(transferred; posted Oct. 14)
Adam Kennedy was named MVP for his spectacular 3-homer game in the ALCS clincher, but the contribution of Troy Glaus was enormous throughout both series. David Eckstein was the catalyst all year, making anyone's playoff heroics possible, and Scott Spezio, emerging as a Gold Glove candidate who can hit, was the biggest surprise of the Angels' miraculous season.
All four members of the AL (soon to be World) Champions' infield are not household names, in part because of the time zone bias, in part because of the team's history of mediocrity. But they have matured at the same time, and like every member of Mike Scioscia's squad, have no interest in individual stats or honours. Unlike the more spectacular, headline-producing Miguel Tejada or Alfonso Soriano, both of whom are prone to making costly mistakes at the most critical moments, the Anaheim quartet play steady, reliable, winning baseball, and take turns providing heroics.
It's a team thing. Angels players are undervalued in fantasy baseball, with Eckstein and Kennedy considered second-tier alternatives, and even Garret Anderson, whose numbers are lofty enough to be useful, tending to fall lower in drafts than he should. They are ignored by all-star voters (GA, deserving for ages, was selected this year for the first time.) In the toughest division in baseball, a team picked by most pundits to improve but not seriously contend, is four wins from the ultimate success because of chemistry.
That sound you just heard was "statheads" clicking to leave this page. Because they can't weigh or count intangibles, the growing legion of baseball fans who refuse to look beyond the numbers miss quite a bit. Anderson's catch of Derek Jeter's slicing liner was a pivotal moment in ending the Yankees' reign, but like so many of his greatest plays, won't sway the stathead community to recognize his true worth.
I live and breathe baseball; it is not exaggerating to say it has saved my life. I admire the tenacity and diligence of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) members whose tireless efforts to quantify every aspect of the Pastime have shattered myths and illuminated truths. I stack the best OBPs at the top of the lineup on every team I coach, not because someone ran a multi-terabit calculation on a supercomputer, but because it obviously helps us score runs. I prefer my batters to strike out over grounding into double plays. If the opposing catcher has any chance of throwing us out, I shut down the running game. Astute analysis by others of millions of MLB statistics has confirmed many of my "instinctive" theories, acquired in hundreds of dugouts and on the field, as facts. But you can't measure everything.
Garret Anderson is the focal point of considerable debate between "lazy" geezers like myself, who still rely on observation without checking a database to form our opinions, and the usually younger, incredibly well-informed brigade who make no statement they can't "prove" statistically. I enjoy Baseball Primer more than any other Web site. The discussions are full of wit and insight, and while the vast majority of contributors are statheads, they seem tolerant of my heretical views. But get Primates on the subject of GA, and there's polarization. The man simply delivers -- brilliant baserunning, timely hitting, spectacular defence -- and while his seasonal averages are excellent, he is somehow even better when he has to be, inspiring his teammates, who similarly overachieve at critical times. Arguably the game's most underrated player, on its most underrated team, Anderson is often called the most overrated by those unable to quantify his genius. Also very high on the list of players whose deserved acclaim infuriates the number-crunchers is Jeter, a winner by any definition.
While I had been hoping for the "Vatican Special" World Series of Cardinals and Angels since this tournament began, I'll be fine with watching the Giants represent the NL. Barry Bonds is astonishing with a bat in his hands. People have tried to document his failures in previous postseasons as some form of choking, but I'm inclined to cut him some slack; most of those teams, like his current one, wouldn't have made the playoffs without him, and he's tried too hard to win by himself. This year, a more mature Bonds is doing what he can -- a lot -- and relying on his teammates, who have come through, so far. But while they may share my awe at his talent, and they are glad his bat is in the lineup, they don't like him. They know that Barry is for Barry, and won't acknowledge their contributions to "his" victories. His brilliance makes his teammates better only in the numerical sense: when a guy walks twice a game, you have more RBI opportunities. But his selfishness doesn't inspire his teammates, any more than a manager (Valentine?) who tries to unite his players by making them all hate him. Bonds, the "best living hitter," is the anti-Jeter. Though I worshipped his swing in BP when the Giants visited SkyDome this year, he's impossible to root for.
Angels in five, six at the most. Your MVP? Jarrod Washburn, for winning two games and shutting down Bonds. Or Garret Anderson, for doing everything else at the most opportune times. Or Kennedy, or Eckstein, or Glaus, or Erstad -- with these Angels, more than one will rise to the occasion.