I've taken a good week or so off from thinking about the Reds' season. We don't have to talk about the way it ended. I've come to a point of reconciliation regarding that. And we shall never speak of it again. But we should still be able to fondly remember the good times. 2012 was most certainly the best season I've ever really experienced as a Reds fan. Much of that is due to the terrific, dynamic, and noteworthy performances turned in by the players. (/Tim McCarver-esque commentary'd) So yeah, let's vote for the Best Reds Position Player for the 2012 Major League Baseball Professional Season of Baseball...ing...ness.
Team MVP Conversation Season is always a satisfying season. The term "valuable" is such a loaded word in baseball parlance, and there are nearly as many ways to unpack the definition of it as there are writers who attempt to do so. And the ensuing conversations are always interesting. One school of thought determines a team's MVP not by statistical contributions (in fact, in some cases, statistical contributions are virulently disregarded), but by intangibles. If you are going whole-hog into the intangibles camp, then RyHan is your man.
As you can see from his stats, he didn't have a world-beater kind of season. He was good, for sure, getting on base at the second-best rate on the team. The WARs disagree about the value of his defense, which is a recurring theme this season, as you'll see from the rest of the list. But his unassuming demeanor, quiet shepherding of the pitching staff, and homely countenance are all intangible qualities that are not matched in magnitude by anyone else on this list.
I think it is safe to say that if Joey Votto did not miss two months with that knee injury, he would be a very strong candidate for National League MVP. But he did miss two months, and so he will likely only get a few down-ballot votes for the award. Not coincidentally, that knee injury is really the only reason this team MVP discussion is even worth having. His numbers dwarf everyone else on the team. Objectively speaking, he played like a king among boys.
But of course, context matters. And the truth is that Joey Votto did not participate in the Reds' division-clinching surge in July and August. The team lost their best player, but still Ran Away With It.
Brandon Phillips' nickname ought to be the screwdriver, because he's like the team's monkey wrench. No matter what job you need him to do, he can handle it. He began the season as the lead-off hitter, but shifted to clean-up when Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick struggled. When Votto got hurt, he slid into the 3-hole. When Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs struggled at the top of the lineup, he went back to leading off. Dusty Baker has said many times that he marvels at Phillips' versatility. There aren't many players that a manager can so confidently pencil into the lineup in so many different spots. There's a lot of value in that.
Statistically, BP just keeps on keepin' on. He hit right around league-average and added superlative defense at an up-the-middle position for like the sixth season in a row. Second verse, same as the first. He's getting into Adam Dunn territory in terms of predictability.
Ludwick was the feel-good story of the year in Cincinnati. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, he really seems to enjoy playing for the Reds, and he made good after a few years out in the cold. He posted the second-best numbers in the lineup for the season, and he performed exceptionally well during the Running Away With It (he posted a .996 OPS from June to August).
But his argument for team MVP is kind of like the mirror-opposite of Votto's argument. They had the same number of PAs (475 for Votto, 472 for Ducky), not enough to qualify for the batting title. But Ludwick was there when Votto wasn't. Votto was clearly better, but you could say he put up his numbers in games that just weren't as important. Ludwick's big numbers galvanized the Running Away With It that put so much distance between the Reds and their foes. So yeah, whatever that means.
Jay Bruce was there through it all, man. He led the team in games played, plate appearances, runs scored, home runs, extra-base hits, runs batted in, and gutsy-but-ultimately-fruitless clutch at-bats.
Neither bWAR nor fWAR liked his fielding, but bWAR hated his fielding. This, after bWAR adored his fielding just two years ago. So I don't know. I have a hard time believing that Jay Bruce turned in a below-average, or even just slightly above-average season this year. I'm far less fond of the defensive metrics that WAR uses than I used to be.
Todd Frazier's team MVP case is kind of a mix between Ludwick's and Hanigan's. He came up huge filling in for an ailing Scott Rolen at 3B. He stepped in for Votto at 1B and was an essential cog in the Running Away With It. But his intangible case is irresistible. His friendly and positive influence in the clubhouse is well-known. He hit a home run with no hands. He saved a man's life. I mean, woah.
Zack Cozart is something of a dark horse in this race, I think. His numbers weren't terribly impressive, as he didn't get on base above .300 and didn't slug above .400. That's okay for a rookie shortstop of course, but for a team MVP?
I think the strength of Cozart's case is the stability he provides. Shortstop has been a yawning chasm since Barry Larkin retired, as the list of Brandon Phillips' double-play partners illustrates. Now, for the first time in a very long time, the Reds are not going into the off-season with a SS? on the big board. He may not be an All-Star, but this team sorely needed a steady hand at shortstop, and that's exactly what he is. That's valuable.