I do not come to crown a king, but to talk about the contest.
Often the argument is made that the MVP should come only from a playoff team. "What," goes the argument, "is the value of a player to his team when they don't make the playoffs? If he helped them acquire ten more meaningless wins?"
I am not a proponent of this argument. To me, the line is far too arbitrary. What has a wild card team won if they don't win the World Series? How much worth do we really place on a division win beyond its implications in the World Series race that is the playoffs? Do we value a winning season differently depending on if it's par for the course or the end to years of futility (see: Pirates, The)? For any given team, success can mean very different things, and in almost no situation can winning more not be seen as a step in the direction of success.
It is, of course, a bit inconvenient that the 2012 Red Sox are arguably one of the rare exceptions here. The complete disaster that has surrounded this team makes the number of wins inconsequential so long as it's below some threshold, be it 81, 90, 95, 100...Instead, half of us find ourselves cheering for losses, hoping for some small added value in terms of draft positioning, convinced that with the complete separation between this year's team and next year's (at least in any scenario where winning is an actual possibility), losses this year will occur in something of a regular season vacuum. And so any win for the 2012 Red Sox is not a sign of progress towards 2013, but just a step away--however small--from future success*.
Still, MVP is, in fact, an individual award, and if it's so difficult to draw the line between where wins are valuable enough and where they aren't, then we should not draw them at all. And while the Red Sox have no MVP candidates--frankly, nobody even on the same planet as this year's crop--one guy is always best on the team.
This year, the race seems simple, and as such the betting is set at Cody Ross vs. the field.
It's easy to narrow the field down to a select few. The aforementioned Mr. Ross is obvious. David Ortiz needs to get a nod for how amazing he was when he was healthy. Dustin Pedroia has actually put together a very solid campaign for how long he lingered in the territory of the mediocre. I'd even consider Junichi Tazawa just because he's arguably been the most consistently fun revelation. Like a Will Middlebrooks who kept on giving.
The argument for Ortiz, however, as with Middlebrooks, is hurt by injury. He will finish the season having appeared in just over half of Boston's games. Junichi Tazawa, for all the good work he's done, is just a bullpen pitcher. No, the real argument comes down to Dustin Pedroia vs. Cody Ross.
In fact, both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference have Dustin Pedroia ahead of Cody Ross in WAR--by a full win, no less. It's difficult to overcome a tremendous defensive performance like Pedroia has had (as per usual, the man has a vacuum in place of his glove), especially when your contribution is more a matter of being the good amongst bad rather than the great amongst the good. And sure enough that's been the case with Ross this year. His performance is strong--a .824 OPS/.350 wOBA that's actually on the downturn right now--but it's not elite by any stretch of the imagination. Strong enough that we want him back for 2012, but not enough to make his way into the upper echelon of outfielder.
Pedroia, on the other hand, sits at .288/.343/.449. That's a .792 OPS and .343 wOBA from a defensively superlative middle infielder. Not amazing, not close to his usual standard, but very good. In fact, despite what you might think, Pedroia has even played in more games than Ross thanks to his sticking out his midseason injury. The upshot of this is that it does seem to make more sense to give Pedroia the nod.
What holds me back is the idea of impact, and while this hearkens back a bit to the earlier talk about individual vs. team efforts, and frankly into the territory of old fashioned stats proven largely obsolete, it does feel like Ross has meant more. His hits have seemed bigger, his homers more important. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that Pedroia's moments have come with the season essentially over while Ross was fighting in the early months, but somehow it just seems like Ross has contributed more.
As I said, though, I do not come to crown a king, but to talk about the contest. I've said my share, and now turn to you Red Sox fans to ask the question: who is more deserving?