Like yesterday’s evaluation of the National League Most Valuable Player candidates, and the selection of my own Top 10 vote, there is a hitter-pitcher element in the AL this season.
The starting pitcher candidate in this case is Seattle Mariners righthander “King Felix” Hernandez. Like his NL counterpart, Clayton Kershaw, the King is most certainly the runaway favorite to win his league’s Cy Young Award for the top pitcher. And like his NL counterpart, to this evaluator, that is where he should rightly and properly be honored.
Winning the Cy Young Award is not a “secondary” or “lesser” honor to the Most Valuable Player Award in any way. The Cy Young goes to the best pitchers in the game. Position players have no shot at it. Winning the honor says that you are the absolute best at your most-valued of all positions.
Both Kershaw and Hernandez are just that, the best pitchers in the game today. They deserve those awards. And they deserve MVP votes because neither of their teams would likely be a contender without them. But the same can be said of each of the position players, and those position players, and to a slightly lesser extent the best closers, affect team outcomes nearly every single game.
With all that said, take a look back when you get a chance at yesterday’s NL MVP evaluation, and now enjoy my personal 10-player American League Most Valuable Player ballot, were I to have one, and were the season to end today:
10) Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland
The offensive leader of a team that was baseball’s best for much of the season, Donaldson has emerged over the last two years as an All-Star caliber performer. This year he has 26 homers and 93 rbi, and has scored 85 runs. He provides the middle-of-the-order pop that teams need to contend. Despite their slide of recent weeks, the A’s remain in control of the top AL Wildcard spot. Much as with Miggy in Detroit, whether Oakland hangs on to a post-season berth will largely depend on his continued production over the last couple of weeks.
9) Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle
Already covered this above: the best pitcher in the American League, the easy choice for this year’s AL Cy Young Award. The King has a 14-5 record with a 1.12 ERA and an 0.92 WHIP. He has allowed just 153 hits across 212 innings. His K/BB ratio is at 217/41. There is only one other player who has been more of a difference-maker to the M’s emergence as a contender this season, and he is found much higher on the list.
8) Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston
I struggled with putting a player on a team that is 17-games under the .500 mark and in 4th place in their division, never having been a contender all season long, on the list at all. But Altuve is a special case. The Astros are an extremely young, inexperienced team that has been losing for years. Altuve has stepped up as a leader, and with a ton of good-looking prospects coming, is exactly what they need at the crest of the wave of talent. He has game-changing speed, swiping 51 bags and scoring 78 runs for one of the lowest-scoring teams in the game. He is hitting .336 and is a serious contender for the AL Batting crown, and carries a .373 on-base percentage. Not a big power guy, he still has 50 rbi.
7) Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago
Very rarely do I rank a player this high on a losing team, especially when that team has a decent chance to finish last in their division. Couldn’t they team be that putrid without him? Yes, they could. But the White Sox could also be down battling Texas for the worst record in baseball were it not for this Cuban rookie’s production. He sports a .317 average, .372 on-base percentage, and has 33 homers with 99 rbi. He is an easy choice for the AL Rookie of the Year. Just as impressively, he is one of the game’s best hitters already.
6) Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit
It has supposedly been an off-year for the man who has won the last two AL MVP Awards and the Triple Crown in 2012. Bothered most of the summer by what has been revealed as heal spurs, Miggy’s power was sapped by the pain in his base. But he still remained one of the game’s supreme hitters, and his power outburst last week almost single-handedly drove Detroit back into a Wildcard position. Even hurt, he has managed 22 homers, 101 rbi, and 91 runs scored while hitting .311 and with a .371 on-base percentage. Whether the Tigers return to the post-season or not largely depends on what he does in these final 2 1/2 weeks of the regular season.
