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Should the emphasis be on most, should it be on valuable? It's a subject that's gotten murkier and murkier as the year progressed, and now that the regular season is in the books, it's time to try to make some sense of it all.
I think where folks are getting confused about the MVP award is that they're trying to judge which players have been most valuable to their team, when in fact they should be judging which player has been the most valuable, period.
It's nearly impossible to quantify which player has been most valuable to their own team, because every situation is completely different. Judging how valuable Jose Bautista has been to the Blue Jays and how valuable Jacoby Ellsbury has been to the Red Sox are like comparing apples and oranges.
Just to reiterate how silly the rationale is that the MVP candidate must come from a playoff team, let's eliminate all the candidates who won't be playing October baseball: Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez.
When we test that theory, it just goes to show how outrageous this school of thought is. So it's not fair to hold Jose Bautista's team against him when he has no control over what the other 24 men on the roster do around him.
And just in case you weren't sick and tired of the MVP debate already, here's one last plea for Jose Bautista to win the AL MVP. It actually turns out to be a plea not to vote for Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Justin Verlander.
One of the biggest arguments against Jose Bautista's MVP chances last year was that while he was far and away the most impressive slugger in the league, his .260 batting average was not that of your typical MVP.
Now one year later, Bautista finished with a .302 batting average and yet his chances don't seem any better. Aside from home runs, doubles and RBI's, Jose Bautista improved in all offensive categories compared to 2010.
What frustrates me is that although Jose Bautista's AVG was .260 last year and people wrote him off for that, they are miraculously able to ignore Curtis Granderson's .262 AVG and yet still put him ahead of Jose Bautista on their ballot.
The big advantage Curtis Granderson has over all the other candidates is he plays on the biggest stage on earth for the New York Yankees. His rise to the top has been well documented around all corners of the baseball world in 2011.
That's the only explanation I can find why Tracy Ringolsby picked Curtis Granderson as his #2 MVP candidate, behind Justin Verlander at #1 and Michael Young at #3. Shockingly, no mention of Jacoby Ellsbury or Jose Bautista anywhere.
On paper, Jose Bautista clearly had the better offensive season, but what about the other side of the equation, defense?
With Curtis Granderson, I feel like there's this perceived notion that he's a really good fielder, when in fact he isn't. Since Granderson has a reputation as being a "fast" player, I believe people just automatically associate that with being a great centre fielder.
The best centre fielders are the fastest ones, right? I think that's where Curtis Granderson is getting the benefit of the doubt because his reputation as a base stealer lends to him being a good fielder.
I'll be the first to admit that Jose Bautista isn't a spectacular fielder, either. Much like Granderson, I think Bautista's reputation proceeds him; it's Jose's strong throwing arm that allows him to have the eminence of being a good fielder.
Not that fielding should be determined on statistics alone, but at the end of the day, that's the only body of work people can really work from. It's not based off a visual memory bank of great catches in the outfield.
Curtis Granderson's UZR was -6.2 compared to Jose Bautista's -8.3. And when it comes to Total Zone Fielding Runs, Granderson comes in at -2 compared to Bautista's 0.
Just as a frame of reference, Brett Gardner had 35 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average this season.
Once again, the thing Jacoby Ellsbury has over Jose Bautista is he plays a premium defensive position, with a difficult outfield configuration at his home ballpark. Unlike Curtis Granderson though, Ellsbury handles centre field very well.
Whether you prefer Baseball Reference's interpretation of WAR or FanGraphs WAR, both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista are ranked in the top two of both versions respectively.
The difference between the WAR's for Bautista are slightly different; an 8.6 WAR according to Baseball Reference, and a 8.4 WAR on FanGraphs. Apparently FanGraphs WAR is more weighted on defense, which would explain why Jacoby Ellsbury is up there with 9.6 WAR as opposed to 7.2 on BBREF.
It pains me to say this, but Jacoby Ellsbury is definitely and admirable foe for Jose Bautista as American League MVP. I can definitely see him getting the lion's share of the votes, and they would all be warranted.
I alluded to it off the top, but I think a positive side affect of the Red Sox not making the playoffs is that it should help voters look at Jose Bautista and Jacoby Ellsbury equally, and not lean more towards the Red Sox because they would have made it into the postseason.
Ellsbury would have been hailed for "saving the season" with his 3-run home run on Sunday against the Yankees, perhaps swaying some indecisive voters. But thanks to the Red Sox collapse, we don't have to worry about that scenario.
Not everyone holds Jose Bautista in as high a regard as the legions in Toronto, and I'm cool with that. A first place MVP vote for Jacoby Ellsbury or even Curtis Granderson is understandable. But what really frustrates me is an AL MVP vote for Justin Verlander.
You're telling me that a man who played in only 34 games is more valuable than a man who plays upwards of 162 games? Given, Verlander faced 882 batters this season and Jose Bautista only went to the plate 655 times, but position players always play both sides of the game.
Jose Bautista was there day-in and day-out, whether it was at third base, right field, or at the plate. Justin Verlander had the luxury of watching every half inning from the dugout, while Jose Bautista was accumulating 3-4 at bats per game.
And despite the story that's been spun by the media the entire season, Justin Verlander was not the head and shoulders best pitcher in the American League this season. Another solid season from CC Sabathia was overshadowed by all the Verlander hype.
For the people trying to justify voting Verlander as MVP, the crutch to their argument is "where would the Tigers be without him?" Yes, Verlander won 23 games, but only 5 of them came against teams with a winning record.
And again, Justin Verlander did not single-handedly win 23 games all by himself for the Detroit Tigers. They would not have 72 wins without him as opposed to the 95 they have with him now. It's another discussion for another day about the pitcher's win statistic, but suffice it to say those wins don't mean very much in my book.
I'm not against the idea of voting for a pitcher as MVP entirely, but not when there was such strong field of position player candidates, and not when that pitcher wasn't far and away the best in the league.
While I would love for Bautista to win the MVP, I don't expect him to garner the votes necessary to take the award. More than likely, it's going to go Jacoby Ellsbury or heaven forbid, Justin Verlander. However, Jose should hopefully have a strong showing and land in at least the top three.
Don't get me wrong, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury and Justin Verlander all had fantastic seasons. I'm not discounting anything they did in 2011. All I'm asking is that the writers with AL MVP ballots disregard player reputations, narratives, or any other intangibles that might sway their vote.
Whether or not their team made the playoffs, select whom you believe had the best overall season, and don't consider any outside factors. Don't look at the names ... look at the numbers, and it should be clear who was the best in 2011.