Preview: American League MVP Award

BOSTON, MA: Home plate umpire Bill Welke shoves Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox as they both watch Ellsbury's hit fly out of the park in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Counting both the deserving candidates and the viable candidates, I see eight American Leaguers with some claim on the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.

In no particular order because I'm not going there yet, they are:

Curtis Granderson
Ian Kinsler
Justin Verlander
Jacoby Ellsbury
Dustin Pedroia
Jose Bautista
Miguel Cabrera
Adrian Gonzalez

Yes, we could go deeper. After all, there are 10 places on the actual MVP ballot. But once you get past the first two or three slots the arguments get less and less interesting, and we could easily spend the rest of this month arguing about the down-ballot positions.

The first thing to say about all this is this: There is no RIGHT answer. There are some right answers to particular questions, and there are certainly wrong answers. But whoever we come up with for No. 1, the difference between him and No. 2 will be well within whatever margin of error we might reasonably assume.

Let's start by eliminating some players.

I think, for example, that it's really hard to make a compelling case for Curtis Granderson. He did hit 41 home runs. But his OPS was lower than Jacoby Ellsbury's, and Ellsbury is generally considered the better fielder. By a lot. Which is backed up by the numbers.

Granderson's got another problem: His .262 batting average. Now, I know you don't care about batting average and you know I don't care and I know that you know that I don't care. But the voters care. At least a little. Granderson batted. 262 and Ellsbury batted .321 and I'm sure at least a few voters noticed. And cared.

Oddly, we can come up with a highly similar comparison at second base, with another Red Sock and another guy on a first-place team. Dustin Pedroia's season was almost exactly as brilliant as Ian Kinsler's, but Pedroia's got the big edge in batting average, .307 to .255.

Can we eliminate Kinsler because of his batting average? Again, I wouldn't. But some of the voters will.

Of course, some of the voters will exclude Pedroia and Ellsbury because their team finished out of the money. Which is just another big X-factor in this year's balloting. Ellsbury has it all -- average, walks, homers, steals, excellent defense -- except for his team finishing one game out of the playoffs. Which is going to hurt him. It's just a question of how much.

It's also going to hurt Jose Bautista, who was clearly the best hitter in the American League this season. I had him, for much of the season, as the obvious MVP candidate because I don't really find a compelling reason to hold a player's teammates against him in these discussions. But Bautista did fall off a lot in the second half, hitting only 12 home runs after the All-Star Game. Essentially, his second half dropped into a rough tie with Ellsbury ... and Justin Verlander.

I mean, depending on how you measure these things. I wouldn't give Verlander any chance at all, because some voters just don't like pitchers no matter how good they are. But with Pedroia and Kinsler splitting some votes and Ellsbury and Granderson splitting some votes and Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera splitting some votes and Jose Bautista's second half, maybe this is the year a (starting) pitcher can sneak in and win for the first time since 1986.

I don't think that's going to happen. I do think Ellsbury would have won, if the Red Sox hadn't blown that lead. He might still win it. But I'm having a real hard time figuring out if he'll finish first or fifth.

Here's where I would have them:

1. Ellsbury
2. Bautista
3. Cabrera
4. Pedroia
5. Verlander
6. Kinsler
7. Gonzalez
8. Granderson

I'm pretty happy with my top five, but otherwise it's just messing around. Which is why I didn't bother filling out my last two slots. (Memo to BBWAA: If you ever let me have an MVP ballot, I'll spend longer than an hour on this. And I promise I'll fill in those last two lines, too.)

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