As the battle rages on between Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista and Curtis Granderson, or Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Joey Votto, I felt it was necessary to take a peek at a few players who have flown under the radar in their respective league’s MVP balloting — at least on the basis of how much press they’ve received.
Ian Kinsler – Texas Rangers 2B
Kinsler has been rock-solid at the keystone for a Rangers club that has had a bit more trouble putting away the American League West than most expected. Nonetheless, with a pair of former studs having down seasons – namely, Chase Utley and Dan Uggla – Kinsler has stepped in to join Dustin Pedroia at the top of the ranks of the WAR leaderboard, checking in at 6.7 with just a handful of games remaining. In terms of value to the team, Kinsler certainly has it, as he’s played in all but six of his club’s games, and leads the league in plate appearances. This has been pretty noteworthy, considering Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Hamilton have each missed 30-plus games for various reasons for the Rangers.
Alas, Kinsler’s MVP candidacy is hurt first and foremost by his .253 batting average. There are certainly enough Triple Crown-worshipping scribes in the BBWAA that will knock Kinsler down a few pegs based on a statistic that weighs singles and home runs as equal. Similarly, Kinsler’s 72 RBI tie him for 33rd in the American League, which will no doubt make Ian a prisoner of circumstance, rather than a non-entity when it comes to driving teammates home. Finally, those writers who have progressed to the OPS-side of the aisle will likely see Kinsler’s 826 OPS as little to write home about, both in the context of his career (pales in comparison to his ’08 season) and his league (30th among AL hitters with 200 or more plate appearances). Still, it’s far and away the best season of Kinsler’s career; one that saw him finally combine an excellent season at the dish with one with the leather, and for that Ian should be commended. It’s been a good year for Ians on the baseball field.
Ryan Braun – Milwaukee Brewers LF
It truly is inexplicable why Braun isn’t garnering more attention in the NL MVP race. He falls in line with a few of the standard, if antiquated prerequisites. First of all, he’s hitting .331, good for second place in the Senior Circuit. Second, he’s closing in on 30 home runs and 100 RBI, both of which tend to be looked upon very favorably in final balloting. Finally, despite the club’s best efforts to do the contrary, it’s looking pretty obvious that the Hebrew Hammer’s Brewers are going to run away with the NL Central for the first time in the club’s history. In fact, this will be the club’s first division title in nearly 30 years, since the 1982 group of Harvey’s Wallbangers won the AL East and lost the World Series.
Even when considering Braun in a more modern light, he’s still a very legit candidate. Braun paces the NL in wOBA, SLG, and wRC+, and all by a healthy margin. So what gives? Well, I don’t entirely know. The media seems fixated on having three top candidates in each league, which leaves Braun on the outside looking in. Similarly, Braun will never be in the consideration for a Gold Glove award. Still, he’s no Mr. Kemp in that regard either, yet it’s the Dodger whom is garnering plenty of attention for a team that is only still in contention to win as many games as it loses. To summarize, I can’t really say for sure why Braun isn’t a legit candidate. He fills all the stereotypes and preconceived notions that an MVP seems to require, yet falls short on the hype. With a contract that could extend through the 2021 season, I’m guessing he doesn’t mind.
Alex Gordon – Kansas City Royals LF
The final candidate, at least in my view, is more of a feel-good candidate. Once-burdened by the weight of being branded as the “next George Brett”, Gordon has finally come into his own as a hitter, setting career highs in each triple-slash category, home runs, RBI, and doubles, and has done so by a sizeable margin. It couldn’t have come at a better time for all parties involved either, as the crowd of super prospects descends upon Kauffman Stadium, bringing hope to a team that’s been dormant since the late 80s, save for a brief glimmer in the Tony Pena era.
Perhaps the most drastic jump for Gordon has been in his WAR, where he had accumulated 4.7 wins coming into 2011. This season, Gordon has been good for 6.0 – good for 13th among all hitters – while drastically improving his baserunning and defense as well. No, Gordon may not even garner as much as a tenth-place vote in the balloting. After all, the Royals figure to finish fourth in a topsy-turvy Central division, and there still may be apprehension about whether or not this breakout is for real, but one thing remains for sure: Gordon has had one heck of a comeback season. I think Alex will take that 2011 Comeback Player of the Year award on his mantel any day.