AL MVP Rankings: Sizing Up Josh Hamilton and the Top 5 Contenders
On this day last year, Justin Verlander pitched a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays, running his record to 3-3 and lowering his ERA to 3.16 in the process.
As exciting as that moment was, nobody could have predicted that it was going to launch Verlander on a path toward the American League MVP. That goes to show just how long the MLB season really is, and how much can happen between the start and finish.
So, trying to draw a clear picture of the AL MVP race right now is a little silly, as the odds are good that a player who is nowhere near being in the MVP race is going to come away with the award when all is said and done. Baseball is the most unpredictable sport on earth.
What we can do from now until the end of the season is take stock of the MVP race at the moment. And at this moment, here are the top five contenders for the AL MVP award.
5. Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels
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When Justin Verlander won the AL MVP last year, he was the first pitcher to win it since Dennis Eckersley won it in 1992. It's highly unlikely that pitchers will end up taking home the AL MVP in consecutive years. But you never know.
Major League Baseball has become a pitcher's league in the last couple seasons. And right now, nobody in either league is as hot as Jered Weaver.
Weaver has been outstanding thus far in 2012. He's pitched at least 6.2 innings in each of his six starts, and he didn't allow any runs in four of them. His last start, of course, was a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins.
At the moment, Weaver ranks second in the AL in ERA (1.61), second in WHIP (0.78), second in strikeouts (45), and sixth in innings pitched (44.2).
For the season, Weaver's WAR is 1.8. Only one position player in the American League has a higher WAR than him.
So if the question is who the most "valuable" player in the league is, Weaver is a guy who most definitely has to be in the discussion.
4. Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers
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When the season began, there wasn't exactly a huge spotlight on Austin Jackson in Detroit. People were too busy focusing on the likes of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Not unlike Jacoby Ellsbury did last year, Jackson has stolen the spotlight away from his teammates with his play on the field. He looked lost for much of 2011, but he's been truly excellent for the Tigers this season.
Jackson entered Monday with a batting line of .311/.388/.515. He has four home runs, 11 RBI, 19 runs scored and four stolen bases in four attempts. He's been a big-time threat on offense.
But that's not all Jackson has done. His UZR this season is 4.9, highest among American League center fielders by a pretty good margin. He has to patrol a lot of ground at Comerica Park, and it's something that he's done very well.
Jackson's WAR this season is 2.0; that's the highest mark in the AL. The only reason he's not higher on this list is because he has a lot of help in Detroit's lineup, and because it's hard to justify giving the MVP to a player whose team is barely above .500.
3. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
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Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton has been the best all-around hitter in the American League this season. He entered Monday with a .381 batting average, an AL-best 26 RBI, a league-best .691 slugging percentage, and a league-best 1.122 OPS.
Entering Monday, his nine home runs tied him for the AL lead.
True to form, Hamilton has had to deal with some nagging injuries this season. That will be par for the course for him all year long. I for one will be surprised if Hamilton plays more than 140 games this season, as he'll get hurt here and there and the Rangers will proceed cautiously when he does.
But right now, Hamilton is having the same kind of season he had in 2010, when he won the AL MVP despite the fact he missed the last month of the season.
Hamilton is in the same boat as Jackson in that he has a great lineup around him, and Hamilton's 1.8 WAR is slightly below Jackson's. But if I had a vote, I'd vote for Hamilton over Jackson simply because of what he's done with a bat and what his success has meant to the Rangers.
2. Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees
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This time last year, Derek Jeter was hitting .256 with no home runs. In fact, his slugging percentage was a mere .282.
What a difference a year makes. Jeter entered Monday batting .397 with five home runs and a .595 slugging percentage. At the start of the day, he was first in the American League in batting average and third in the league with a 1.094 OPS.
The Yankees have needed Jeter's hot start, as the team as a whole has gone through some tough times this season. And though the Yankees have scored a ton of runs this season, key hitters like Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira have underperformed.
So, without Jeter, you have to think things would be a lot worse than they already are in Yankee Land, and that's saying something.
Jeter's WAR of 1.6 doesn't measure up next to Jackson's or Hamilton's, but I have him at No. 2 on this list due to the circumstances at play in the Bronx.
1. Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles
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The Baltimore Orioles are off to a very hot start, and they have two MVP candidates to thank for that.
One is Adam Jones, who I view as top 10 MVP material, but not quite top-five material. The other is Matt Wieters, and he's my No. 1 overall AL MVP candidate in early May.
Wieters has been dynamite offensively this season, as he entered Monday with a batting line of .301/.381/.602 with seven homers and 18 RBI. Those are pretty good numbers for any position player. For a catcher, they're well above average.
Behind the plate, Wieters has looked every bit like the catcher who won his first Gold Glove Award in 2011. Defensively, he's among the most skilled catchers in all of baseball.
It's not all about offense and defense when it comes to Wieters. He's had a hand in improving Baltimore's pitching, and that's a pretty big bullet point on his MVP resume. The Orioles had the worst team ERA in baseball last season. So far this year, they're maintaining a team ERA under 3.00.
Given everything he's meant to the Orioles, Wieters is the early-season AL MVP favorite, and it's really not that close.
Care to debate the list? Make good use of the comments section and hit me up with questions and thoughts on Twitter.