If you were to sit down and draw up a list of the most under-appreciated players in baseball over the last decade, Paul Konerko's name would have to be atop the list. All he's done over the last 10-plus years is mash. Again and again and again.
People are definitely appreciating Konerko right now. He's as hot as can be, and he's helped the Chicago White Sox move to within a half game of first place in the American League Central. They're playing great baseball, and they wouldn't be doing it without him.
Konerko is probably not going to flirt with the .400 mark all season, but he's certainly on track to have the finest season of his career. If he can keep it up, he's going to feature prominently in the American League MVP race all season long.
Konerko features prominently in it as things stand right now, of course. Here's an updated look at where he and his fellow pursuers stand in the 2012 AL MVP race.
Note: Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
Last Week: Unranked
I'm not crazy about the idea of pitchers winning the MVP award, but sometimes you just have to give credit where credit is due.
Justin Verlander deserves all the credit in the world for the kind of season he's having.
He has pitched much, much better than his 5-2 record would indicate. He's pitched more than six innings in seven of his 10 starts, and he's given up three earned runs or fewer in eight of them. His 2.15 ERA leads the American League.
Verlander also leads the league in WHIP and strikeouts, and he's the only pitcher in the Junior Circuit with three complete games.
Basically, Verlander is proving the same thing this year that he proved last year: He's the most dominant pitcher in the league. And without him, the Tigers would be a lot worse.
Last Week: No. 3
There's been a lot of scrutiny in The Bronx recently over players like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Because of that, Robinson Cano's good work this month has gotten overlooked.
He deserves better. In 20 games since May 6, Cano is hitting .360/.429/.720 with six home runs and 16 RBI. For the season, he's batting .297 with an .857 OPS.
The offensive numbers are great, but Cano also deserves credit for his defense. The Yankees as a whole are an inferior defensive team, but Cano is having an excellent year in the field. He has a 3.6 UZR and four defensive runs saved.
Put it all together, and Cano's WAR is 2.2. That ranks sixth in the American League.
With him, the Yankees are at least decent. Without him, they'd probably be worse than the Red Sox right now.
Last Week: No. 2
Adam Jones went through a stretch recently when nobody could get him out and he was hitting home runs left and right.
He cooled off over the last seven days, but he still managed to hit .304. Everyone keeps waiting for him to hit the skids, and he keeps refusing to do that.
Much has been made of Jones' absurd HR/FB rate, and it's very much true that it's bound to come down as the season rolls along. He's on pace to hit over 40 home runs, and that's also not going to happen.
But at the rate he's going, 35 home runs is well within reason, and Jones should be able to maintain a .300 batting average and a .900 OPS. To boot, he could also steal over 20 bases.
For Jones to remain in the MVP race, though, the Orioles will have to keep winning games. That's where things get dicey, as the O's have been struggling recently and the rest of the AL East is starting to catch up to them. They have enough talent and enough motivation to stay in the race, but they're finding out now that running away with the division never was a realistic goal.
Having just inked a major six-year extension with the club, Jones must do his part to keep the O's in the race. If he can do that, he's a lock to at least finish in the top five of the MVP voting when all is said and done.
Last Week: No. 4
Paul Konerko is some kind of hot right now.
Over the last seven days, Konerko is hitting .583 with three home runs an 10 RBI. His batting average for the season is .395, and he also has a highly impressive 1.142 OPS.
For the time being, Konerko ranks first in the American League in batting average and on-base percentage, and second in OPS and slugging. He ranks in the top 10 in several other offensive categories.
These aren't hollow numbers either. The White Sox have won six in a row and 10 of 11. They've won both blowouts and close games in this stretch, and Konerko's production has been a major reason why.
According to FanGraphs, Konerko's WAR currently sits at 2.9. Only one player in the AL has him beat in that category.
That guy just so happens to be No. 1 on this list.
Last Week: No. 1
Josh Hamilton went through a stretch of 12 games in which he didn't hit a home run, which was puzzling to behold seeing as how he blasted nine home runs in a single week once upon a time.
Hamilton's power returned over the weekend against Toronto. He hit two home runs, one of which was a walk-off in extra innings.
Hamilton's numbers for the season still have a video-game look to them. He's hitting .368/.422/.753 with a 1.175 OPS, with 20 home runs and 53 RBI.
At the moment, he's leading the AL in HRs, RBI, slugging and OPS. He's second in batting average and on-base percentage.
Hamilton's 3.7 WAR is tops in the American League, and it's not all that close.
Until further notice, he's still the man to beat in the AL MVP race.
5. Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers
He's having a great season, but it's not fair to include him in the discussion seeing as how he hasn't played since May 16.
4. Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Moving on up.
3. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
2. Adam Jones, CF, Baltimore Orioles
1. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
If you want to talk baseball and/or baseball movies, hit me up on Twitter.