Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts is making a serious run at AL MVP
The Boston Red Sox may have a rare MVP at shortstop surface. The worst positions on the diamond to collect Most Valuable Player iron are second base, shortstop, and relief pitchers. Only four out of the ‘pen has won an MVP with Dennis Eckersley in 1992 being the last. Second basemen and shortstops have 16 each with Dustin Pedroia being the only Red Sox player to win an MVP at second. At short the Red Sox have been shut out and that may change in 2021.
Xander Bogaerts is on a favorable MVP track for 2021. Statistically, the numbers are impressive. The position Bogaerts plays is of premium value. The Red Sox have been competitive. Bogaerts is a leader – albeit a quiet leader. All those qualities should have Bogaerts getting the attention if all those factors remain on track.
The main competition for Bogaerts is now on the IL. Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and has three MVPs to boot. But is the best player necessarily the most valuable? I have wondered about how the voting takes place with that addendum?
In 1958 and 1959 I was starting to realize a bit more about the factors of great players and most valuable players. Ernie Banks is in the Baseball Hall of Fame and was a magnificent shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. In both those seasons, Banks was MVP for Cubs teams that were dreadful – both seasons had fifth-place finishes and losing records. In 1958 Willie Mays was ignored and in 1958 it was Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews. The voting was not close either year.
In Red Sox history there were two rather questionable MVP losses. In 1947 Ted Williams lost to Joe DiMaggio by one vote. Statistically, it was not even close. If your heart’s statistical desire is WAR then Teddy Ballgame came in at a 9.5 bWAR and “Joltin’ Joe” came in at 4.5 fWAR. Of course, the Yankees just beating out the Red Sox had some clout, and Mel Webb – a Boston writer – left Williams off the ballot.
In 1967 Carl Yastrzemski won the MVP but it was not unanimous. Yaz had a 12.4 bWAR and a Triple Crown, but a Minnesota writer gave Cesar Tovar (2.4 fWAR) a first-place vote. Both these incidents are examples of leaving the voting in the hands of the media with their ingrained biases or ability to exact revenge.
So much for my diversion into MVP history, but what about the present? There certainly will be competition for the honors even with the potential for teammates Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez to siphon off votes. Byron Buxton was on a fast track to the award but injuries have surfaced. Valdimir Guerrero Jr. has shown his remarkable talent. Two-way threat Shohei Ohtani can slide into the award if he continues to powder the ball and take a regular turn on the hill.
The most significant impact for the path to MVP is the sacred “numbers” be they traditional or advanced metrics. At his current pace, Bogaerts will be among the leaders in the American League in various offensive categories, but players do not live by the bat alone. They must take their place in the field. Just that aspect probably cost David Ortiz an MVP.
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Defensive metrics can be a tricky subject. There is the eyeball and the informational standard. I tend to blend both. Bogaerts is not Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees who won the 1950 MVP. Rizzuto only hit above .300 once in his HOF career and chose that season to do it. His stellar glovework was well noted and you thought glove first and bat second. You do not do that with Bogaerts. Bogaerts makes the plays, is solid going to his right or left, does not get his double-play partner killed on a lousy feed, and has a strong arm. Bogaerts is solid but not flashy.
As the one-third mark nears I would show my own bias and have Bogaerts as the favorite. I would expect that offensively Bogaerts will pump out 30+ home runs, 100+ RBI, and hit .300. While I am on the Bogaerts for MVP soapbox what I really admire despite a recent blunder is his base running skills. Knowing when and how to take an extra base and steal a base is a mental and physical skill.
Lastly and for a future discussion is that Bogaerts is quite possibly on a track to get 3,000 career hits. That is a long way to go so for the moment the idea is to enjoy watching as solid a player as you will find. With the Red Sox still sitting atop first place in the AL East and Bogey being a massive part of that it would be a crime if he’s not in the discussion come October if they continue this success.