Jacoby Ellsbury, MVP?

Another hardly watchable Red Sox game today, as the team continues to stumble through August. With injuries starting to become troublesome and a sudden offensive drought, now's a good time to discuss the MVP candidacy of the only player that produced during the Tampa series: Jacoby Ellsbury. Consider the following two stat lines:

Player A- .326, 17 HR, 83 RBI, 20 SB
Player B- .313, 22 HR, 78 RBI, 32 SB

Diehard Red Sox fans will recognize Player A as Dustin Pedroia during his 2008 MVP season. Player B is Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011, with 40 games still to play. Needless to say, in past years, Ellsbury's current production might have been enough to take home an MVP award.

The biggest obstacle in Ellsbury's MVP candidacy may be separating himself from his own teammates. If the season ended today, Jacoby, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Gonzalez would likely split top-five votes. Selecting the most impressive year among these three is kind of like trying to choose between Kate Upton and Brooklyn Decker. Ells has the edge in homers and steals. A-Gon is first in the AL with a .348 average and second in RBI (92). Pedey is having an exceptional year and deservedly gets the nod for intangibles. And of course, all three guys have been playing Gold-Glove defense.

Even if he can avoid a vote split, Ells still faces stiff competition from familiar faces in the AL East. Michael Young (as a DH) and Miguel Cabrera are having great seasons for division leaders, but expect this race to come down to Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson and the member of the Red Sox trio who finishes strongest--Jacoby, at the moment.

Bautista leads the world in home runs, slugging, on-base percentage and walks, but a fourth-place finish in the AL East will hurt his case. Voters lean toward contenders, and teams' increasing refusal to pitch to Bautista are slowing his run-production. He'll almost certainly have to break the 50-homer threshold again to hold off Granderson and Ellsbury.

Granderson, on the other hand, has been an absolute run machine. He's second in home runs, recently surpassed Gonzalez for the AL RBI lead, and he's miles ahead in runs scored. Throw in a very solid 22 steals, and Granderson is the favorite out of the Bronx. However, Granderson carries three fatal flaws that hurt his candidacy:
  1. His batting average currently sits at .277. No AL MVP has had a batting average under .290 since 1969.
  2. He strikes out A LOT. Only whiff masters Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds have more in the AL.
  3. By defensive metrics, Granderson is the worst center fielder in the AL.
Granderson has put up incredible numbers so far, but in the MVP race, he may be vulnerable to a more complete player. Which brings us to...

Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury ranks in the AL top-10 in runs, hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, steals, slugging percentage (seriously), OPS, and is tied for 11th in home runs. Among AL center fielders, he ranks second in runs saved. Jacoby is doing it all, and it's starting to approach historic levels.

Currently with 22 home runs and 32 steals, Ellsbury has a very realistic shot at reaching 30-40. Only 12 players in MLB history are members of the 30-40 club. The only lead-off hitter in the group is Jimmy Rollins, who just happened to win an MVP that year.

Ellsbury is also well within striking distance of the 100 RBI mark. The only lead-off hitter to ever do that is Darin Erstad in 2000, with exactly 100.

There is still lots of baseball to be played in 2011, but if Ellsbury can maintain his scorching second-half pace and reach the 30 HR-40 Steal-100 RBI plateau, he'll be the second Red Sox MVP in four years.

Not a bad turnaround from 2010.