MVP Picks – AL
Same thing as before. Except now with the American League.
10) Shin-Soo Choo, RF, Cleveland Indians
Shin-Soo Choo is the 2010 winner of the Ben Zobrist Award for Excellence in WAR. This is a made-up award given to a good player who somehow grades out as one of the best in baseball and makes you ask “whaaaaa?” Choo’s WAR did rank second in all of baseball, due in large part to a questionably high +15 fielding runs, but he was undeniably great this past year. Choo hit .300 with a .400 OBP (good for fourth in the AL), and went 20-20 for the second consecutive year. His 148 OPS+ was good for fifth in the American League; and although the unusually high fielding value total for him is a head-scratcher, he did lead the American league in outfield assists with 14.
9) Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox
At the age of 34, longtime White Sox Paul Konerko had his best career season for Ozzie Guillen’s crew in Chicago. His .312/.393/.584 line was good for 8th/6th/4th in the American League and translated to a 158 OPS+, good for fourth in the league. Only Jose Bautista hit more home runs than the White Sox first baseman’s 39. Now the question is whether or not the slugger can swing a big deal this off-season, coming off a career season at his age.
8 ) Adrian Beltre, 3B, Boston Red Sox
With basically the entire Red Sox team missing time due to injury, hired gun Adrian Beltre was the one constant force that kept his team in the hunt long after they had any reasonable expectation to be there. Coming off a less-than-stellar tenure in Seattle, Beltre was brought in to solidify the Red Sox defense. Theo and Terry got a bonus; Beltre led the league in doubles, tacked on 28 dingers and 100 RBI’s while hitting .321/.365/.553 and playing his usual great defense over at the hot corner.
7) Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez was actually left off the all-star team in 2010, possibly due to his W-L record. A middle reliever with 36.2 innings at the ASB made it ahead of him. What a joke. King Felix won out in the end, compiling league-leading totals in ERA and innings pitched while placing second in WHIP. His efforts were rewarded with his first Cy Young Award in a year that has already gone down as Year of the Pitcher II.
6) Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
Impressive as Adrian Beltre’s season was, he wasn’t even the best third baseman in his own division. Evan Longoria led the Rays offense all season long clubbing 22 home runs, 46 doubles, and playing gold glove defense at the hot corner. And if you were curious who the won guy to out-WAR Choo was…well, he stars in a stupid baseball cap commercial.
5) Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
If I was in charge of these things, Joe Mauer would already have three of these things. The reigning MVP ended up third in batting average and on-base percentage while playing the most important position on the diamond. The crazy part? It was somewhat of an off-year for him.
4) Jose Bautista, RF, Toronto Blue Jays
In his first six seasons in the league, Jose Bautista averaged 96 games at a 91 OPS+ and just 17 HR per 162 games. In 2010, he was a regular and proved exceptional to his club, clubbing 54 homeruns to go along with a .617 slugging percentage. Even though he was pitched around to the tune of 100 walks, he still managed to amass more total bases than any other American League player accumulate the third highest RBI total in the game while hitting 16 more home runs than the next highest player.
3) Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira made a combined 73 million dollars last year or basically the entire Tampa Bay payroll. But with them under-performing, it was the young Robinson Cano who came through in a big way for the eventual Wild Card Yankees. Cano busted out of the gate, hitting .400 with 8 home runs in the first month. He cooled down somewhat, but still provided his team with a .319/.381/.534 line while playing gold glove defense at second base.
2) Josh Hamilton, LF/CF, Texas Rangers
1) Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
I’m fairly sure that Hamilton will win the award. And if he does, wonderful – he’s a truly remarkable story, an incredible baseball player, and he had a great season.
I’ve gone back and forth on this one, and I’m settling on Cabrera. But let’s look at both sides.
Hamilton had a much higher batting average at .359 to .328. He also out-slugged the Detroit first baseman .633 to .621. His team actually made the playoffs, which is worth a small leg-up. And he plays a tougher position.
The position thing kind of goes away pretty quickly though. While Hamilton’s 2010 season will be the starting center fielder when I get around to writing my Texas Rangers team, he only played 40 games there, compared to 92 in left and 13 at DH. For Cabrera, it was 148 at 1B and 2 at DH. Let’s be honest – neither guy is winning any awards with his glove and it’s not like there’s a sparsity of offensive talent at either position. Defensively, Hamilton has a small leg-up, but it’s not something that really put him in the running in the first place, unlike Mauer or Cano.
In terms of rate statistics, Cabrera beat Hamilton in OBP, albeit not by much (.420 to .411). He also had a higher OPS+ than Hamilton at 179 to 175, owing mainly to the fact that anyone can have at least kind of a good season at the Rangers Ballpark of Ameriquest in Arlington, Texas. Hamilton was very good on the road – .327/.382/.512 but his 1.188 OPS at home is the reason he’s in a close race for AL MVP. Cabrera was easily the more consistent performer, with a OPS’s above 1.000 both home and away.
There’s also the matter of games played. Hamilton missed virtually all of September with bruised ribs; Cabrera was shut down in the last week or so of the year, but ended up playing 17 more games than Hamilton. Not a huge margin, but if you have two players who grade out roughly even, the fact that one player performed at that rate for 13% more of his team’s games should definitely translate into a small edge.
Finally, I looked at who these two gentlemen have hitting around them. Hamilton was usually backed up by the likes of Vladimir Guerrero (silver slugger at DH) and Nelson Cruz (OPS+ of 150). The generally reliable Michael Young hit right in front of him most of the time. Cabrera didn’t move from the clean-up spot all year, but the positions around him changed out people all year long. I mean, Brennan Boesch – the man who usually hit fifth – had an alright rookie year, but he’s not as intimidating as his 6’4 frame would suggest. Brandon Inge continued to start games for Leyland in the middle of the order too, despite the fact that he had a .397 slugging percentage last year. Magglio Ordonez was having an alright year, but was injured for half of it. Cabrera had little support from his comrades (resulting in a league-leading 32 intentional walks) but still managed to lead all of Major League Baseball in RBI’s. That’s incredibly impressive and, in the end, was the tipping point in my ruling in Cabrera’s favor.
…but I’ll probably just change my mind tomorrow.
Honorable Mentions: Crawford, Lester, Buchholz, V. Martinez, Weaver, Sabathia, Swisher, Price,