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HARD DRIVES: Let's hope voters get MVPs right

by John E. Gibson (Oct 20, 2010)

Let's take a philosophical approach in considering the most valuable player award: If a player hits his way to a great season on a team that doesn't win a league title, is he still MVP-worthy?

The solution to the age-old question of whether or not falling trees make a sound with no one around: Set up a tape recorder. To determine the MVP for both leagues this year, everything is on record for voting media to review.

The award in Japan consistently goes not to the player who had the most impact, but to the most popular player on the first-place team in his league.

This year, the fact that the only dominant player in the Central League was Yomiuri Giants cleanup man and two-time reigning league MVP Alex Ramirez might confuse voters.

The Venezuelan slugger did everything he could to get the Giants into the postseason.

It's not his fault the starting pitching faltered and cost the team its fourth-straight CL title--by one game in the standings--as Yomiuri lost its early season lead and finished in third place.

The Chunichi Dragons won the CL on the strength of their pitching and without a make-a-pitcher-weak-in-the-knees-with-runners-on-base standout.

Kazuhiro Wada, who started out the season batting fifth before moving into the cleanup spot because of Tony Blanco's struggles, was a consistent batter who thumped 37 longballs and drove in 93 runs. The 38-year-old was second in the league in batting with a .339 average, but hit just .270 with runners in scoring position.

Certainly, without him in the lineup, the Dragons wouldn't have outlasted the Giants and the Hanshin Tigers to win their eighth CL title.

But Ramirez, whom Hard Drives calls "Sir Dance A Lot" because of his post-home run in-front-of-the camera self-salutations, led the league with a career-best 49 longballs and hit .304.

On a club jam-packed with offensive explosiveness, the 10-year veteran hit a team-best .325 with runners in scoring position, helping the 36-year-old to his best RBI season in Japan (124).

Hanshin's Matt Murton, who had the best first year of any foreign player in history here by breaking Ichiro Suzuki's single-season hit record, deserves to be in the MVP conversation. But his 214 hits and .349 average still failed to have the same kind of impact that Ramirez had on the CL.

Ramirez's past two MVP seasons should have no bearing on how the media vote this year. If a player can put together three consecutive MVP-worthy seasons, more power to him.

In the Pacific League, another player from a third-place team had a dominant season.

Lotte's Tsuyoshi Nishioka became the first 200-hit PL player since Ichiro in 1994, collecting 206. He scored a league- and career-best 121 runs, won his first batting title with a .346 average and really carried the Marines to the third and final playoff spot--just 2-1/2 games out of first.

The Marines made a strong September run to reach the playoffs and Nishioka, the leadoff hitter, led the way with a .467 average and a .524 on-base percentage over the final month.

The 26-year-old played in all 144 games for the first time, putting up his best hit total of any month with 43 and scoring 27 runs in September.

The impact the shortstop had on the Marines was undeniable, and if late-season surges leave a lasting impression, Nishioka is the obvious choice as the most valuable PL man.

Oft-injured Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks outfielder Hitoshi Tamura also put together arguably his best season.

The 33-year-old appeared in a career-high 140 games, posting team bests in homers (27), doubles (33), RBIs (89), average (.323) and average with runners in scoring position (.341). The 16-year veteran's .371 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage were also tops on the team, but he didn't lead the league in any of those categories.

The Hawks don't really have another player, other than Munenori Kawasaki, who deserves consideration.

First place shouldn't automatically mean first choice for MVP. Get it right, people.


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