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A look at the contenders for the 2012 crown of Most Valuable Royal. A Betancourt-free zone.
The season is over, so it's time to hand out some hardware. The Kansas City chapter of the BBWAA votes on the "official" Royals Player and Pitcher of the Year. That's nice, but I have a difficult time taking seriously an organization whose members allegedly watched this team for the entire 2011 season and granted Alex Gordon just a pair of 10th place MVP votes. And voted Bruce Chen as Pitcher of the Year. So at Royals Review, we're going to do our own voting.
(Hey, I'm willing to let bygones be bygones. It was 12 months ago after all. Those guys won't let me in. Although to quote the philosopher-king Groucho Marx... I don't care to belong to any club that would have me as a member. Still... Bruce Chen?)
By my count, there are three players worthy of consideration for Royals Player of the Year.
Yes, he missed half of the season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, but Perez didn't miss a beat in his return to the lineup.
Offensively, he finished third on the team with a .339 wOBA and his 113 wRC+ was third best as well. Perez walked just 3.9 percent of the time which is so Royals, but he whiffed just under nine percent of all plate appearances. The guy is a contact machine. Could he improve his offensive value with a few more walks? Sure. But if he's going to go up there hacking, he may as well make contact. Bat met the ball in 90 percent of his swings this year, about 10 percent higher than league average. And I'll take that .170 ISO from a backstop all day long.
And the defense... Oh, the defense. He cut down 41 percent of all would be basestealers. That was the best rate in the American League. He picked off five baserunners. Again, that led the league. He was charged with just three passed balls. (That's kind of like errors for catchers. A judgement call. Still, impressive.)
The argument for Perez as the Player of the Year hinges on how much you value his defensive contributions at the most important position in the field. Clearly, he's best defensive catcher in the league. Hell, I think the guy deserves the Gold Glove for his performance in a half a season this year. His performance over the season's second half was so strong, he deserves our consideration.
If Perez's defense is going to push him over the top in our Player of the Year balloting, Butler can only rely on his bat. And what a bat it is. Butler led the team with a .375 wOBA and 138 wRC+. He also led in the triple slash rates, posting a .313/.372/.511. Butler's doubles tally was off, but he more than made up for it with his home runs and his triple. His 313 total bases was a career high.
The guy is just a solid hitter. I wouldn't go so far as to say he's a "great" hitter, but he's damn close. There has to be comfort for a manager to fill out a lineup card with a guy like Butler on the roster. You know every season what you're going to get. And this was his finest season to date. All the numbers cited in the previous paragraph where career highs. Same for his 140 OPS+.
Sadly, his defense is a non-starter. Although after watching a season of Eric Hosmer playing Zombie First Base, you could probably convince me that Butler isn't a huge downgrade at the position. Still, Butler is a below average fielder at the least important position in the field. He's worked hard at it, which I completely respect. But the guy is never going to add defense to his resume of overall value.
Butler's 2012 season comes very close to matching Gordon's 2011 output. That was one of the great all around seasons we had seen since Carlos Beltran graced the outfield. So great, and so unexpected, we figured he was a long shot to repeat his successes.
Well, he didn't repeat, but he came damn close. Gordon was hitting just .167/.276/.288 through the Royals first 17 games. A stretch which included a panic induced "day off" given by Ned Yost in the season's fourth contest. It also coincided with the Royals 12 game losing streak. Naturally, we feared the worse. (It's what we do. We're Royals fans.) Was 2011 a mirage? Could we believe anything?
Then, Gordon went 3-5 with a home run as the Royals snapped their skid and hit .308/.374/.473 the rest of the way. For the season, his .354 wOBA and 124 wRC+ ranked just behind Butler. His home run production was down, but his 51 doubles tied Butler for second best in team history, just behind Hal McRae's 54 two-baggers in 1977. Aside from the flip flop in extra base hit production, 2012 was fairly close to his 2011 rates. I think we can rest easy about Gordon's offense.
Defensively, is there any question as to who is the best left fielder in the game? He recorded 17 assists, trailing only teammate The RF Who Shall Not Be Named who finished with 19. I don't want to get into defensive metrics here, but I will note that Gordon made 88 out of the zone plays according to FanGraphs, best tally among all left fielders. According to The Fielding Bible's +/- rating, Gordon finished with a +16, which was the third best among all left fielders, trailing only Ryan Braun (+18) and Desmond Jennings (+17). The impressive number is his Runs Saved. According to Bill James Online, Gordon saved 25 runs with his glove. That was the best among all outfielders. All outfielders. That's amazing.
Those are the candidates. Poll time!
Who is the 2012 Most Valuable Royal?
Billy Butler (160 votes)
Alex Gordon (391 votes)
Salvador Perez (43 votes)
Other (1 vote)
595 total votes