Justin Verlander didn’t lock up the 2011 AL MVP award today. Nope he did that on September 28th. That’s the day the epic 2011 Red Sox collapse finally reached it’s embarrassing and Baltimore Oriole filled conclusion.
As I’ve written before Jacoby Ellsbruy was one of the few Sox players who player all season at the same high level. He is one of the few who did not give up and quit on the season. Who didn’t just say “Well it was God’s plan” or make some other excuse for why a team with that much talent couldn’t even slide into the postseason as a Wild Card team. Ellsbury put everything he had into this season, playing with a massive chip on his shoulder after his toughness was questioned throughout Boston the previous year.
Ellsbury put in one of the best seasons of any Red Sox outfielder I’ve seen and possibly ever. Manny might have put up more home runs but didn’t have the speed or defense. Dewey Evans was too old by the time I came around. I remember Ellis Burks more with Colorado and San Francisco. He played Gold Glove caliber center field while batting a team high .321 batting average, 32 home runs , 39 stolen bases and a league leading 364 total bases. The home run total is on a team with supposed power hitter Adrian Gonazalez and Big Papi Ortiz. The stolen bases were with the addition of one of the biggest stolen base threats in recent memory in Carl Crawford. The batting average with one of the best contact hitters in baseball in Dustin Pedroia.
On top of the statistical greatness Ellsbury passed the ‘most valuable’ part of the equation. Ellsbury continually came up in big moments and did everything short of going out a putting up five quality innings every five days to push the Red Sox towards the postseason. In a season where other’s dipped at times (A-Gon was pretty much gone the second half, Pedroia struggled early, Crawford still hasn’t got off the flight from Tampa, Lester and Beckett broke down due to video game related injuries) he steadily produced all year long. He wasn’t known as a power hitter but he gave the team power. He wasn’t supposed to be a guy that would drive in runs but he did that anyway. He has always been criticized for not getting on base enough for a leadoff guy well he posted a career high .376 OBP this season. He went above and beyond the call. If he had batted .290, with 70 RBIs and 50 stolen bases this season and added good defense it would have been considered a successful season. Instead he strapped the Sox to his back and came one loss short of dragging them into the playoffs despite much of the teams best efforts.
I still would have given the edge to Verlander even if the Sox had made it to the playoffs but it would not have been as open and shut a case as it was. To me an MVP can’t be on a losing team. If you are so valuable than why isn’t your team in the playoffs? So Ellsbury wasn’t ever a really serious contender as soon as his team was not good enough. The Sox would have played the same amount of playoff games this season with any other center fielder. Even a center fielder playing out of his mind.
P.S. While I’m writing about center fielders a Happy 42nd birthday to the only non-Red Sox player whose player shirt I ever owned; Ken Griffey Jr.