The MVP race in the American League is likely to come down to a battle between Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Chris Davis. Nobody should dispute that they are having the three best seasons in the American League this year.
But if we are looking at which players are the most valuable to their teams, then Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino and closer Koji Uehara should be receiving votes for MVP this season. Both players have had a tremendous impact on the Red Sox's stunning transformation from worst to first in the AL East.
Boston would not be on the brink of returning to playoffs without the contributions of Victorino and Uehara.
When Boston general manager Ben Cherington signed Victorino this past winter, I was critical of the move. A contract of $39 million for three years seemed like a lot of money to commit to a player coming off of a down season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I have no problem acknowledging that I was wrong. Victorino is truly the definition of a team player, one who needs to be seen daily to appreciate what he brings to a club on and off the field. He has brought energy and heart to a team that was deficient in both areas last season.
Offensively, Victorino has been the perfect bridge between Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, hitting for average, running the bases and getting clutch hits. He has also shown toughness, playing through injuries and setting the right example to his teammates. Victorino's WAR of 5.7 puts him in the top seven in the American League.
Right field is where Victorino has been a revelation. His defense has been the best the Red Sox have had at the position since Dwight Evans. According to Fangraphs, Victorino's UZR/150 of 39.6 is the highest in baseball. In comparison, Cody Ross played to a minus-4.5 last season while playing right for the Red Sox.
Victorino's defense coupled with Ellsbury's has been one of the reasons for the significant one-run improvement in the Red Sox pitching staff's ERA from last year to this year.
As good as Victorino has been this season, Uehara's season has been arguably better. The Red Sox traded for closers Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan the past two seasons. Neither player got the job done, and both players were lost this season to injury along with lefty specialist Andrew Miller.
In stepped Uehara, who has quietly become the best closer in the American League. His 3.3 WAR is 15th among AL pitchers this season.
He is exactly the type of signing that should get Cherington named the Executive of the Year in MLB. Uehara has solidified the Red Sox bullpen to withstand all of the injuries that have hit this season and has taken a situation in which the Red Sox could have struggled and changed it into a situation that has given Boston a distinct advantage.
Uehara's numbers have been stunning this year. It is not the 18 saves or the three wins. It is the 64.1 innings pitched with the 89 strikeouts. It's the ridiculous 0.59 WHIP. It is the comfort in knowing that taking a lead into the ninth inning should result in a win. He is the one of the main reasons that the Red Sox stand 30 games over .500 going into Sunday's game.
When the voting is done at the end of the season, both players should receive MVP recognition for what they have brought to the Red Sox this year.
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