5) Victor Martinez, 1B, Detroit
With Cabrera slightly off from his 2-time MVP pace this year, Detroit desperately needed VMart to stay healthy and produce in order to stay on top in the AL Central race. He has delivered, batting .335 with a .406 on-base percentage. He has 30 homers, 96 rbi, and 79 runs scored and is battling Altuve for the AL Batting crown in a neck-and-neck race. Despite this, the Tigers have been caught by Kansas City in the standings. They remain in a battle for another division crown, and also cling to a Wildcard berth, largely thanks to Martinez’ consistent production.
4) Alex Gordon, OF, Kansas City
Much as with Anthony Rendon in the NL, Gordon doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as he should for this honor. The Royals had another strong start to the season. But unlike a year ago, KC has not only stayed in the playoff race, but they have stayed in the race for an AL Central Division crown. A big reason has been the leadership, production, and the key hits and defensive plays from the unquestioned team leader Gordon. His raw numbers don’t pop out at you, one reason that he won’t be a favorite to actually win the AL MVP Award outright, and isn’t a Top 3 guy on this ballot. He has 19 homers, 66 rbi, 77 runs scored. But perhaps as much as anyone on this list he epitomizes what I believe the award to be all about – true value to your team, which incorporates those intangibles such as leadership, and coming through in the biggest moments.
3) Nelson Cruz, OF, Baltimore
The Orioles took over first place in the usually rough and tumble AL East in the early weeks of the season, and have steadily pulled away over the course of the summer to a point where they own a 10-game lead, the biggest in baseball, and already have a ‘Magic Number’ down to single-digits. Signing Cruz as a free agent in the off-season has proven to be one of the biggest such moves in baseball. With first catcher Matt Wieters and then Manny Machado lost for the season, Cruz has delivered with 39 homeruns, 101 rbi, and 82 runs scored. He seems to deliver his biggest bombs at the important moments. Despite the presence of his outstanding fellow outfielder Adam Jones, the O’s are not where they are without Nelson Cruz.
2) Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle
The former Yankee signed a lucrative free agent contract in the off-season to move all the way across the country to play for a team that had not reached the post-season since 2001, and had finished in 4th place eight times in the last decade, including the last four seasons in a row. The Mariners are now 14 games over .500, just a half game out of a Wildcard berth. The Yanks are 4 over .500, 5 1/2 out of the Wildcard. The difference is clearly Cano. He has hit .320 with a .386 on-base percentage, with 75 rbi and 73 runs scored. His homers are down at a dozen, but that can largely be attributed to the ballpark factor. What is clearly up is the effect that his presence has in the Seattle batting order.
1) Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles
The man (we have to stop referring to him as “kid” at some point) who finished as the runner-up for the AL MVP in his first two seasons should finally win it this time around. He has driven his team to the top of the standings. His Angels have not only taken charge of the AL West lead over the last month, but they now have the best record in the sport. Some of Trout’s ridiculous numbers of the last two years are down, but his impact on the game and his team are not. He is hitting .288 with a .372 on-base percentage. With 32 homers and 103 rbi, he has emerged as a true major power threat. His speed has allowed him to score 99 runs, and he still has stolen 14 bases in a season that saw his team restrict those opportunities for him. For the 3rd straight season he is clearly the best all-around player in the game. Now he will be recognized as it’s Most Valuable as well.
NO APOLOGIES for not putting the following players on either my NL or AL ballots the last two days. Fact is, they absolutely deserve consideration. Fact is, they will receive MVP votes in the real voting. But you only get so many choices, and we all have to make tough decisions. A few names who deserve mentioning that I did not vote for are:
NL – Justin Upton (Atl), Adrian Gonzalez (LA), Freddie Freeman (Atl), Jayson Werth (Was), Josh Harrison (Pit), Adam LaRoche, (Was), Matt Kemp (LA), Adam Wainwright (ST)
AL – Jose Bautista (Tor), Michael Brantley (Cle), Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY), Albert Pujols (LA), Adam Jones (Bal), Ian Kinsler (Det), Melky Cabrera (Tor), Corey Kluber (Cle), Kyle Seager (Sea)
As the 2014 Major League Baseball season sprints into it’s stretch run, each week separates post-season wheat from chaff. Time runs out on some clubs, and the words “Magic Number” once again emerge into the game’s vocabulary for others.
