Jacoby Ellsbury was a very solid but not spectacular player for the Red Sox over his first two full seasons of 2008 and 2009, putting up a .291/.346/.405 line. That’s a bit below league average, though he led the AL in stolen bases both years and occasionally flashed some spectacular defensive skill. However, 2010 was a complete lost year for Ellsbury, as injuries restricted him to only eighteen games, where he hit a terrible .192/.241/.244 across 83 PA. Even with Boston’s seemingly loaded lineup going into 2011, Ellsbury was a fairly large question mark. Instead, he became the team’s best player, hitting .321/.376/.552 and leading the AL in total bases. As a leadoff hitter, he hit 32 home runs and had 105 RBI, and was the first 30-30 player in Red Sox history. Even through the Red Sox’s awful September, he was tremendous, with an OPS over 1.000. If not for Boston’s late season collapse, he might have won the actual league MVP, and he would’ve been a very good choice anyway. Ellsbury’s emergence from pretty good but not great player, especially one not known for his power, to perhaps the best overall player in the AL – especially coming off a horrible, injury-plagued season – gives him a nomination here.

When the Cardinals traded Colby Rasmus to Toronto for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski, and Corey Patterson, many were shocked. Yes, Tony LaRussa had fairly famously never gotten along with Rasmus or Rasmus’ father, but Rasmus was still a 24-year-old center fielder putting up a 110 OPS+ in a year was viewed as a bit of a disappointment for him. The Cardinals got no long-term assets from that deal, but at least for 2011, they ended up having the last laugh. St. Louis won the World Series, while Rasmus, a former top prospect with a great deal of MLB success, put up a line of .173/.201/.316 in 140 PA in Toronto. That line isn’t predictive of what he’ll do in the future, but his awful performance – while the Cardinals went on to win the World Series – earns him a mention here.

The Royals’ acquisition of Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur prior to 2011 was viewed as typical Royals. Francoeur was best known for his quote about displaying OBP on the scoreboard if it mattered… while he played in a stadium that yes, displayed OBP on the scoreboard. Cabrera was a mediocre outfielder coming off an awful year with Atlanta. They’d be joining Alex Gordon in the outfield; Gordon had been a fantastic college player, a second overall pick by the Royals, and a tippy-top prospect, but he had never lived up to the hype in the big leagues, hitting only .244/.328/.405 while getting moved from third base to a corner outfield position. If there were any expectations for this trio, they were low, to put it mildly. Instead, they each had pretty great years. Gordon hit .303/.376/.502, a 140 OPS+, and probably should have been more of an MVP candidate than he was; Francoeur hit .285/.329/.476, with plenty of pop and solid defense; and Cabrera came out of nowhere to hit .305/.339/.470 for a 121 OPS+, when his career OPS+ before 2011 had been 86, with a high of 95. They might have been the best outfield in the AL, if not baseball. For some random counting stat coolness, the Gordon/Cabrera/Francoeur trio was the first outfield in baseball history to have all its regular members hit at least 40 doubles each. The Royals outfield was great in a way no one expected, and collectively, they get a nomination for AL MVP.


Adam Dunn, of course. Dunn went from being one of the most consistent sluggers in baseball to perhaps the worst player in the sport. Jordan covered this pretty well, so please read his piece.

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