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Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010

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Overlooked: Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka led the league and had a career year but was passed over for the PL MVP Award. KYODO PHOTO

SPORTS SCOPE

Wada's PL MVP triumph should raise familiar questions


If the selection of Fukuoka Softbank Hawks hurler Tsuyoshi Wada as Pacific League MVP proves anything, it's that there isn't a clear-cut right answer when the it comes to choosing MVPs.

Jason Coskrey

Of course, the award is supposed to identify and celebrate the season's most valuable player. A simple task when everyone is in agreement about what exactly determines a player's value and nearly impossible otherwise.

In Japan, the latter case more often than not leads to the uninspired selection of the player with the best numbers on the best team. The justification being his value helped the team reach the ultimate prize.

Then again to some, the award should go the the player who meant the most to his teams' success — pennant winner or not — and still others say the award is for the league's best player.

Sometimes the three aren't mutually exclusive which makes things easy.

For instance in 2007, there weren't many arguments against pitcher Yu Darvish, who won after going 15-5 with a 1.82 ERA in 207 2/3 innings for the PL champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Darvish was the league's best player, the most valuable player on the pennant-winning team and thusly an easy choice. The same can be said for 2010 Central League MVP Kazuhiro Wada, who hit .339 with 37 home runs and 93 RBIs for the CL champion Chunichi Dragons.

Things aren't so cut and dry for the Hawks' Wada.

The Softbank hurler won the award after going 17-8 with a 3.14 ERA (the highest ever for a PL MVP-winning pitcher), 169 strikeouts and a 1.18 WHIP.

A great season, but the case can easily be made that Wada benefited from the propensity among voters, in the absence of a truly extraordinary season, to simply give the award to the top player on the best team.

In two of our earlier criteria for selecting an MVP, best player or most valuable player, Wada falls a bit short.

Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka was probably more deserving after a year from the leadoff spot that was as close to Ichiro-esque as has been seen in a long time while leading the Marines to a third-place finish.

Nishioka led the PL with a .346 average, hit 11 homers, recorded 59 RBIs and scored 121 runs. His 206 hits were the second most in PL history (trailing only Ichiro Suzuki's 210 in 1994) and his 27 modasho (three-hit games) were a PL record.

The Lotte captain consistently set the table for the likes of Saburo Omura, Toshiaki Imae and others in the lineup and was arguably the Marines' most valuable player.

Wada won 17 games for the pennant-winning Hawks, but he wasn't better than teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi by a wide margin. Sugiuchi was 16-8 with a 3.55 ERA. He threw more innings than Wada (182 2/3 to 169 1/3) struck out more batters (218 to 169) and finished with more shutouts (five to none).

Whereas the case can be made for Nishioka as the PL's top player in '10, Wada's case just among pitchers is shaky. He finished tied with Orix's Chihiro Kaneko in wins and was dwarfed by Darvish (12-8, 1.82 ERA, 222 strikeouts, 1.01 WHIP, 10 complete games) in nearly every other category.

As a pitcher Wada had more control over wins and losses than Nishioka. The flip side being that while he played in 26 games, Nishioka appeared in all 144.

Wada had a great season, then dominated the Marines in the playoffs, but Nishioka arguably had a better overall campaign. Nishioka's only shortcoming was that his Marines failed to win the pennant.

Trying to figure out just what the "valuable" in Most Valuable Player is supposed to represent will always be a subjective process. It's just that sometimes voters should put a little more thought into their choice.



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