Is Hamels the Real MVP?
Phinally, the Phillies are champions. Finally, the city of Philadelphia has the title that its residents have clamored about for 25 years. Finally, after an excruciating 40-hour break, Phillies fans could rejoice in one final spirited comeback, sparked both by unexpected hitting stars -- Geoff Jenkins, Pedro Feliz and Jayson Werth, anyone? -- and a truly spectacular defensive play by second baseman Chase Utley, a heady hold on a pivot that set himself up for one of the easiest plays at the plate Carlos Ruiz has had all year, despite the fact that it was the most pivotal.
In fact, that precise defensive play is a perfect place to start a different piece of discourse: a debate over who the Phillies World Series MVP should have been.
Starting pitcher Cole Hamels won the honor, and he's certainly a deserving recipient. He set the tone for the series with a dominant performance in a Game 1 win. He was in line to win clinching Game 5 before the weather famously intervened, allowed the Rays to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth and chase Utley over a two-day rain delay.
Still, that delay is significant. Despite Hamels' dominance when pitching, he finished the World Series at 1-0. He allowed two runs in Game 5, just as he did in Game 1, finishing the series with a 2.77 ERA with an even more impressive .217 opponents batting average.
Those numbers certainly show how his impact was disproportionate to his 1-0 record. Yet if Hamels is going to be named MVP based on numbers beneath the outer surface, why not consider the case of other less obvious candidates.
Primary among them, in my view, is the man who was at the center of the aforementioned piece of defensive brilliance: second baseman Chase Utley.
If MVPs were culled purely from batting average, Utley wouldn't have a chance (and Werth, at a stunning .444, would be your MVP for that matter). The steady-slugging Californian dipped to a slumptastic .167 by the end of the series. But that isolated stat belies how often he really had an offensive impact on the game. Utley had a much more respectable .375 on base percentage, and finished with a .500 slugging average. He scored two of Philadelphia's runs in Game 4, extending the inning in which Ryan Howard hit a huge three-run homer with a long, drawn-out walk. He had two RBI in Saturday's Game 4 marathon to put the Phillies out in front, and Utley was the man who really got Philly's offense rolling in Game 1, accounting for two of the three Phillies' runs with his two-run dinger.
And all those considerations are only offensive, ignoring Utley's spectacular defense. While Tampa Bay second baseman Akinori Iwamura -- a gold-glove caliber double-play turning machine in the regular season -- fell prey to shaky hands or jumps for liners that came up just short all series, Utley was positively flawless. In Game 5 alone, Utley turned a pivotal one-man defensive play in the fifth inning to help Hamels escape from one jam, then pulled off the epic play at the plate that set up a championship-winning run for Philadelphia.
So, is Utley the real MVP? Maybe not. After all, similar cases could be made for Brad Lidge (he finished a perfect 46-for-46 in saves this season, 3-for-3 in the World Series) and Ryan Madson, who was dominant as a set-up man. Or Jayson Werth, the first potential hitting hero Wednesday night, could have been a surprise pick with his gaudy average and ability to put pressure on Rays pitchers, making them pay for trying to give him pitches to hit in strike out attempts between the premium bats of Jimmy Rollins and Utley.
When you look at the full board of candidates, maybe Hamels is the most logical pick. The important thing is that he isn't the only possible MVP choice, and that's a true testament to just how balanced this Phillies team was throughout the World Series.
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