The first half of the baseball season is over and after Tuesday night’s All Star game the pennant race really begins. Well, as the pennant race begins, so must the quest for the MVP award and like the first place teams in each division, certain players already have a huge advantage.
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
.373 BA, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 49 R, .447 OBP, 622 SLG
Joe Mauer’s raw numbers may not seem overly impressive. His homerun, RBI, and run totals do not fall even close to the top ten in the AL. However, these numbers do not account for his absence for the entire first month of baseball. He missed at least 100 at bats. His percentage numbers tell the whole truth about his performance this year and those numbers (batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage) are the best in the league. Only recently did his at bat numbers qualify, so now he can officially be referred to as the best hitter in the American League.
He still has not qualified for defensive considerations though. His unqualified numbers have him catching .303 of runners and he has a fielding percentage of .994. Those numbers will be good enough to be deemed an average defensive catcher if gets enough time behind the plate to qualify by the end of the season.
The only real knock on Mauer is that the Twins are in third place in the AL Central with a 45-44 record. The record without Mauer in the lineup is 11-11, so his reinsertion into the batting lineup has not changed the fortune of the Twins. Furthermore, MVP awards are given to players from the top teams and being in third place in the AL Central does not make a team a top tier ball club. Heck, finishing first place in the AL Central does not mean that the team is that good. His MVP numbers may be squandered by a team that hardly plays MVP ball.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
.321 BA, 18 HR, 50 RBI, 52 R, .384 OBP, .542 SLG
Miguel Cabrera has phenomenal all-around offensive numbers for a team that struggles a little bit offensively. He makes solid contact as well as hits for power. He can be counted on to drive in run as well as simply get on base. He can do everything a manager can ask from the number three slot. He is also a decent fielder and plays on a first place team. All these things are in his favor.
The problem is twofold. First he plays in Detroit. Detroit will not get much mention beyond their place in the standings until the postseason. There will be no poetic columns read nationally singing praises for Cabrera. Despite the city newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, traditionally having one of the best sports sections in the country, it is hardly referenced when discussing sports anywhere but in Detroit.
Second the only major stat where he places in the top 10 is for batting average, for which he is tied for third. He is just outside the top 10 for on base percentage, slugging percentage, and home runs and is just in the top 30 for runs scored and RBI.
He is great at just about everything, but particularly excels at nothing. Mauer overshadows his best stat, so he has nothing to hook voters. I fear that he will go unnoticed. Then again, Dustin Pedroia won the award last year with a .326 batting average, 17 HR, 83 RBI, 118 R, 20 SB, and a .376 OBP, which are hardly drop dead gorgeous numbers to the average fan, so perhaps the voters will recognize Cabrera.
Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees
.275 BA, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 56 R, .378 OBP, .535 SLG
One player that has sexy numbers to spare is Mark Teixeria. He is tied for fourth in home runs, fifth in RBI, and ninth in walks. The rest of his numbers, apart from batting average are respectable (meaning good enough to make the top 20). That batting average is heating up as well, so it could reach an even more respectable place on the first page of ESPN’s AL stat page.
Teixeira also has a terrific fielding percentage of .999 with just a single error in 82 games. I have not watched him play much since I live in Chicago, but I have read an article or two praising his defense. (On a side note, there has to be a better stat for defense than range factor. I have watched Paul Konerko play and he is nowhere quick enough to have a range in the top three in the AL.)
Teixeira also has the advantage of playing in the media capital of the sports world and the advantage of playing in a power-hitter friendly ballpark. If the experts look at his splits that ballpark advantage could become a disadvantage though. He has a .300 average and .613 slugging percentage at New Yankee Stadium but only a .251 average and .462 slugging percentage on the road. Those numbers, the great gulf between them, may end up tarnishing his chances of winning the AL MVP, but I highly doubt it.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox
.298 BA, 16 HR, 53 RBI, 56 R, .419 OBP, .566 SLG
The Boston Red Sox have the best record in the American League along with one of the best offenses so someone has to be mentioned in the MVP race. Just a month ago Kevin Youkilis was that player without question. Since then his numbers have seen enough of a drop to give him competition from Jason Bay.
Bay has an abysmal average (.260) and a decent slugging percentage (.527), but a great home run number (20) and RBI number (72). Still Youkilis has great all around numbers. His on base percentage and slugging percentage are in the top six in the league. The reality is that Youkilis missed enough time with an injury to fall about 60 at bats behind the rest of the stat leaders.
Considering that he has had fewer at bats, his home run, run, and RBI totals are good, but still not great. If he can get his average over .300 again then he could be a major player for the MVP again. He appeared to have returned to that great hitting form in the five games before the All Star break, so who knows, he could be the second consecutive Boston Red Sox player to win the AL MVP.
Torii Hunter, CF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
.305 BA, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 56 R, 13 SB, .380 OBP, .558 SLG
Torii Hunter is in the top 10 for RBI and slugging percentage; the top 15 for batting average, runs, and on base percentage; and the top 20 for homeruns and stolen bases. He plays for the first place Angels in the AL West. He is one of the best fielding center fielders as well, with no errors, a decent range factor (yes, I bemoaned this stat earlier, but I think this stat has some validity in the outfield). Torii Hunter is the complete five-tool baseball player.
He is having the best season of his career at the age of 33. Still I get the feeling that he is too far under the radar. I just do not hear enough talk about his great season because he does no one thing particularly well. He is also overshadowed by Manny Ramirez in Los Angeles, which means that he may not get enough local media support to seriously compete for the AL MVP.
Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
.332 BA, 32 HR, 87 RBI, 73 R, .456 OBP, .723 SLG, 10 SB
There is simply no other player to consider in the National League. Pujols is playing not only for the NL MVP and the NL Central title, but for the Triple Crown. He leads the NL in homeruns, RBI, runs, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. These are not small leads. These are sizable leads. His batting average is good for fourth in the NL and is 17 points from first place and four points from second.
Hanley Ramirez, the current batting average leader, is the only player keeping Pujols from being the first player to win the Triple Crown (finishing first in batting average, homeruns, and RBI) in the majors since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and the first player in the National League to win the elusive honor since Joe Mewick of the Cardinals in 1937.
Even if Manny Ramirez has a torrid rest of the summer he could not overcome the steroid suspension. Raul Ibanez of the Philadelphia Phillies was competing for the crown and the MVP earlier but he began to make less and less contact and then was on the DL for nearly a month. Pujols is the unquestioned leader and only consideration for the MVP in the NL right now.