Much has been written lately about the close and crowded race that the AL MVP is turning out to be. Not to muddle things up further, but I have a late entrant for your voting consideration: Peter Bourjos.
Yes, Peter Bourjos who has just 8 home runs.
Yes, Peter Bourjos who has just 32 RBIs.
Yes, Peter Bourjos who has scored just 55 runs.
Yes, Peter Bourjos who has just a .788 OPS.
His offensive numbers, obviously, aren't even in the same universe as a guy like Jose Bautista or Jacoby Ellsbury, but if you want talk about the player that is most VALUABLE to his team, I'm not sure you can find many more valued than Peter Bourjos is by the Angels.
MVP awards, they're not just for sluggers anymore!
In the age of sabermetrics, it is easy to get caught up in the treasure trove of statistics that are but a few keystrokes away. A player's statistical worth is incredibly important, but there is always going to be elements of the game that no number can truly quantify. In the case of Peter Bourjos, it is difficult to put one indisputable number on just what he means to the Angels.
His offensive numbers are hardly eye-popping, but they are improving and improving fast. After an up-and-down first half, Bourjos has finally found some consistency and become a key part of the Angel offense. That may sound like damning with faint praise since the Angel offense is below average at best, but his development over the last month has coincided with him moving up to the top of the Angel lineup where he has become a welcome spark and a major reason why the Halos are still lurking in the Texas Rangers' rearview mirror (warning, Texas, objects may be closer than they appear). Of course, MVP awards aren't won on one good month at the plate (and it is a good month with Bourjos carrying a 1.179 OPS thus far in August), even if that good month is a big reason for a team remaining competitive.
Where Bourjos really makes his claim to MVP status is in the field. To put it simply, his defense in center has been indispensable. With Bourjos covering an improbable amount of ground in the outfield, he has given his flyball-prone pitching staff license to pitch worry-free. It should come as no surprise that with Bourjos backing them up, extreme flyball pitchers Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana are all enjoying career seasons. Everyone agrees that the Halos would be nowhere near the top of the division if not for their elite starting pitching, but I ask you now, where would their starting pitching be if those three didn't have the confidence in Bourjos to catch just about anything hit in his general vicinity, freeing them up to pitch like they know best? Would they be having the same level of success if they had an aging and slowing Torii Hunter still patrolling center field? There may not be another defender in all of baseball who means as much to his pitching staff as Bourjos (unless you believe Mike Scioscia's rhetoric about Jeff Mathis' "receiving skills").
Of course, we can't just ignore numbers completely and rely on anecdotal tales like the one I just told. Believe it or not, Bourjos actually does have a (somewhat) legitimate case for MVP consideration. As of today, his UZR of 10.2 is the 12th highest in all of baseball, regardless of position, which proves just how fantastic his defense has been, just in case you didn't believe your eyes. As for as his actual quantifiable value goes, Bourjos still holds up well with a 4.2 WAR, which is good for 21st (including pitchers, 15th without pitchers) in the American League. That is probably a bit low for a MVP at first glance, but it actually holds up well against other very viable MVP candidates. Yankee MVP frontrunners Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano are at 4.2 and 4.3, respectively. Asdrubal Cabrera actually trails Bourjos at 3.9. Miguel Cabrera is just barely ahead at 4.5. Peter is still a far cry from the 7.6 WAR that Jose Bautista currently boasts, but at 4.2, I think Peter at least passes the threshold to be a part of the conversation.
That's all I really want, to be honest, to have Bourjos get his name into the MVP conversation. His total lack of name recognition and pedestrian offensive numbers are likely to cause him to not show up on a single MVP ballot or even cause a potential voter to consider including Bourjos on the ballot, a mistake I hope that I can rectify in advance with this little homage.