It’s getting to be that time of year already, apparently. It’s terribly early, but over only the last week or so, the internet has suddenly been inundated with articles and blog posts breaking down the MVP races and such. (Here’s one, here’s another, hey look over here, don’t really know what McAdam’s going for here but it’s another one, bang, boom, pow, et cetera.) I can’t confirm this, but I’m pretty sure that with just a few more posts debating whether Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson or Michael Young is the AL MVP, the internet will actually just be broken forever. I’ll miss you, internet, but at least I’ll never have to read another word about Young’s selfless leadership. Maybe it’s all for the best.
If there’s one thing that confuses people more than what makes a player the “most valuable,” it’d probably have to be movies, the Oscars, and what makes one a good actor. (Or, possibly, those are simply the two areas on which I’m most likely to disagree with most people. Either way.) Here’s a look at some of this year’s most talked about American League MVP candidates, and their silver-screen thespian counterparts:
Jose Bautista is like Johnny Depp.
Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way: Jose Bautista is not winning the MVP this season.
Well, I don’t want to be that definitive about it, because I never understand what the voters are doing (and it’s a small subset of the voters, anyway, so you can never really tell), but I can’t see it happening. Too many of the articles out there, like most of the ones I linked above, either ignore Bautista’s candidacy entirely or dismiss it in a sentence or two so they can quickly get back to talking about the sexier, less deserving candidates like Gonzalez and Granderson.
So he’s almost definitely not winning it, and, as of right now, that’s a real shame. Unless you want to argue that Justin Verlander should win it (and I’d listen, but let’s face it, thanks to a clear and sudden change in the unwritten rules in about 1990 or so, no starting pitcher is ever winning the award again), it’s impossible to make a real coherent case against Bautista. He’s got far and away the best hitting line in the bigs, leading the AL in OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, wOBA and wRC+. Adding in defense, position and baserunning, Bautista leads AL hitters in all three major wins above replacement level measures (through Friday: by 1.1 wins on Baseball-Reference, 0.6 on Fangraphs, and an impressive 2.6 on Baseball Prospectus). If you want clutch, Bautista even leads the majors in Win Probability Added (WPA) despite a low batting average with RISP. You might argue against using WAR and the way parts of it are computed and all that, but I don’t think it’s possible to come up with enough quibbles to legitimately arrive at any answer save Bautista in the AL MVP race. Any other solution depends on how the players surrounding the candidate perform — RBI totals or playoff contention — which has no place at all in the discussion of an individual award.
Like Bautista, Johnny Depp has just been humming along as the best in the world at what he does, without ever having a real chance at getting properly recognized for it. He’s never won an Oscar. The movies he’s in, like Depp himself, tend not to take themselves too seriously, which means they tend not to be contenders for awards, which hurts Depp’s chances the same way the Blue Jays’ non-contention hurts Bautista’s. It’s like people see Depp, know he’s great, but just can’t take him seriously enough to put him in his rightful place as probably the best film actor working right now. Which, for the ridiculous “contending team” thing plus what I’m guessing must be some unholy cocktail of questionable other reasons, is more or less the way people seem to be treating Bautista right now.
Dustin Pedroia is like Leonardo DiCaprio.
Leo has spent most of the last 15 years or so as one of those people who’s so famous that it starts to seem like his profession is just being famous, not the thing that made him famous in the first place. A bit less so lately, perhaps, but his is still a name everyone recognizes, the kind that creeps into different elements of pop culture in all sorts of weird places (stand-up comedy acts, pop songs, etc.). He was that guy in Titanic, he was one of those hard-partying Hollywood guys, he was endlessly celebrated for his looks, and so on.
Lost in all that celebrity is that DiCaprio is, or has become, a really, really great actor. Each role he plays seems entirely different from the one before. He’s been in great movies and bad movies, but it’s felt like he’s deserved serious Oscar consideration for each one; yet, he’s been nominated only three times and never won. DiCaprio has gotten (and still gets) tons of attention in his time…just not for the right things.
