It isn't an easy sell, but the most valuable player in the Central League this past season was not necessarily the Yomiuri Giants' Alex Ramirez, the champs' top MVP candidate, or his next-most-worthy teammate, Michihiro Ogasawara.
The player who contributed to more wins than any other player in the CL was Hanshin Tigers outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto. While that claim is easy to defend, Ramirez still has a strong case.
Typically, when a player is a tough sell for top honors, it's because the park he plays in masks his quality. Because Koshien Stadium is murder on home run hitters, Kanemoto's more modest numbers are more valuable than they appear. Even accounting for the boost Ramirez gets from home run-happy Tokyo Dome, his offensive totals were more impressive.
So why should anyone think Kanemoto was more valuable? The answer is in the game's most valuable commodity.
Ask yourself what teams are trying to accomplish when they begin camp. Is it to hit the most home runs, to make the fewest errors, to strike out the most batters, to cut down more opposing runners on the bases? Is it to score the most runs or allow the fewest? All of these are elements of the process, but the absolute bedrock is wins.
If runs scored and allowed were all that mattered, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows would have reached the CL playoffs the last two seasons. What really counts are wins and losses.
Kanemoto deserves consideration as MVP not because he had better numbers, but because his production had a bigger impact on the win column. Yet if the Tigers won two fewer games and Ramirez's numbers are demonstrably superior, how can one argue Kanemoto was more valuable?
One has to start with wins and the knowledge that offensive and defensive numbers are subject to illusions.
Because Koshien Stadium greatly reduces runs scored, Tigers pitchers' figures are less valuable than they first appear, while the reverse is true of their hitters. The Tigers' 578 runs were 61 more than an average team could be expected to score in that context. Their 521 runs allowed were just nine runs better than expected. Who should get the bulk of the credit for the Tigers' success?
If you said the pitchers and fielders, who collaborated on a CL-best 3.29 ERA, go to the back of the class.
Playing in a home park where runs are easier to come by, the Giants hitters' 631 runs exceeded expectations by 50 runs. Yomiuri's pitching and defense, which allowed 532 runs, was 67 runs fewer than average. Unlike the Tigers, the Giants' pitching and defense created the majority of their wins.
The Tigers' batters can be credited with winning 43-1/2 games--counting each tie as half a win--their pitchers and fielders 40. No matter how impressive the Giants' offensive numbers were, Yomiuri won just two more games than Hanshin--and the majority of the success was on the defensive side. The Giants' batters deserve credit for winning 39-3/4 games, the defense 45-3/4.
Kanemoto created 101 runs while making 388 outs. Ramirez created 112 runs while making 396 outs. Each claimed about 23 percent of his team's offensive wins, Kanemoto slightly more, Ramirez slightly less. Because the Tigers' offense had a larger impact on wins and losses than the Giants', Kanemoto gets credit for more wins than Ramirez. Ramirez had the best numbers, but one can argue Kanemoto won more games.
However, not all games are equal. Kanemoto was arguably more valuable over the course of the season, but in the crucial 24 games between the two clubs, Ramirez was the bigger player.
Ramirez played a sixth of his games against the Tigers but produced a fifth of his runs against Hanshin. Kanemoto was a terror at Tokyo Dome--where he doesn't have to hit into the wind coming off Osaka Bay--but only about an eighth of his combined runs and RBIs came against the Giants.
Over the season, Kanemoto was worth 10-2/3 wins to the Tigers, Ramirez 9-2/3 wins to the Giants. To win the pennant, the Giants had to overhaul the Tigers, and Ramirez was a much bigger factor in the games that meant the most.
Kanemoto quietly had a big season, but Ramirez deserves the big award.