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Breaking Down the A.L. MVP Race

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“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth’ the time of the singing of the birds has come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” -Ernie Harwell

I know everyone’s making cream in their pants over the prospect of the return of college football this weekend, but let’s slow down for a second. This has been a hell of year for America’s pastime. We’ve seen a new wave of stars, blockbuster trades, and though I hate to admit it, the extra Wild Card has made this year’s pennant chases absolutely insane.

So before everyone races over to call their bookie five minutes after watching Dick Perry’s Picks (watch it on TFM! Watch it on YouTube! Follow him on Twitter! Hey, I’m a company man), let’s have a little fun and break down the MVP race as we come down the stretch, shall we?

5) Josh Hamilton (83/35/111/7/.290; WAR = 4.2)

Let’s take a look at the following stat lines:

Player A:

182 AB’s/39 Runs/21 Home Runs/57 RBI/.368 Batting Average

Player B:

173 AB’s/22 Runs/8 Home Runs/27 RBI/.201 Batting Average

Player C:

100 AB’s/22 Runs/6 Home Runs/27 RBI/.300 Batting Average

Player A is Josh Hamilton in the months of April and May. Coming out of the gate, Hambone pretty much did the anti-Tiger Woods: he was upfront about his personal life after his vices caught up to him, and rather than letting the weight of the world crush his soul, he instead quickly shed off-field concerns as he absolutely took the baseball world by storm coming out of the gates.

Player B is Josh Hamilton in the months of June and July. Yikes. Seriously, what the fuck happened? Everyone expected some regression from his Bonds-esque start.

Player C is, yep, you guessed it, Josh Hamilton in the month of August. This past month, he had a slash line of .300/.570/.919. Reports coming out of Texas say that he finally broke his slump after getting over giving up snuff. We’ve all been there, fella. Now he’s starting to find that happy-medium between scorching hot and ice cold. And therein lays the true value of Josh Hamilton- a very good but extremely streaky bat. That’s not enough for me. I want some consistency from my junior circuit MVP.

4) Robinson Cano (76/25/68/3/.309; WAR = 5.7)

Robby’s the best middle-infielder in baseball, period. Tulo? Has the benefit of Coors. Kinsler, Reyes and Pedroia? Never live up to preseason hype. No, it has to be Cano. Monster bat, solid glove, a great run producer. But considering all the talent surrounding him, not to mention the pinstripes that he dons each night that he takes the field, I simply refuse to rank him higher, nor devout more than one paragraph to him. This is about principle, dammit. Besides, I feel like the good people of Boston (and Bill Simmons) have gone through enough over the past year.

3) Miguel Cabrera (83/32/106/4/.324; WAR = 5.3)

For those who don’t know by now, I’m a Tigers fan. They’re consistently one of the few bright spots coming out of Detroit (well that, and the fact that there were only 240 homicides within the city limits this August. Progress!!!).

Now, I try to avoid using traditional stats like RBI when thinking about debates like this. Those stats are too dependent on the rest of the team’s performance.

Instead, let’s look at beneath-the-surface numbers to figure out the difference between Miggy and the next guy on this list. It’s a stat called “Leverage Index”, and basically, it measures a hitter’s performance in clutch time.

Here’re the slash lines of Cabrera vs. Player B in low-leverage (aka low-pressure situations)

Miggy: .332 AVG/.389 OBP/.619 SLG

Player B: .376 AVG/.459 OBP/.700 SLG

Now here’s the breakdown of high-leverage situations.

Miggy: .417 AVG/.500 OBP/.833 SLG

Player B: .276 AVG/.289/.517 SLG

When I think “most valuable player,” a HUGE part is clutch hitting. And with Cabrera and the next player on this list both having monster numbers, that’s what decides it for me. Player B’s like the pre-2006 Colts: Huge numbers early on, but wilts in the clutch.

Meanwhile, Cabrera steps up immensely in winning time. You can’t say that about Player B.

Now having said ALL that, this next guy’s getting all the hype, and deservedly so.

2) Mike Trout (100/24/72/41/.337; WAR = 7.5)

Back in May, everyone was having the debate. Bryce or Trout? Trout or Bryce? The speculation was a toss-up.

Sorry, “bro,” but yeah…Trout won. By a LOT.

Before the phenom got the much-anticipated call-up, the Halos were a mere 6-14. Since then, they’ve gone 60-48. Nothing special, but definitely an improvement.

Now, don’t kid yourself. A big part of not only the Angels’ turn-around, but also Trout’s run totals, can be attributed to Pujols’ inevitable turn-around. And if L.A. misses the playoffs, this might all be moot.

But still, the kid is the definition of 5-tool athlete, and it’s shown. His glove has dominated Web Gems more than Jim Edmonds. His base-running is probably the purest I’ve ever seen. My God, he’s created 101 runs, and it’s not even September. But the number that should make Trout a lock up the AL MVP this year-he has a Wins Above Replacement of 7.5. (7.5!!!!)

Oh, and he’s younger than I am.

But no, my pick for AL MVP isn’t Trout.

It’s this guy. As always.

1) Chipper Jones (47/13/54/1/.305; WAR = 3.2)

Yes, I know, he’s in a different league altogether. Like that matters.

Chipper Jones will always be the answer to the debates regarding “Most Valuable Player,” “Greatest Baseball Player Ever,” and “Who Most Deserves to join Jesus Christ, Ronald Reagan, and Ernest Hemingway on Mt. Fratmore.” That’s just the way it is.

Congrats, kid, on one hell of a career. See you at Cooperstown.

P.S. – To the four nice men wearing ski masks, holding guns, and speaking in thick Georgian accents: now that I’ve done what you’ve asked, can you PLEASE let my family go unharmed?


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