As teams push for the pennant, they are often driven forward by one man, one lead character playing hero in that season. He may be a slugger. He may have a golden arm. He may come up with clutch hits at crucial moments of many of these dramatic, decisive games.
At the end of it all, teams win, and players are honored for their individual achievements. The voting for the ‘Most Valuable Player‘ award in both the National and American League takes place before the post-season, so it is a reflection on the performance of the top players in the game over the course of the regular 162-game season that has unfolded over the previous full 6 months.
These centerpiece awards have been given out in MLB since 1931 by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. Two baseball writers from each city in each league vote annually for the recipient, and the winner is announced at the conclusion of the World Series.
The BBWAA has never given out a clear definition of “most valuable”, and that has been a bone of contention among many voters, commentators, writers, fans, and even players themselves. What makes a player valuable to his team, and how is that measured? Can a starting pitcher, for instance, who only affects team performance once or twice a week, possibly be as valuable as a position player, who affects team outcomes every game?
Without definitive direction, I have always been guided by what I consider common sense. To me, especially since pitchers already have an award specifically dedicated for their excellence in the Cy Young Award, I cannot personally consider a starting pitcher to be more valuable than the most valuable of position players.
This is not to say that starting pitchers, such as Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, are not valuable. Clearly they are, and clearly the Dodgers, as one example, would not be the same team, and perhaps not even a contender, without Kershaw. So for me, a pitcher like Kershaw would absolutely receive acknowledgement on my ballot. But he would not be the top choice.
On each ballot, the writer’s doing the voting select 10 players and rank them 1-10 in the order in which they feel these players have been “most valuable” to their particular team. A player then receives 14 ‘points’ for every first place vote, 9 for a 2nd place vote, 8 for 3rd, 7 for 4th, on down to 1 point for a 10th place vote.
The following would be my personal 10-player National League Most Valuable Player ballot, were I to have one, and were the season to end today. I will present my 10-player American League MVP ballot tomorrow:
10) Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Milwaukee
You would be hard-pressed to make a case that any player has been more influential to his team’s success as a complete surprise than has KRod proven for the Brew Crew. Once arguably the game’s most dominant closer, he re-emerged in that role this season for the Brewers. He has registered 39 Saves with a 2.95 ERA and a magnificent 0.98 WHIP, and with a 69-14 K/BB ratio across 61 extremely valuable innings at the end of now-fading Milwaukee’s closest games.
9) Hunter Pence, OF, San Francisco
His raw numbers of 19 homers, 69 rbi, 101 runs scored, 13 steals while compiling a .295 batting average make Pence one of the best all-around offensive threats in the NL. Combine the numbers with his hustling defense and his passionate leadership, and factor in that he plays his home games in a pitcher’s haven at AT&T Park in San Francisco, and you have a legit MVP candidate for a legit contender that wouldn’t be so without him.
8) Dee Gordon, 2B, Los Angeles
The only rival to KRod as a surprise MVP candidate, Gordon’s emergence has arguably been even more unlikely. Not even a starter entering the spring, Gordon took the 2nd base job and ran with it, literally. Hitting .287, he has stolen 59 bases to lead all of baseball, has scored 80 runs, and generally been exactly what the first-place Dodgers needed: a catalyst at the top of the batting order on a consistent basis. His team is very likely once again struggling for runs and under-achieving if not for his sudden emergence as an impact player this year.
7) Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles
The best starting pitcher on the planet. Period. On his return to the team after missing the first few weeks of the season, Kershaw took up right where he had left off during the team’s showcase opening series in Australia in March, where he left off last season in a Cy Young campaign. He has dominated. With an 18-3 record, 22 of 24 Quality Starts, a 1.67 ERA and 0.82 WHIP, and with an unreal 210-27 K/BB ratio over 177.1 IP, Kershaw is the clear NL Cy Young Award winner once again.
6) Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami
The most sensational individual performer in the National League this season on a daily basis, Stanton likely gets the honors as the Most Outstanding Player in the NL: 37 homers, 105 rbi, 88 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, a .291 batting average with a .396 on-base percentage. He is improved defensively, and has a cannon for a right arm. Stanton does it all, and has most importantly stayed healthy this year. The only thing keeping him from the top spot? His team is not, and won’t be, in the post-season race. They could lose without him. They are losing with him. His performance keeps them fighting for .500, but for this writer, to win the honors you need to elevate your team to contention.
5) Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta
The most valuable Closer in the game today, he is the perfect weapon in the 9th inning. In that role, he impacts 3 times the number of actual game results than does a starting pitcher like Kershaw. He has registered 43 Saves, tied for the NL lead. He has a 1.61 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He has an 80-18 K/BB ratio across 56 innings. The Braves are just 1 1/2 games out of a Wildcard berth that they wouldn’t even be sniffing without him.
4) Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee
The Brewers are just a game and a half out of the Wildcard, but they have been seriously fading, and with that fade Gomez’ own shot at the NL MVP Award is also fading. But Milwaukee led the NL Central for much of the season, and they remain in the post-season hunt, largely thanks to Gomez’ taking his game to another level. He has 21 homers, 67 rbi, 87 runs scored, and 29 steals while hitting at a .284 clip, and has taken the mantle away from Ryan Braun as the biggest threat in the Brew Crew everyday lineup. His teammate, Jonathan Lucroy, would also be a worthy nominee, and will finish high on some ballots, but it is Gomez who is the better all-around player.
3) Anthony Rendon, Washington
Playing largely at 3rd base due to Ryan Zimmerman’s season-long injury troubles, Rendon has been a whiz at the hot corner for the first place Nats. He also seemlessly slid over to play 2nd base for a month when Zimmerman was briefly able to get healthy. All the while, he has emerged as the most consistent offensive threat in their batting order. His 102 runs scored leads all of baseball. He has 18 homers, 77 rbi, and 15 steals as well. There is a sense is that he is only scratching the surface of his all-around game. Aleady one of baseball’s best hitters, Rendon is the MVP of a team running away with a division crown. Hard to beat that as a league MVP endorsement. I was extremely tempted to list him in the top position.
2) Andrew McCutchen, Pittsurgh
The Pirates have again emerged as a playoff contender for the 2nd straight season. Their run to the post-season a year ago was a prime factor in McCutchen taking home the 2013 NL MVP. Their return would be a major factor in his winning the honors in back-to-back fashion, something accomplished only by Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera in the last three decades. He has the raw numbers: 22 homers, 74 rbi, 76 runs, 17 steals, and a .311 batting average with a .402 on-base percentage. And he is getting hot and coming up with big hits lately in clutch situations. The Pirates have taken over a Wildcard spot, and if they hold it, he will be a top finisher when all the votes are counted.
1) Buster Posey, San Francsico
The 2012 NL MVP, his raw numbers are good enough on their own: a .309 batting average, 20 homers, 79 rbi, 67 runs scored. That he produces this offense mostly from the catchers position makes him the game’s top threat in that regard from the position. The Giants have wisely reduced his catching, shifting some of the load to more appearances at 1st base to keep his potent bat in the lineup, while also finding him more scattered rest opportunities. The result has been that Posey is fresh, the game’s hottest hitter over the last month as the Giants halted a slide and re-emerged as contenders. They now lead the Wildcard race, and are still within range of running at the Dodgers for the division crown. They are at neither spot without him. At least for now with 3 weeks to go, on this man’s ballot it is between Posey and McCutchen, the last two winners of the award, for NL MVP.