Five Unconventional Picks for American League Most Valuable Player
Asher Chancey, Baseball Evolution
November 13, 2005
As we await the announcement of the American League MVP award, the debate has been reduced to Ortiz or ARod. Ortiz has the better numbers, but plays DH. ARod's numbers pale slightly in comparison, and with the Yankees perennially winning their division, it is hard to make the case for him as MVP even despite his numbers, and the fact that he plays third base.
In light of this controversy, I decided to think outside the box for a moment. Let's think about this award – Most Valuable Player. To me, this award is about more than stats or number of games won by a team. This award is about the player who provided the most value to his team, the player without whom his team would have been in the most trouble. Since continuing on creates a risk of tautological reasoning, I will simply present my list of five unconventional picks for AL MVP.
1. Jason Giambi
On July 1st, the Yankees were in some serious trouble. Randy Johnson was a failure as an off-season acquisition. The pitching staff was a disaster. The outfield situation was uproarious, as the Yankees struggled to find a way to stop base hits from getting to the wall. On July 1st, the Yanks were in a three way battle for the AL East with the Orioles and Red Sox, and were struggling to stay above .500. Then, for whatever reason, Jason Giambi decided to start hitting again, for the first time since 2003.
Through the end of June, Jason had 5 homeruns, including one in all of May and one in all of June. Then, on July 4th, he smoked 2 homeruns, and by the end of July he had hit 14 in the month. He never really cooled off, finishing the season with 32 homers in 139 games, and with an OPS over .950. With the Yankees struggling and the season in question, Giambi stepped up and was a difference maker. Now that is what I call value.
2. Scott Podsednik
For years the White Sox have been underachieving. With lineups loaded with talent, and above average pitching, the White Sox continually failed to meet expectations as they finished second three straight years to the less talented Minnesota Twins. Then, this year all that changed, and the White Sox went to the World Series. One significant reason for the change was Podsednik.
Acquired in the off-season for Carlos Lee, a more powerful leftfielder, Podsednik provided both speed at the top of the lineup and an ability to get on base (second on the team in OBP), as well as fantastic defense in left field. This improvement in outfield defense, mowing down the drives of right handed hitters which in years before were falling in, has been pointed to as one of the reasons the White Sox' starting pitchers fared so well this year. Further, late in the year when Podsednik got hurt, the White Sox proved just how valuable he was by nearly blowing the largest lead in the standings in the history of organized baseball.
3. Chone Figgins
The Anaheim Angels won their division this year. How did they do it? It must have been off-season acquisitions Steve Finley and Orlando Cabrera, right? Actually, no – they were both terrible. Must have been pitching, right? Maybe, though none of their starting pitchers (including Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon) were particular impressive from start to finish. Old reliables Vlad Guerrero and Garret Anderson? Well, both guys missed 20 games with various maladies. Rookie hotshot Dallas MacPherson? He only played 61 games and couldn't keep his OBP over .300.
In the end, the glue that held the team together was Chone Figgins. One of only two players on the team to play over 150 games, and the only one to scored 100 runs, Figgins managed to play six positions this season, which for a team maligned by inconsistency and injuries is incredibly valuable. Figgins was a key reason the Angels were able to hold off the surging Athletics late in the season.
4. Mariano Rivera
It pains me to say it, so I will not spend any time on it – but, he was the only consistent Yankees pitcher all year, which means when the team struggled, they could count Mariano sealing the close ones, and he was great down the stretch.
5. Huston Street
Remember April? May? The Athletics were bad. BAD. All the Beane haters looked at the A's problems, and at the Dodgers problems under Paul DePodesta, and thought that the Moneyball era was finally over. But then an interesting thing happened – the A's turned it around, like they have done so many times in recent years. This was probably the most impressive of all the turnarounds, because this year they looked seriously screwed.
The reasons may be many and varied. But for my money, you can look no further than the closer of the Oakland A's, rookie Huston Street. The A's started the season with Octavio Dotel as their closer, and he was inconsistent (to say the least). On June 1st, the A's were 20-32. On June 2, Street recorded his first save to push the A's to 21-32. The A's went 67-42 the rest of the way. Street finished the season with 23 saves and an ERA in the ones. Further, as the summer wore on, the A's young starting rotation got more consistent, and started to pitch into the late innings. At that point, having Street as the closer was crucial.
Oh, and by the way, Street was the lowest paid player on the team, making $316,000. So, in a macroeconomic sense, he was incredibly valuable as well.
So, there you have it. Five picks who may or may not even finish in the top ten in the voting. In essence, this may look like a list of five Marty Marions, or five Zoilo Versalleses, but these five guys were incredibly valuable to their teams, crucial cogs without whom their teams probably would not have fared nearly as well as they did, and valuable players upon whom the success of their teams turned.