Sensing the angry mob that is building after simply reading the title above, I think it is prudent to clarify a little bit before we even get started.
I am in no way saying that Ben Zobrist deserves the MVP over the obvious prowess of Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera. The American League Most Valuable Player award is most certainly going to come down to one of those two gentlemen. They are far and away the cream of this year’s crop and no dark horse candidate is going to change that.
Still, given the voting guidelines set forth by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Zobrist deserves at least some mention in the conversation. Right?
Well, let’s start by taking a look at the guidelines:
(1) Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense;
(2) number of games played;
(3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort;
(4) former winners are eligible; and
(5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
Let’s start with the first guideline; actual value of player to his team. In terms of metrics, Zobrist’s 5.9 WAR (FanGraphs) is almost half of Trout’s 10.1 and far below Cabrera’s mark of 7.3. In fact, Zobrist’s WAR rating is actually .7 lower than in 2011, suggesting he was worth more last season.
However, we’re talking about “value to his team” and not against replacement level players. In that regard, Zobrist is one of the most valuable players in the league. Sure, his .272 batting average, 20 home runs, 88 runs scored, and 74 RBI do not necessarily ooze value, but consider that he put those numbers up on a team that drove in just 661 runs on the season. Zobrist also contributed these numbers in lieu of the Rays being without Evan Longoria for most of the season.
Speaking of value to team, Zobrist also played 45 or more games at shortstop, second base, and right field, filling in basically wherever Joe Maddon needed him to play. And while his defensive ratings at shortstop and second base are nothing to write home about, they are far and away better defense than Cabrera presents at third base for the Tigers, and are more than serviceable for Joe Maddon’s needs.
We can skip the games played, as Zobrist’s 156 games (through Tuesday) more than qualifies him in that regard.
Now we can move forward on to the “general character, disposition, loyalty, and effort” qualification. Again, did I mention that Zobrist played all over the field in 2012, doing whatever his team needed in order to win? Zobrist is a classic player, a guy that goes out and lays it out on the field, and you never hear a word from him, not when he’s been asked to switch positions, spots in the batting order, or even to lay down a bunt when needed. The voters would be hard-pressed to single out another player that exudes the aforementioned qualities of character and loyalty.
No, Ben Zobrist is not the league MVP and he will likely rank no better than a blip on the radar. However, he’s deserving of at least a passing nod, an 8th place vote or so when the BBWAA has its say.
He’s earned that much.