Top 5 AL MVP Candidates, Ivan Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Jeter and a Gnu

Steven Goldman@GoStevenGoldmanMLB Lead BloggerApril 23, 2012

Top 5 AL MVP Candidates, Ivan Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Jeter and a Gnu

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    Today the B/R guys and I present another slideshow on MVP candidates. We figure you like ‘em. I like them, too. The only problem is that it feels way too early.

    It's fun to handicap who is better than who, but it doesn't have much utility until a bit later than April 23, when there’s some kind of track record to go on—somewhere around July 1, say. Until then, we’re spinning our wheels.

    Still, for some folks it's never too early to see who's hot and who's not, including those at whose pleasure I serve. These kinds of differences, they make the world go 'round. So, as Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, if you like this sort of thing, then you will find this the sort of thing you like. Come on in!

This Is the Part Where We Talk About the Llama

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    In last week’s version of this post, I put in a llama because it was so premature to be thinking about MVP picks that a llama had as good a chance of winning it as any actual player.

    You think Fred Lynn was anyone’s preseason pick for AL MVP in 1975? Of course not—he was a rookie.

    No one expected Hank Sauer to be the NL MVP in 1952, because he was Hank Sauer.

    You say you’ve never heard of him? Neither had anyone then. Neither had he. Hell, the Cubs didn’t even know he was on the team until he showed up to pick up a paycheck.

We're Moving on from the Llama Now

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    Think about it this way: We have not quite one-tenth of the season in the book for most teams, so stats can swing dramatically.

    Right now, Robinson Cano was hitting .242 after Saturday—not an MVP candidate, right?

    But if he has two good games—just two—and goes 7-for-10, he’ll be hitting .306.

    That’s why I will not include a llama this time around. Instead, I present the gnu. This is Gary Gnu. Gary Gnu may hit three home runs tomorrow and you will suddenly think he’s Ted Williams.

    He’s not; it’s just a fluke—a momentary thing. He's not an MVP candidate; he's just a gnu having a gnood day.

    Parenthetically, if you like gnus, here's the best song about them. It may also be the only song about them, but when you're a gnu, you take what you can get in terms of respect.

Set the Time Machine to the Steroids Years!

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    MVP awards have never had a ton of legitimacy.

    In the very early days, there were efforts to throw the award one way or another.

    Slightly later, there was an informal rule that a player couldn’t win it twice, which is why Babe Ruth only won once. Arguably, Mickey Mantle should have won the AL version every full season of his career from 1952 to 1964.

    Think about the guy pictured here: Juan Gonzalez. Juan-Gone won the award twice—first in a close vote over Alex Rodriguez in 1996, then by a larger margin over Nomar Garciaparra in 1998.

    As ranked by wins above replacement, Gonzalez was barely one of the top 40 players in the AL in 1996. He was better in 1998—he slipped into the bottom of the top 30.

    He sure had a lot of RBI, though, which is often the determining factor in MVP voting.

A Timely Mention of Ivan Rodriguez

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    The one that really gets me is the award to Ivan Rodriguez, who actually lost the battle of first-place ballots to Pedro Martinez in 1999.

    Martinez would have been a far better choice, as would have Derek Jeter.

    By wins above replacement, Pudge-Rod was just the 13th-best player in the league.

    Heck, he led the league in grounding into double plays with 31, eighth most all-time.

One More Flashback

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    Then there are the years when closers have won the award.

    Dennis Eckersley, Willie Hernandez, Rollie Fingers, Steve Bedrosian and even Jim Konstanty had fine seasons, but they weren’t close to being the most valuable players in their leagues.

    You can't be when you're pitching only a handful of innings.

    Think about that as compared to starting pitchers, who throw 200 or more innings, or position players, who bat four or five times a game and also field.

Okay, I Lied

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    Whew! That’s a load off.

    Let’s take a look at the current leaders for AL MVP, shall we? (PS: I lied—you can’t keep a good llama down.)

1. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    In terms of actual wins, players are bunched up right now; as I said earlier, they haven’t had any time to separate themselves.

    Hamilton added a 3-for-3 performance on Sunday, including his seventh home run of the season. He hit his eighth home run the next day and is now hitting .408/.429/.789 and the Rangers are rampaging—though it took an entire crew of umpires blowing a call for them to take three out of four games from the Tigers.

2. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

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    Remember John Wayne’s Oscar for True Grit?

    It wasn’t his best performance, but he had been the biggest star in films for years, was in bad health and they figured they owed him something (for his best, see The Searchers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Red River and Sands of Iwo Jima, his only other nomination—he lost to Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men).

    Jeter is off to a great start, has finished in the top three on three occasions and should have won at least one.

    It’s time for the Academy to make it up to the Yankees’ Hall of Fame-bound shortstop.

3. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Last year’s winner dropped his ERA to 1.72 in allowing only an unearned run in six innings against the tough Rangers on Saturday.

    Only 30 starts to go.

4. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Rays are just a game off the pace in the AL East, and their record is a bit deceptive in that they’ve played some tough (or in the case of the Red Sox, just tough for them) teams so far.

    Carlos Pena and Matt Joyce have been right there with Evan Longoria in driving the team, but Longoria also plays a key defensive position with excellence.

    His 2-for-3 with a double on Sunday raised his rates to .339/.443/.593.

5. A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox

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    No one ever has or ever will confuse A.J. Pierzynski with an MVP candidate, but since we’re pretending and all, let’s give him the credit he deserves for the White Sox getting off to a better-than-expected start.

    He’s hitting .340/.382/.640 with four home runs and caught a perfect game on Saturday that you might have heard about.

Gnu II

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    I hope you enjoyed your early, early, early MVP candidates.

    Until next week, when we will repeat this exercise again.