’s handled the pitching staff and the doubles machine he’s turned into; Daniel Nava, with his on-base ability and ability to be a tough out; Stephen Drew for his consistent play at shortstop, the second-toughest position on the field.
You could make a case for any one of the starting pitchers, headed by Jon Lester. Or John Lackey, who has pitched very well despite his 9-12 record and kept the Red Sox in so many games.
“You don’t win championships unless you get a bunch of different guys making big contributions,” said Ortiz. “That’s what happened in 2004 and 2007. I think this team has the same type of players. You can see it. The whole team is the MVP. And that’s the way I’d rather have it than have one guy.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.