Full disclosure: This post may be entirely ill-conceived. It may not be the appropriate thing to muse about at length right after a series as intense and enjoyable as that one (Mike Adams' final pitch of the series notwithstanding). I believe Adam is supposed to have a post on this same general subject sometime later today over at Lone Star Ball, and I have no doubt that will be an excellent read and well worth the time, but with this particular subject becoming overheated in the last couple of days, I figured this was as appropriate a time as any to spill my remaining thoughts on the matter into print on the morning after a loss. It may be tantamount to hollering out into an already overcrowded echo chamber, but I'm willing to roll with that risk.
Over the last couple of days, we've been hit with a barrage of articles from the local press concerning the notion of Michael Young being, at the very least, the Rangers' most valuable player this season, and possibly being up for serious consideration for the American League MVP award itself. Richard Durrett was the first to kick it around (to my knowledge, at least), and then Ron Washington deemed Young the most valuable player on the team this season and a legitimate AL MVP contender during a pre-game press conference on Wednesday, which in turn led to a missive from Evan Grant about Young being the team MVP and deserving AL MVP consideration, and then another from Anthony Andro yesterday.
And, well, it's not hard to ferret out the reasons for that strong groundswell of support for Young -- entering Thursday evening's series finale, he was boasting a career-best .342/.378/.501 (.379 wOBA; 138 wRC+) offensive showing on the season, and then, on top of that, a career-best win probability added of +2.86 WPA. Strip game context out of your own personal player valuation model, and he's been a beast; throw it back into the equation, and he's been arguably even more of a beast, as only five other players in the American League -- Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, Bobby Abreu, and Adrian Gonzalez -- have delivered stronger WPA totals this season. If you want to value the entire package of offense, defense, baserunning, and the necessary positional adjustments, Young has posted up 3.6 wins above replacement this season -- again, his best single-season mark since 2006.
By any metric of your choosing, Young has enjoyed a superb season -- a season that only a ceaselessly optimistic few could have foretold before the season commenced. And over the last 30 days, he's taken his renaissance season to another echelon altogether (127 PA, .410/.449/.573; .437 wOBA, 177 wRC+), with that time frame covering the entirety of Adrian Beltre's hamstring-induced absence from the lineup, and with his performance in that time frame fueling the on-point perception that he's elevated his game to another level at a time when the Rangers desperately needed him to find that extra gear. I couldn't begin to downplay any of Young's offensive accomplishments this season while maintaining a clear conscience, nor would I even want to try.
But while all of this has been going on, something kind of strange has been going on -- arguments, some of a vociferous sort, have been breaking out. I've had several encounters with a particular subset of Rangers fans who believe that not being on board with the Young-for-MVP notion means not recognizing the value of what he has brought to the table this season, and therefore means that I'm being unfair to Young. There are others who believe that Young has contributed more value to the Rangers this season than Ian Kinsler (or any other Rangers player, for that matter), and while I am still inclined to believe that Kinsler holds a fairly substantial edge in that area, I can appreciate a quality argument on that point -- well, at least until people use the argument as an opening to disparage Kinsler himself.
And then there was this from Andro yesterday (in the above-linked article, which I do recommend reading):
Young has his detractors. There are those who think Ian Kinsler has been the team's most valuable player. Kinsler has been valuable, but he's been too inconsistent at the plate to take that honor from Young even though Kinsler had played at a Gold Glove level on defense.
Young's third-base defense has also come under fire. Fans of sabermetrics are quick to point out that Young is no Beltre at third base. Tell me something I didn't know. There's a reason the Rangers signed Beltre to play third.
For those of you who can't stand watching Young play third, consider your options. Where would the Rangers be if they had to rely on Omar Quintanilla and Andres Blanco to play third base for the approximately six weeks that Beltre will be out of the lineup? Maybe they are better defensively, but would that defense fill the void of what Young has provided from the cleanup spot in the order.
