Give these guys a 10th-place MVP vote!
November, 14, 2013
By Mark Simon | ESPN.com
USA TODAY SportsMark Ellis and Jason Castro were two of 2013's unsung players.
While most people are drawn to the top of the names at the MVP ballot, I always find myself checking the bottom of the list.
I've always found the one-vote wonders intriguing -- someone who one person out of 30 voters found worthy of recognition.
In the past, I've voted in small-college football and basketball polls and have tried to find instances in which I could be that voter, one who had a good (often unnoticed) reason to deem someone legitimate. I found it to be a fun and challenging exercise and it's one I've decided to repeat here.
I can fully understand wanting to reward the 10 players whose value was greatest, but I think it would be cool if any of these five got a single 10th-place vote.
Mark Ellis, 2B, Dodgers
Ellis hit .270 with six home runs and 48 RBIs, so it's not his offense for which we're rewarding him. Ellis was credited with 12 Defensive Runs Saved, the most by an NL second basemen and that helped him finish with 3.0 WAR, which ranked just outside the top 40 among NL position players.
But Ellis was probably worth more than that when you consider the Dodgers' alternatives at second base. Five other players combined to play about 500 innings there and they were worth a combined -14 Defensive Runs Saved. The Dodgers went 69-37 when Ellis started in 2013. They were 23-33 when he didn't.
Drew Smyly, RP, Tigers
There are a couple of directions I could have gone in for picking a non-closing relief pitcher (whether one is really worthy of a vote is a subject of legit debate).
I went with Smyly over a couple of other options (Alex Torres and Luke Hochevar among them) because I liked his versatility. He could get one out when needed and more when necessary. He gave the Tigers a relief-pitching option who was just as good as their starting pitchers.
If you wonder how good he was, just ask the teams in the AL East.
Smyly pitched 13 games against the Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays. In them, he pitched 20 innings and allowed no runs and 10 hits, with 22 strikeouts and one walk (and for those asking, I excluded the postseason appearances, since the MVP is based on regular-season production).
Martin Prado, 3B/LF/2B, Diamondbacks
This one seems counter-intuitive, given that Prado's WAR dropped from 5.5 in 2012 to 2.3 in 2013.
But I call your attention to him because he was the NL leader in a cool stat.
Prado had a dozen plate appearances in the seventh inning or later in which he either tied the game or gave the Diamondbacks the lead. That was two more than the Diamondback who will rightfully get lots of MVP votes (Paul Goldschmidt) and matched the major-league best totals of Chris Davis and Jose Bautista.
Lest you say that Prado racked these up when the Diamondbacks were wilting, that's not true. His 11th of those 12 came on Aug. 27, a date on which they were still within five games of the wild-card spot.
Eric Young Jr., OF, Mets
Full disclosure here: Eric's father worked with me on Baseball Tonight for three seasons and I enjoyed his time at ESPN. So if you accuse me of not thinking clearly on this one, that's fine.
But the Mets were not just a better team when Young started (46-44 when he did, and an ugly 28-44 when he didn't), they were much more watchable. Young's presence made the Mets more reliant on their baserunning and that was a good thing. He led the NL in FanGraphs' baserunning metric (UBR) and the Mets led the majors in that stat.
The Mets also defended much better in the outfield because it cleared out Lucas Duda in favor of a player who wound up rating second among left fielders in the SABR Defensive Index used to aid in the Gold Glove voting.
Yes, the Mets also added Zack Wheeler around the time they added Young, but Wheeler only pitched every fifth day. Young played every day and played well.
Jason Castro, Astros
You know how bad the Astros were.
But imagine how much worse they would have been without Castro, who finished with 4.5 WAR, nearly two wins better than anyone else on the team.
It was the fourth-highest WAR for anyone who played at least 50 percent of their games at the position last season. The three guys ahead of him were Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer and Buster Posey.
And since I can't get away with calling any of those three underrecognized, I'll go with Castro, who played a significant role in preventing the Astros from being mentioned in the same sentence as the 1962 Mets.