In New York, the drums have been beating for more than a month now, and the chanting says Granderson for MVP! Granderson for MVP! But does Curtis Granderson, the man who is burning up the plate and fiercely patrolling center field this season for the Yankees, stack up against recent recipients of Major League Baseball's Most Valuable Player award?
A look at the statistics of winners since 2006--we'll stop there to avoid comparisons to players in the Steroid Era--show that Granderson is performing better (.283 batting average, .354 on-base percentage, .627 slugging percentage) than recent American League MVPs. In fact, the solid but unimpressive stats for Josh Hamilton (2010, .505 SLG), Dustin Pedroia (2008, .374 SLG), Alex Rodriguez (2007, .235 BA) and Justin Morneau (2006, .505 SLG) at June 1 of their MVP years suggest that MVP voters reward players who post their big numbers in the second half of the season. Only Joe Mauer (2009) started hot and stayed hot. On June 1, 2009, he was batting .414 with a on-base percentage of .500 and a slugging percentage sitting at .838 (giving him a 1.338 OPS!). His numbers didn't drop off much after the All-Star break--2009 was a consistently great year for the Minnesota Twins catcher.
This suggests that the MVP voters generally reward players who contribute significantly in the second half of the season. The exact criteria that the members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America use to choose an MVP are not clear--perhaps even to its members. Major League Baseball reportedly gives broad instructions to the BBWAA in regard to their voting. The wording on MLB's MVP webpage simply acknowledges that the player is outstanding.
The official press releases in the past from BBWAA regarding their MVP selections don't specify how they choose, but they do mention specific accomplishments, and while voting members have been quoted as saying they don't choose an MVP by imagining how crippled a team would be without the MVP, it is clear that the players' importance to a team factors somehow. The BBWAA has made a point of stating that the balloting is done before the postseason and is not based on whether a player's team won a pennant. Two writers from each city with an American League team vote for the AL MVP.
True enough, Granderson could maintain his current raking at the plate and win the MVP--if Jose Bautista falters. The Toronto Blue Jay is currently beating Granderson in every category.
Also, there's no guarantee Granderson can keep up the production. Although he's second in the majors in home runs this season (behind Bautista), he doesn't consider himself a home-run hitter. In an interview with the New York Post, Granderson said, It's funny. It's only May. There's a lot of baseball left. It's great that people are acknowledging what I'm doing to this point. There are a lot of great players they must not be watching.
The fans can pound the drums and chant the chant, but to be clear, the noise is to cheer Granderson on, not to assert a fact.