Ranking the Individual Team MVP’s Thus Far

Mike Odenwaelder '16 has thrived in his junior year. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Mike Odenwaelder ’16 has thrived in his junior year. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

When I started to put together the Power Rankings for this week, I realized something important. Not much has really changed. While we still don’t know how things are going to shake out in the East, so far things have played out predictably and we have a good idea on how good each team is. So I decided to switch things up and go back and figure out who the MVP for each team was. Then once I had those settled, I went back in and ranked each player in order of performance so far this year. Just for kicks, I put the team’s Power Ranking from two weeks ago next to it just to give you an idea of how they match up.

10. Catcher Max Araya ’16 (.317/.442/.349): Middlebury (Team Rank: 10): Admit it, you were expecting Dylan Sinnickson ’15 in this spot. However, Sinnickson has come back to earth after that earth-shattering start. He hasn’t hit a home run since Middlebury’s third game of the year and has an OBP of .286 in NESCAC games. Araya, meanwhile, has continued his year-to-year improvement and stepped into full-time catching duties with great success. Offensively, Araya leads the Panthers with 11 bases on balls (and no one else is particularly close) and generally puts the ball in play with authority. The one thing lacking from his offensive game is a bit more pop, as he has just two extra base hits on the year. But Araya really gets the nod here for his work behind the dish, where has has emerged as one of the league’s best defensive backstops.

9. Shortstop Jack Roberts ’17 (.386/.429/.542, 0 HR, 19 RBI): Williams (Team Rank: 7): As a group the Williams’ offense has taken a step back from a year ago, but that has not stopped Roberts from cementing himself as one of the better players in the league. He rarely walks, but that isn’t his role as the three hitter. Roberts fits the mold of the team’s best athlete playing shortstop given his speed has allowed him to steal five bags and propelled him to four triples, tied for the league lead. His production has slipped ever so slightly in conference, but not by an alarming amount.

8. Right Fielder Nate Pajka ’15 (.353/.434/.659, 4 HR, 15 RBI): Bates (Team Rank: 5): The fact that Pajka is ranked eighth in this list is an indication of the quality of players that are to follow. After all, Pajka is fourth in the league in slugging percentage and has 14 doubles, the most in the league. In the Bobcats’ five conference games he is getting on base at a .458 clip. There isn’t really a good knock on his play either. The only reason others are above him is that they are just a smidgeon better in a couple of areas. A hit here and there really is the difference. Pajka can hold his hat on being one of the most improved players on this list; oh and that his team has a good shot at making the playoffs.

7. Starting Pitcher Sean Meekins ’15 (2-1, 1.91 ERA, 10.36 K/9, 33.0 IP): Trinity (Team Rank: 8): Yes, we are proud of our own Nothing but NESCAC contributor, but don’t accuse us of any type of bias. I think the sub-2.00 ERA speaks for itself after all. He is striking out gobs of hitters and still working late into games, a somewhat rare and valuable combination. He had been struggling a little in his previous couple of starts before getting back on track and throwing that gem on Saturday against Bowdoin. A year ago Meekins was an average starter in what amounted to an average rotation, but in 2015 Meekins, and the staff as a whole, has raised their level of play.

6. Starting Pitcher/First Basman Soren Hanson ’16 (.326/.380/.565 and 4-0, 1.78 ERA): Colby (Team Rank: 4): Hanson get serious consideration merely for his work on the bump, and when you add in his hitting contributions it is clear how important he is to Colby. Like another pitcher we will see in a bit, all three of his team’s NESCAC wins have come in Hanson’s starts. He is hitting only .263 in conference, but he is also second in RBI over that stretch so his timely hitting makes up for it somewhat. Why don’t we see more two-way players in the NESCAC? I’m not really sure, but Hanson is the best one going this year.

5. Pitcher Sam Elias ’15 (5-0, 3 Saves, 1.94 ERA, 41.2 IP, 9.94 K/9): Wesleyan (Team Rank: 1): One of several seniors to raise his game in his final season, Elias has been pulling double duty for Wesleyan as both a starter and reliever. A year ago he started only one game but was still a big part of the Cardinals success appearing in 19 games and throwing more than 40 innings. This year he has been the best pitcher on Wesleyan, which is saying something considering Gavin Pittore ’16 and Peter Rantz ’16 have ERA’s right at 2.20. Elias, like all the other Wesleyan pitchers, certainly benefits from Wesleyan having the best defense in the league, but don’t let that diminish his accomplishments. That Elias is only fifth but Wesleyan is clearly the best team in the league to this point is just another representation of the depth the Cardinals possess.

4. Center Fielder Joe Jensen ’15 (.419/.470/.568, 1 HR, 10 RBI): Hamilton (Team Rank: 9): Jensen was the original inspiration for this list because he is the player with the most obvious disparity between his team and his own personal performance. Not that there aren’t others playing very well for Hamilton this season, but as a group the Continentals have not been able to take a step forward. Jensen has not delivered on the power that we thought would come this season after he hit a home run in his first game of the year. But he has continued to run wild on the basepaths with 14 steals which is sort of incredible when you consider that everybody knows he is going to run. Though he has come back down a little recently, Jensen is still having his finest season yet as a senior.

3. Tufts: Catcher Bryan Egan ’15 (.402/.510/.573, 2 HR, 36 RBI: Tufts (Team Rank: 3): When I was putting this list together, this was the one that I had the hardest time slotting in. Ultimately Egan landed higher than I thought he ever would. At first I thought Tommy O’Hara ’18 was a clear choice for MVP for Tufts, but then I looked again at the conference stats for Tufts and noticed that Egan had an incredible .571 AVG. Also, did I mention that Egan is a catcher who wasn’t even a starter a year ago. Even though he has not thrown many runners out, he deserves some credit for shepherding the Tufts’ staff. At the end of the day, Egan has hit his best in the games that matter the most which is why he ended up so high on this list.

2. Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (5-1, 1.26 ERA, 37 K, 43.0 IP): Bowdoin (Team Rank: 6): We saw a big year coming for Van Zant, but we didn’t see this type of dominance on the horizon. He leads the league in ERA, and that number gets even better when you isolate for just NESCAC games where he has an 0.82 ERA. All three of Bowdoin’s conference wins have come in games that he has started, and you can chalk up their 1-0 non-conference win over Wesleyan to his complete game shutout, too. Van Zant looks poised to follow in the steps of his older brother, Oliver Van Zant ’13 and win NESCAC Pitcher of the Year honors.

1. Center Fielder Mike Odenwaelder ’16 (.444/.521/.697, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 8 SB): Amherst Team Rank: 2): You probably saw this one coming from the beginning. Nobody else in the NESCAC has the combination of size, power, speed and whatever else it is that makes some baseball players so good. Odenwaelder is both tied for the league lead in homers and leads the league in OBP, pretty decent for a guy who has eight steals to boot. Now consider the fact that I spent 30 seconds considering putting Harry Roberson ’18 in this slot instead of Odenwaelder. Gives you an idea of the type of year that the freshman is having. Odenwaelder is a special player who you don’t see very often come through the NESCAC.

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