Last year, we had Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout, in what was billed as a rhetorical proxy war between baseball’s “traditional” and “sabermetric” factions.
In fact, it wasn’t a battle for the soul of the sport. It wasn’t so “new-age” after all. It was a simple case of executives, coaches, players, reporters and fans having varied opinions as to what constitutes “value.”
Some of us believe the definitive answers are found in statistics. Some of us don’t. Some of us consider team success. Some of us don’t. Some of us look at intangible factors, such as a player’s willingness to assume a leadership role, move to a different defensive position, or play through injury. Some of us don’t.
Me? I’m a fan of context. I believe the league’s Most Valuable Player is the man who made the largest overall contribution to his team’s victories. And if that sounds like a bias toward players from winning teams, well, it absolutely is. A player is never more valuable to his team than when he helps it win.
And that is why, if I had to vote today, Dustin Pedroia would be my pick as American League MVP.
I reserve the right to change my mind. I did last year. Trout was my AL MVP at the All-Star break. I was a Cabrera guy at the end, and not because he won the Triple Crown. Cabrera deserved the MVP — and ultimately won it — because he almost singlehandedly elevated his Detroit Tigers to a playoff berth with his extraordinary September. Pedroia has been the same type of force this year for the Boston Red Sox, who own the AL’s best record at 50-34.
This isn’t to discredit the seasons of Cabrera and Chris Davis, who rank 1-2 in the Triple Crown categories and OPS. Each is capable of winning the Triple Crown — and of delivering a division title for their teams the way Cabrera did last year. But Pedroia is the biggest reason the Red Sox are unexpectedly poised to win their first division title in six seasons.
Pedroia ranks among the AL’s top five in batting average, on-base percentage, and Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. But those statistics only tell part of the story.
Pedroia — as the Red Sox’s longest-tenured starting position player — bears a prominent responsibility in the organizational reboot following an embarrassing 2012. David Ortiz is in the lineup every day, but a designated hitter doesn’t impact as many areas of the game as Pedroia, the second baseman and emotional hub.
So when Pedroia tore a ligament in his left thumb Opening Day, his absence had the potential to derail the team’s season. But that absence never happened. Pedroia decided to play through the injury, which could require surgery, and kept his condition quiet until reporters learned about it nearly two months later.
Despite the pain, Pedroia has clocked in for 83 of Boston’s 84 games this season — and performed brilliantly. For a team that desperately needed to adopt a shut-up-and-play mentality after so many distractions and drama last year, it is hard to imagine a better example of value.
Pedroia has been the linchpin in a changing Boston lineup, batting in the No. 3 spot because manager John Farrell doesn’t have a prototypical hitter for that role. No matter. Pedroia has proven that he can drive in runs, and his .843 OPS is second only to Ortiz among Red Sox hitters.
Meanwhile, Pedroia has been arguably the steadiest second baseman in baseball — leading major league second basemen with 238 assists while making only one error in more than 700 innings.
Pedroia doesn’t have the outsize numbers of Cabrera and Davis. He never will. But to watch him play, and look at the standings, is to understand why he’s the most vital player to any team in the American League.