Jacoby Ellsbury is having a terrific year, and has been one of the best all-around players in baseball this year. He’s been one of the main reasons the Red Sox have rebounded from a slow start, and is rightfully getting attention as a legitimate MVP candidate. He should absolutely be part of that discussion.
Over in the National League, though, Shane Victorino is performing at the same level and, at least by my perception, is getting roundly ignored. This should not be. Let’s put them side by side, shall we?
Ellsbury: .314/.369/.508, .387 wOBA, 142 wRC+, +11.2 UZR, +6.2 WAR
Victorino: .313/.390/.536, .406 wOBA, 157 wRC+, +6.5 UZR, +5.7 WAR
At the plate, Victorino’s been a bit better, posting the same average while drawing a few more walks and hitting for a little more power. UZR prefers Ellsbury as a defender this year, and he has a better reputation than Victorino, but both are valuable assets with the glove in center field. Both are also top-of-the-lineup hitters for teams that are performing extremely well and are essentially locks to make the playoffs. So, why the dramatic difference in recognition?
It basically comes down to counting stats. Victorino has had two separate stints on the 15-day DL this year, so he’s missed just a little less than a month of the season. Because of that, he only has 408 plate appearances, while Ellsbury has 541. The playing time gap gives Ellsbury an advantage in most of the counting stats – he has 41 more hits, 16 more stolen bases, 11 more runs scored, and eight more home runs. There’s also a drastic difference in RBIs, but hopefully voters would realize that there’s a huge disadvantage in hitting at the top of the line-up in the NL in that regard and not really use those to evaluate Victorino’s performance.
I don’t want to downplay the extra value that Ellsbury has been able to accrue since he’s stayed healthy. Certainly, he should get credit for playing the full season while Victorino loses points for the games he spent on the DL. However, value is a balance of quality and quantity, and Victorino’s performance has been a bit better when he’s been on the field. That’s why the gap in WAR isn’t so large, even though Ellsbury has played 26 more games than Victorino.
Since they’re in different leagues, they won’t actually be compared by voters this winter, but I do hope that the fact that Ellsbury is being touted as an MVP candidate (again, rightfully so) encourages NL voters to look at their league’s version of the same player. While he’s overshadowed by some ridiculously talented teammates, Victorino’s monster year is near the top of the list of reasons why the Phillies have run away with the NL East.
Center fielders who can hit, run, and field are remarkably valuable. I’m glad guys like Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson are getting the recognition they deserve in the American League. I just hope that National League voters realize that they have a very similar candidate on their side of things.