August 24, 2011

Shane Victorino for MVP? Shane Victorino for MVP.

Before 2011, Shane Victorino's best on-base percentage was .358 in 2009. It's .389 this year, good for eighth in the National League. Hunter Pence's OBP, by comparison, is a mere .365. Fellow centerfielder Michael Bourn is way down at .360.

Shane's best slugging percentage was previously .447 in 2008. He's currently at .551, which is fifth in the NL. Better than Mike Stanton and his 30 homers; better than Michael Morse and his 30 doubles; better than Albert Pujols, Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.

His 14 triples are a career-best, and he's 4 homers away from tying a career-best in that category, too.

And he's done it all in only 385 at-bats! Couple that with Gold Glove defense and, oh yeah, being the top hitter on the best team in baseball, and you have the resume of a legitimate MVP candidate.

Unfortunately, Shane won't win the award. Prince Fielder has a .300/.413/.552 slash line for another National League playoff lock, the Milwaukee Brewers, and his teammate Ryan Braun is sporting an equally impressive .328/.399/.586 line himself. Even if they split the vote, 23-year-old Justin Upton's .915 OPS for an unexpected contender in Arizona would probably win the day.

But Victorino deserves a top-5 finish and the kudos that comes with a top season, and only recently has the much-deserved, Shane-oriented groundswell begun. As this post from ESPN's SweetSpot blog shows, there's really not much difference between Shane's season and Jacoby Ellsbury's dynamic year at the plate in Boston. Yet Ellsbury is receiving boatloads of praise for his maturation into an all-around hitter, while Shane toils in obscurity. Well, as obscure as gets when you're the centerfielder for one of baseball's big three teams.

While 13 steals and 9 homers in only 294 at-bats is very impressive, there's no doubt that Chase Utley is on the decline. Ryan Howard's 96 RBIs don't exactly make up for an .820 OPS, the lowest of his career. Jimmy Rollins put up top-5 shortstop numbers for a few months before suffering another inevitable lower-body injury. Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez are breaking down before our eyes.

But, almost out of nowhere, Shane Victorino has become a patient, smart hitter, powering an inconsistent Phillies offense and providing a rotation of studs with just enough runs to take a commanding NL East lead.

The addition of Pence and the emergence of John Mayberry Jr. have taken some of the pressure off, but the Phillies owe a great deal of whatever offensive success they've had this year to Victorino. If that's not an MVP, I don't know what is.

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