I may be wrong on this, but I would suggest that the various and sundry message-board jabs at Young's defense -- some of which I have personally been responsible for -- have mostly become a bit, at this stage. I understand the defensive limitations that he's saddled with at this point in his career, and though the rich variety of PADMY- and PASMY-type plays that we've seen over the last month have certainly gotten under my skin a few times, I'm at peace with the fact that he's out there doing the best that he can at a position that he wouldn't have any business playing if not for Beltre's injury. I also think that Young is the correct pick to have out there at third base given the personnel currently on hand, for what that's worth. Andro is right in the sense that Quintanilla and Blanco really aren't viable even as intermediate-term solutions to the problem.
With all that said, here's my problem with what was written above: I'm not sure why my consideration of Kinsler as the Rangers' most valuable player this season means that I'm a "detractor" of Young. That couldn't be further from the truth. If I'm siding with Kinsler in that regard, it's because I've watched the games, pored over the relevant statistics, and done my absolute best to objectively evaluate each player. It really doesn't matter who comes out ahead in a one-on-one comparison, because I'm perfectly happy with accepting either outcome. Why does picking one mean that I'm forced to devalue the other?
And the funny thing about it all is that I'm not sure how much we really get out of the whole process, at the end of the day. A couple of weeks ago, Lone Star Dugout's Jason Cole fired this tweet off in my direction: "I'm trying to figure out why anybody cares who the 'Team MVP' is. Are people bored with actual baseball?" I think there's a good point wrapped up in there. The players themselves certainly don't care about the putative team MVP (Young himself has stated that he doesn't care even about the AL MVP award), and, ultimately, it's the sum of all of the parts that gets the team where it wants to go. I think it's fun to debate up to a certain point, but once you bring people with agendas and/or hardline positions into that debate, and the debate begins to transition from mutually informative to even a little bit nasty, you have to take a step back and wonder if there isn't a more productive way to utilize your precious time.
The thing about the AL MVP award, however, is that lots of people across the baseball spectrum do care, and the vast majority of the players in the running for the award care -- and after having taken a second, intensive look at the numbers, I'm still having great difficulty buying into the Young-as-an-AL-MVP-contender argument. Defense doesn't seem to hold much weight in the view of the BBWAA electorate (yet), but it does hold at least a little weight. Young has nothing to speak of there. So, too, does baserunning (particularly on the basestealing front) and while he's contributed a little positive value there, it's not enough to have a material effect on his MVP candidacy. He's brought some positional flexibility to the table at the keystone and the hot corner, but has still logged 70 percent of his starts this season at either first base or designated hitter, which seriously undermines the "flexibility" argument.
But, ultimately, the fact that I wouldn't consider Young to be a legitimate contender for the AL MVP has far more to do with the quality of his elite-level peers than the deficiencies in his game. I would place very, very good money on at least four out of Jose Bautista (7.3 WAR), Dustin Pedroia (7.0 WAR), Jacoby Ellsbury (6.5 WAR), Curtis Granderson (5.8 WAR), Adrian Gonzalez (4.9 WAR), and Miguel Cabrera (4.5 WAR) finishing ahead of Young in the balloting. I have a fair amount of difficulty believing that he can wrangle even a single third-place or better vote from a non-Metroplex-area voter. I personally don't consider that to be a "legitimate" MVP contender.
Now, maybe other people do. Maybe the problem is rooted in how our individual interpretations of the word "legitimate" differ. If you expand the definition of the word to include players who will place in the No. 6-10 range in the balloting (as I expect Young, and perhaps Kinsler), then, yes, Young is a legitimate contender -- but if you can't make a reasonable case for a player being the best player in his league in a given season, is he really a "legitimate" contender? And, more relevantly, can you make that case for Young without engaging in all sorts of mental gymnastics along the way?
Appreciate Young. Appreciate Kinsler. Appreciate every player who has churned out value for this team to the fullest. Root for them to do well, and, heck, root for them to get their due props in the awards balloting. There's nothing at all wrong with that. Just be careful not to get carried away doing it. And for those who feel the compulsion to slam and/or disparage those players who have meaningfully contributed to the overwhelming success of this year's Rangers team ... well, it's time to let the healing begin.