I was one of those people very skeptical of paying Shane Victorino $13 million per year for three years as the Red Sox looked to rebuild after the collapse of 2011 and the horrifying Bobby Valentine season. I thought about a 30 year old outfielder who looked five years older than that in 2012. Victorino had his worst season as a big leaguer, as the former all star hit .255 for the Phillies and Dodgers. I believed the Red Sox vastly overpaid for an guy who had lost bat speed and were spending money just to spend, rather than save for better investments in the future. What I didn't delve into was the intangibles and unseen value that Victorino brought to a roster that needed an image adjustment.
I had always been a fan of watching Victorino play the game. The Flyin' Hawaiian captivated Philadelphia crowds, known to be some of the most passionate fans in all of sports, with his hard nosed play. Victorino was a guy who seemed to run out every play, crash into the wall on a nightly basis, and spark rallies with his energy at the plate and on the basepaths. I forgot this in the midst of Victorino's decline coming into this season.
Now understand, Victorino is not the all star he was in 2009 and 2011. He is currently hitting .274, which is right around his career average, and has cooled off since his hot April start. So you would think I'm still somewhat unhappy with the $13 million man. This season, I've come to be a major Victorino fan as the Red Sox have been a pleasant surprise for most in the AL East.
The key about Victorino is the value people don't realize that he adds to a roster. Watching a game it is impossible not to notice Victorino's energy, even when we all believed him to be well on the decline. Victorino is still an above average baserunner, with 14 stolen bases. Putting himself in scoring position is huge with Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hitting behind him having some of their best seasons.
Victorino is also still one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. He's been banged up this year, as one of those injuries actually came when he collided with the right field wall in Fenway attempting to make a play. Now I don't love that he got injured on the play, I love the fact that he downplayed the injury, and tried to play through it by putting the team above himself. Victorino didn't realize how hurt he was, but he's a warrior out there. Victorino is statistically. Victorino has an above average arm and range, as he has the ability to rob players of hits and throw out players trying to stretch the game. His defensive wins above replacement is currently at 1.2, and in combination with his range and throwing arm he ranks as the best defensive outfielder in the game this season.
Where Victorino has most earned his money though, and what I most like about him, is his character. The Red Sox were in dire need of an image change, as the fried chicken and beer primadonna image hung in everyone's mind. Victorino is one of the best character guys in baseball, on and off the field. The Phi Delta Theta fraternity awarded him the Lou Gehrig Award in 2008, given to the player who most exemplifies the character of Lou Gehrig on and off the field, and Major League Baseball awarded him with the Branch Rickey Award in 2011 for exceptional community service. Signing Victorino brought a leader to a clubhouse, and a person the community could look up to. Recently Victorino granted a group of inner-city Boy Scouts, who otherwise couldn't go to Fenway Park, the opportunity to enjoy a Red Sox game as his guest, even getting to meet the right fielder on the sacred grounds for photos.
Victorino also brings postseason experience and a winning mentality. Victorino was a fundamental part of the Phillies 2008 World Series championship as well as the 2009 ame team that lost to the New York Yankees in six games. In the 2009 playoffs he was fundamental in getting the Phillies back to the World Series, hitting above .350 against Colorado and Los Angeles. This is a guy any team would love to have in the clubhouse.
Victorino's play might not earn him all the money left on his contract, and he might only give us this year with how hard he plays, as it takes a toll on the body, but he's earning the money right now. Shane Victorino is helping change the image of a team that most talking heads were piling on, and I couldn't be happier. Keep it up Shane, I've loved watching you play to this point.