[Note by FuquaManuel, 07/14/11 2:23 PM EDT: Front-paged. Give Shane his due. ]
Throughout his time in Philadelphia, Shane Victorino has always been a solid contributor. Though he may be known more for having fewer brain cells than most potted plants, Shane has excelled on the field, on the basepaths, and at the plate. Since 2007, he's accumulated at least 3.0 WAR (fWAR) in every season. Yet, even though he has now played five other full seasons as a Phillie, Victorino has managed to nearly equal his best season's production through only 68 games. In 2008, he was worth 4.7 WAR. So far in 2011, he has been worth 4.4 WAR.
How is he doing it? Well, Shane has basically gone and taken all of his career best performances in each category (BB%, K%, ISO), and matched or surpassed them all.
Shane's previous seasonal high's in each category:
In 2009, Shane walked in 8.6% of his PA's. In 2011, Shane is walking in 8.9% of his PA's.
In 2009, Shane struck out in 10.2 % of his PA's. In 2011, Shane is striking out in similarly low 10.3% of his PA's.
Last year, Shane had an ISO (SLG - BA) of .170. This year, it's an amazing .221.
Clearly, Shane has improved at nearly every facet of batting. However, Shane has produced a great deal of excess value in a few less obvious ways. Shane has won a Gold Glove the past three years, and while those may not have been deserved, he absolutely deserves one this year. All the defensive statistics agree that he's been a fantastic fielder, with his UZR at 8.0 through only 68 games (and his UZR/150 at an incredible 22.5), his Dewan +/- score at 6 and his baseball reference dWAR at 0.4. Shane has matched his offensive improvement with an uptick in his play in the field.
Yet, measuring these two areas alone misses a crucial piece of Shane's game, one where he is among the best in the game: base running. Shane is one of the most efficient base stealers in the game. In his career before this season, Shane had 143 SB and only 34 CS for a SB% of 80.7%. He's kept it up this season, with 13 SB and a mere 2 CS, which equates to a SB% of 86.7%. But base running isn't limited to stolen bases alone. No, as we've seen far too many times this season, taking the extra base can be crucially important. In Fangraphs' base running metric, which measures the extra runs created by going from 1st to 3rd, or scoring from 2nd on a single or from 1st on a double, Shane has produced 2.6 extra runs more than the average base runner.
At basically every aspect of the game Shane has managed to produce at above average levels. This has led him to become one of the best players in MLB this season. In fact, if he kept up these levels of production for a full 162 games, he'd produce an absolutely stunning 10.5 WAR season.
More to this point, Shane's production, even with time missed due to injury, has him 10th in the majors in WAR. Yet, while he has a mere 302 PA's, the 2nd lowest PA's among players in the top 10 is 376 by Jose Bautista. In fact, among the top 25 in the majors in WAR, the next lowest PA's is Jhonny Peralta's 323, and he's only produced 3.3 WAR. Shane has only played in 68 games. The next lowest is 78 by the Angels' Howie Kendrick. Simply put, Shane is producing at an incredible rate. In terms of WAR/game, Shane ranks a close 3rd to Jose Reyes, while WAR/PA puts him 2nd, above Jose Reyes (Jose Bautista is still in his own stratosphere).
However, WAR alone cannot describe Shane's contributions to the Phillies. For without Shane, the Phillies would be absolutely decimated by lefties. Among regulars, Shane is far and away the best lefty masher. His .390/.500/.763 line comes out to an incredible .532 wOBA against lefties. Second on the team? Dane Sardinha (.439 wOBA in 14 PA's). Second among regulars? Placido Polanco, with a .318/.359/.412 line and a .respectable .341 wOBA. After that? John Mayberry with an underwhelming .330 wOBA. Next? Domonic Brown's .322 wOBA. Yes, the player who began the season hitting only against righties has been better against lefties than any of Utley, Howard, Francisco, Ruiz, Ibanez, and Rollins. The Phillies are 5th worst against lefties of all major league teams with a .295 wOBA (oddly enough the Braves are the worst with a .273 wOBA), and that's with Shane's amazing performance. He is basically the only bat in the lineup that shows up against lefties, and without him they'd be incredibly vulnerable.
But, going back to Shane's season from an individual perspective, there's one last thing I'd like to point out. Shane has managed to combine two skills that are rarely mixed: power and a low strikeout rate. Shane's combination of an over .200 ISO and a K% of 11% or lower is a skill set that is almost never seen. In fact, going back to 2005, I found only a few instances of players matching those levels. Here's the full list:
2006- Albert Pujols (.340, 7.9%), Aramis Ramirez (.269, 9.5%), Carlos Lee (.240, 9.4%), Garrett Atkins (.228, 10.9%), Joe Crede (.222, 9.9%), Vladimir Guerrero (.222, 10.2%), Nomar Garciaparra (.203, 5.7%), Jimmy Rollins (.200, 10.6%)
2007- Albert Pujols (.241, 8.5%), Jimmy Rollins (.235, 10.9%), Carlos Lee (.225, 9.0%), Vladimir Guerrero (.223, 9.4%)
2008- Albert Pujols (.296, 8.4%)
2009- Albert Pujols (.331, 9.1%), Joe Mauer (.222, 10.4%)
2010- Albert Pujols (.284, 10.9%)
So basically other than Pujols and Vlad Guerrero, no one has really consistently keep up the level of performance that Shane is currently at for more than a season or two. Amazingly though, while strikeouts are significantly up and power is down (Average ISO and K% in 2007: .155 and 17.1%; in 2011: .139 and 18.3%), Shane still qualifies for this select group. This incredibly valuable skillset, especially at a premium defensive like CF, has enabled Shane to far exceed expectations this season.
One final note: You may think that his performance has been luck driven, given his incredible pace. This is not the case. Shane's career BABIP is .302. His BABIP this year is only slightly higher, at .317, well in line with his 2008 and 2009 seasons. Additionally, Shane's HR/FB is actually lower this year, at 8.9%, than it was in 2010, at 9.5%. The only piece that indicates that his current pace might not be sustainable is within his batted ball rates. Shane's LD%, oddly enough, is a mere 14.0%, by far the lowest of his career. His FB%, at 42.8%, is a career high. Whether this is due to scorers calling his line drives fly balls, or due to Shane truly hitting the ball in the air more, we can't know for sure. However, though he is hitting a lot of fly balls, these are balls that are hit very hard, given that in addition to his 9 HRs, Shane has 9 triples and 14 doubles. Though he'll probably see a few less balls drop, little else indicates that he can't keep up his current performance.