To be clear: I do not buy into the premise that a guy who “carried his team to the playoffs” deserves the MVP. Mostly because I don’t believe that one player can truly do that. Baseball is not basketball. It takes an entire team to win anything, and even if some guy gets hot at the right time, there were wins earlier in the season that helped the team into the playoffs that were attributable to others’ contributions. The baseball season is just too long and too many things happen to say one guy dragged his teammates to glory.
But if you are someone who buys into that — and given how much support Justin Verlander has received of late for that very reason, there are many — don’t you have to think hard about switching your vote to Jacoby Ellsbury?
The Sox have been truly awful in September, but Ellsbury has been a bright spot. He’s hitting .322/.377/.551 with seven homers and 19 RBI on the month. Add in last night’s heroics for the narrative-lovers and you have a much more solid case — if the Sox hold on and make the playoffs — that Ellsbury dragged his teammates over the hump than you do for Verlander who, while awesome, is pitching for a team who clinched last week and has a huge lead.
Not to say that Ellsbury isn’t a fine choice even if you don’t subscribe to the “he carried them in” school of thought — he is — but if that’s the basis for your vote for Verlander, how do you not switch to Ellsbury right now?
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.