Over the past couple of days I have submerged myself in the debate over who will win the AL MVP award. I’ve tried to absorb as much information and as many viewpoints as possible. The AL MVP and NL Cy Young races may be the most captivating, so this will likely take several posts for each candidate to have their case dissected. But today I’d like to focus on the rival centerfielders in the AL East, Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury and New York’s Curtis Granderson.
Ellsbury (.317 AVG/.376 On Base Percentage/.533 Slugging Percentage) and Granderson (.270/.374/.570) each have very similar (and strong) MVP cases. They’re both speedy centerfielders, who can hit for surprising power. Granderson trails Bautista this season in home runs with 38, while Ellsbury has broken out in his fifth year as a pro seeing his home run total spike to 25 (before the 2011 season, Ellsbury had hit just 21 career home runs). In addition, Ellsbury and Granderson are tied with Gonzalez and Robinson Cano for the most extra base hits in the American League with 70.
According to fangraphs.com, Ellsbury’s 8.2 WAR (wins above replacement) leads all of baseball. War was invented as a way to quantify the number of wins a given player means to his team. Essentially, Ellsbury’s extraordinary play this season can be chalked up to about eight more wins than a “replacement” player would provide. It’s not a perfect stat, but it’s a much better evaluator then traditional stats such as RBI (runs batted in), and runs scored. Granderson ranks fifth in the majors in WAR at 6.9 wins above replacement. Like I said above Granderson and Ellsbury stack up very similarly when comparing their 2011 seasons except for one area, defense.
Ellsbury has played a much better center field this season than Granderson. On the surface, these two look pretty comparable statistically on defense. Ellsbury is yet to make an error, while Granderson only has three. Granderson also has nine outfield assists to Ellsbury’s six. Similar, yes?
But once again, I’ll revert back to more reliable stats to compare the two. The best advanced fielding statistic in baseball right now is called UZR (ultimate zone rating.) The stat takes variables like arm strength, range, and errors into account and, like WAR, attempts to quantify it. Unlike WAR though, UZR measures the number of runs a given fielder saves, or if he’s a poor defender, costs.
Ellsbury’s UZR in 2011 is 15.8, making him one of the best outfielders in the game this season. While Granderson has actually hurt his team in centerfield as his UZR sits at -5.9. The Grandyman’s struggles in center have been well documented, and ESPN’s Mark Simon did a nice piece on his poor defense. As Beyond the Box Score noted, advanced defensive stats still have a long way to go, but there’s no doubt that Ellsbury has meant much more to his team as a defender then Granderson.
If one seeks to make a case for Granderson over Ellsbury, then look no further than runs and RBI. Granderson has driven in 109 runs to Ellsbury’s 89, and scored a ludicrous 126 runs, compared to Ellsbury who has touched home 103 times. If you believe in runs and RBI as good evaluators of talent and value then Granderson may just be the better MVP choice.
In all honesty, the debate requires more time and more words for each player to get a fair shake. But in my opinion, Ellsbury has a better MVP case than Granderson.
Statistics are from from ESPN.com, fangraphs.com, and baseballreference.com.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.