Today it was announced that Justin Verlander is the American League MVP. Many people that aren't in the sabermetric community pegged Verlander as their MVP based on statistics that don't tell us as much as sabermetrics. His 24 wins and 2.40 ERA are nice but he might not have even been the best pitcher in the American League. More on that later though. The other two main competitors for the award were Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista.
Both Bautista and Ellsbury had great years. Bautista continued right where he left off from last seasona and Ellsbury was out to prove that he wasn't an injury prone outfielder.
Offensively Ellsbury had his best season to date. His WAR was 9.4 but there are other factors that should be taken into account besides WAR. He was never regarded as someone with a lot of power, his previous career highs in home runs and ISO were 9 and .114 which was in 2008. He did have a .155 ISO in 2007 but that was in 33 games. This year, out of nowhere, he had a .230 ISO to go along with 32 home runs. There a few statistics that could be a contributing factor to the increasing power. First is his GB%. In 2008 his GB% was 51.7%, then in 2009 it was 50.1%. This year it dropped by roughly 7%, dropping to 43%. He also saw an increase in his LD%. In 2008 he had a 20.3% and in 2009 it was 17.7%. Fast forward to this year and it was 22.9%. His BB% and K% didn't change much but his OBP was 14 points better than his career average. For the year he had a .376 OBP compared to a .362 for his career. His wOBA was also a career high, .402, .033 better than career average. One thing that really sets Ellsbury apart from everyone else is his defense. This past season Ellsbury had a 15.6 UZR, only behind his 2008 season where he had a 21.2 UZR. The point is Ellsbury is a really good defender.
The other player who had a great season was Jose Bautista. Check out my article I did earlier in the season about why I believe he's the best player in baseball. It may not seem possible but Jose Bautista had an even better season then 2010. He posted an 8.3 WAR and developed into a well rounded offensive player. He saw a sharp spike in his BB% percentage, something to be expected after his crazy power outburst the year before. His BB% jumped from 14.6% to 20.2%. Due to the spike in his walks he saw a sharp increase in his OBP, going from .378 to .447. His ISO went from .357 to .306 but that doesn't take away anything, .306 is ridiculous in it's own right. An observation on why he saw a power drop could be contributed to the increase in GB% that he saw. His GB% went from 31.1% to 36.9%. Despite all of that he actually created runs 15% better then last year. In 2010 his wRC+ was 166 and this past season it was 181. Unlike Ellsbury, Bautista isn't known as a defender. He played the majority of the year in RF where his UZR was -8.6.
Based on the information I have provided Ellsbury is the better MVP candidate, a big advantage Ellsbury that Ellsbury has is his defense.
We're not done though, we still have to look at Justin Verlander. Verlander had an amazing season, I won't take that away from him but he still didn't deserve the MVP. Some would argue that he wasn't even the best pitcher in the American League. At seasons end Verlander had compiled a 7 WAR and 2.99 FIP. One pitcher who was arguably better was Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia. Besides ERA C.C. Sabathia had a better FIP- as well as xFIP-. Sabathia's FIP - was 69 and his xFIP- was 75. Verlander on the other hand had a FIP- of 73 and an xFIP- of 77. Besides the FIP and xFIP differentials Sabathia and Verlander were close in a bunch of other stats. Verlander struck out batters 2.4% more of the time. 25.8% to 23.4%. Their walk rates as well as HR/9 were similar as well. One thing that Verlander did have was an extremely low BABIP. Verlander's was .236 compared to Sabathia's .318 BABIP. Verlander was defientely more luck then Sabathia this season. Verlander also has the luxury of pitching in the must easier division.
The AL Central is much, much more easier to pitch in than the AL East. The AL East had three teams that would have been in the playoffs in any other division and a fourth team that could've won a division like the AL Central. Out of 24 of Verlander's wins only 4 came against teams with above .500 records. Verlander also only played in roughly 22% of his teams games, not nearly enough to be considered the MVP. Based on how good the AL East is it should be even more impressive what Sabathia did during the course of the season. If that weren't enough Sabathia had .1 more WAR than Verlander. Sabathia was at 7.1 and Verlander had 7. WAR shouldn't be the only stat you use but it shows how good Sabathia was.
Based on all the information I presented you I would have to say Jacoby Ellsbury should have been MVP. He had an amazing offensive season as well as an amazing defensive season. The most valuable player is the player who gave his team the most value, and this year that was Boston Red Sox center fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury