Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The AL MVP- What It Should Be, What It Will Be

So you know all about what I look for in an MVP. Strong defense up the middle or at a premium position, a middle of the order threat, and a true leader in the clubhouse. The AL race provides several strong candidates, both for my criteria and for that of the guys with the real votes: members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

The AL WAR leaderboard for position players reveals that Josh Hamilton has really broken away from the pack with his ridiculous offensive production and somewhat underrated defense. Hamilton leads all hitters with 8.0 WAR, followed by Adrian Beltre (7.1), Robinson Cano (6.6), Carl Crawford (6.6), and Jose Bautista (6.5). Though Hamilton has spent most of his time in leftfield this season, he’s played 39 games in center and produced a 7.9 UZR. This, along with the fact that he’s ahead of everyone else offensively (55.4 batting runs above average), allows him to compete in my mind with guys like Cano and Beltre, who play much tougher defensive positions and do so well (especially in Beltre’s case), as well as Crawford’s league-best 22 fielding runs above average, which he’s produced entirely as a leftfielder. I probably would have called this race a lock for Hamilton just a few weeks ago, but with the news that Hamilton will miss some time (possibly putting his postseason in jeopardy) with small fractures in two of his ribs sustained running into the wall at Minnesota’s Target Field, this race may open up to the other contenders. 

Adrian Beltre has always been a great glove-man at the hot corner, as evidenced by his two Gold Gloves (unlike many other Gold Gloves awarded to prolific hitters with decent defensive qualities, these ones were definitely earned), and this year is no exception. For the first time since 2004, Beltre has really put it all together, producing his usual 10+ UZR, but also managing to pair it with 34.2 batting runs above replacement, his best mark since the ridiculous 55.3 he put up in ’04.  Cano has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, finally making the transition from a strong, young everyday second baseman to a true superstar who stands out in a lineup full of some of the best and most well-recognized players in baseball. Adding to his value, he’s an absolute ironman. The Yankees have played a total of 150 games up to this point in the season. Cano has played in 149, starting 147 at second base. The Yankees know they can trust Cano to both show up every day, and produce when he does. Cano’s been a strong defender at one of the most challenging spots on the diamond, and put up a 150 wRC+ to boot. Crawford has provided immense value defensively, but he’s also been strong on offense. His 27.2 batting RAA doesn’t stack up with the rest of the hitters here, but his defense comes close to making up for it. 

At the end of the day, it’s going to take a massive effort on the part of one of those three in order for me to think about making someone other than Hamilton my AL MVP. The Hammer’s just been so far ahead of pretty much everyone else offensively that, when you throw in his above-average defense, it’s tough to argue against him. That said, a massive effort by Crawford or Cano that results in their team winning the East and beating out Minnesota for the best record in baseball could potentially sway my vote. 

I think that the voters will see it differently. From our voter’s criteria discussed yesterday, we can throw out Beltre, as his team will not be playing October baseball. I don’t think Crawford will get much consideration either, as he plays left and has been good but not close to the best in the league with the bat. So for the writers it will likely come down to Hamilton and Cano. Cano’s every day efforts will likely impress the writers, especially when juxtaposed against Hamilton’s recent injury. The end of the season is fresh in writers’ minds, and Hamilton missing time will hurt him, despite the fact that Texas is essentially a mathematical lock for October baseball already. Add that to the fact that Cano plays in the biggest media market in the league, and his 2010 résumé will likely be enough to bring home some silverware. It could be close, but in the end I think the writers will recognize Cano as the AL MVP, especially if the Yankees can lock in home field advantage throughout the AL postseason.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at the crowded NL Cy Young picture. 

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