That’s Dustin Pedroia. He’s even got the short light-haired guy thing going, but more substantively, the national media loves to talk about Pedroia. His size, his fire, his grit, his energy, his effort, his leadership, his size, his energy, his eccentricities, his size, and so forth. He’s the emotional leader of the team, he gives seven hundred and ten percent, etc.
I don’t care at all about any of that, and I kind of doubt that most of it is real anyway. He is tiny, and he’s white, and he doesn’t look like an athlete at all, and I think that just creates the perfect canvas for all that other stuff to be projected onto. I don’t doubt that Pedroia goes all out and works very hard, but I have no doubt that every Major League athlete does the same. Pedroia isn’t more energetic or dedicated than everybody else; he’s just better than (almost) everybody else. And that’s what’s getting lost here — somehow the same media that talks up everything Pedroia does as though he were a dog reciting Shakespeare seems to be almost completely ignoring his credentials as an actual fully grown adult baseball player, ones that are certainly strong enough to rank him a fairly close second behind Bautista in the MVP race. The things he gets attention for are boring, cliched and probably largely contrived, and meanwhile, we’re missing that he happens to legitimately be one of the greatest players in the game today. A lot like Leo.
Jacoby Ellsbury is like Sam Rockwell.
Sam Rockwell has never even been nominated for an Academy Award. That stuns me. (I know, I shouldn’t keep using the Oscars as proxy for respect, honors, etc. It’s a bit lazy, and the Oscars kind of suck. But you could say the same thing about the MVP award, and yet for some reason, both are endlessly fascinating.) Rockwell took some time off entirely and has done a lot of little things since emerging in things like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and The Green Mile a decade ago, but still. He’s one of the best actors out there, and people, by and large, don’t even know his name.
I’m getting that vibe about Ellsbury right now. Not that people don’t know his name, but they’re completely ignoring him as an MVP candidate. He’s more deserving than his teammate Adrian Gonzalez, but since his advantages are in defense (at a much more important position) and baserunning, no one seems to be noticing. Gonzalez could, as things stand right now, easily win the AL MVP Award while being the third most valuable member of his own team.
Curtis Granderson, Adrian Gonzalez and Michael Young are like Tom Cruise.
Every now and then you’ll hear someone express outrage or disbelief over the fact that Cruise, over his long and extremely high-profile career, has never won an Oscar. And I never get it. He’s been in some good movies (and lots of terrible ones, of course), he’s been fun to watch, but he’s also generally got two speeds, heartbreakingly sensitive (Jerry Maguire) and righteously outraged (Jerry Maguire, A Few Good Men, every other movie he’s ever made). What people loved Cruise for are the types of movies (mostly brainless action flics) he made, the general sense of coolness he gave off, and maybe to some extent the hilarious level of real-life crazy. A lot of little flashy things that draw your attention. Fun, but having nothing to do with his acting ability.
Speaking of fun, you know what’s fun? Twenty doubles, ten triples, thirty homers, and twenty steals in the same year. Or, a batting title and a bunch of RBI. Or a scrappy little leader guy who came into the year without a position and is not hitting .340. That’s what Granderson, A-Gon and Young have, respectively, and they’re pretty impressive numbers and cool stories and stuff. But they’re just kind of fun, not in any way numbers that give a player value. That Granderson’s numerological feat is extremely rare and cool just doesn’t get him any closer to being the MVP. And he is pretty close, really, as Keith Law wrote in the first link I gave above. It’s just that the novelty of the 20-10-30-20 doesn’t help. Same thing with Gonzalez’s impressive traditional stats; Bautista is just a whole lot better. And Young, high average and all, hasn’t been one of the dozen best players in the league this year, no matter what his manager says.
My gut feeling is that if the season ends more or less the way it is right now, Granderson is your MVP, Gonzalez the runner-up. I’m looking forward to the day when a .457 OBP is the Tom-Cruise-flashy number and RBI is just another stat on the card that nobody really notices or bothers to understand. But we’ve got quite a ways to go there.