AL MVP Rankings: A's Slugger Yoenis Cespedes Cracks the Top 5
The Oakland A's surprised a lot of people when they signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year deal worth $36 million back in February, and for good reason.
It's not like the A's to throw that kind of money around, and many were baffled by the notion that the organization that spawned the "Moneyball" movement would covet a free-swinger with minimal experience against major league pitching.
Right about now, it's apparent that the A's knew what they were doing.
Cespedes' first season in the major leagues is going better than even the most optimistic dreamers would have dared to dream. He's had trouble staying healthy, but he's been one of the most destructive players in the league when he's been in Oakland's lineup. And by now, it's clear that the A's are a completely different team when Cespedes plays.
And since the A's now have the third-best record in the American League, it's time to give Cespedes some credit as a legitimate American League MVP candidate.
Here are this week's AL MVP rankings. Scroll ahead to see where Cespedes stands.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
5. Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers
Last Week: No. 4
There's a small country of players that could be slotted in the No. 5 spot in these rankings, among them being Mark Trumbo, Josh Reddick, Josh Hamilton, Josh Willingham, David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Jones.
But I had Austin Jackson in my rankings last week, and I just couldn't bring myself to boot him out of the top five to make room for somebody else. He's simply too deserving to be here.
There are still a lot of people who haven't noticed how good he's been, but it suffices to say that Jackson has been one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the Junior Circuit in 2012. He ranks fifth in the AL with a .317 batting average, fourth in OBP at .402 and even has a slugging percentage over .500 at .502.
It all adds up to a weighted on-base average of .398, according to FanGraphs. That's good for eighth in the American League, and it's a category where Jackson has Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista and other notable hitters beat.
Jackson has also played great defense for the Tigers this season. Among everyday players, Jackson's 4.9 UZR ranks first among AL center fielders. Given the general mediocrity of Detroit's defense, there's no overstating how important Jackson's good work on defense has been.
It therefore makes sense that the Tigers are 46-34 when Jackson plays, and 8-14 when he doesn't. Without him, they're a below-average team.
4. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
Last Week: No. 3
Robinson Cano is slipping a little bit. He occupied the No. 2 spot in these rankings as recently as two weeks ago, and here he is all the way down at No. 4 this week.
This is because Cano has very quietly fallen into a slump. Over his last 14 games, Cano has hit .298/.333/.404 with a single home run and just two RBI.
The Yankees' record in these 14 games is 6-8.
This is a testament to how important Cano is to the Yankees, and that's exactly why he needs to get going at the plate again. When he hits, the Yankees are virtually unbeatable.
That's a reality that shows up in Cano's splits. In wins, he has an OPS of 1.108. In losses, he has an OPS of .661.
For the season, Cano is hitting .312/.369/.557 with a .389 weighted on-base average, according to FanGraphs. That's good for ninth in the American League.
Much like Jackson, Cano's overall value is boosted by his defense. He and Dustin Ackley are the two best defensive second basemen in the AL as far as the advanced metrics are concerned.
It all adds up to a 4.7 WAR for Cano, which is good for second overall in the American League behind Mike Trout.
All of these numbers take his recent slump into account, which just goes to show how good of a season Cano was having before he started going cold. If he snaps out of it, he'll jet up my weekly rankings once again.
3. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland A's
Last Week: Unranked
At first glance, Yoenis Cespedes' numbers look pretty good, but not all that impressive. He's hitting .305/.363/.541, but with only 14 home runs and 54 RBI. Josh Hamilton did better than that through the first six weeks of the season.
What you have to realize that a significant portion of Cespedes' production has come since the start of June, and that's why Cespedes is in this discussion.
Since the first of June, Cespedes is hitting .346/.394/.614 with nine home runs and 33 RBI. He's hitting .443/.485/.787 with five home runs and 18 RBI since the All-Star break, and that's a matter of just 15 games. The A's have won 12 of those.
Right now, a lot of people are looking at the A's and wondering why they're so good. Cespedes' production accounts for a big chunk of the explanation.
Due to injuries, Cespedes has only played in 69 games this season. When Cespedes doesn't play, the A's are 12-20 in 32 games, a winning percentage of .375. When Cespedes does play, however, the A's are 43-26, a winning percentage of .623.
No team in the American League has a winning percentage over .600 this season. The translation here is that the A's are the best team the Junior Circuit has to offer when Cespedes is in the lineup.
His contract is looking like quite the bargain right now.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Last Week: No. 2
Miguel Cabrera has finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting each of the last three seasons. Some still insist that he should have won the MVP over Josh Hamilton in 2010.
Cabrera is making another strong run at the MVP award this season, and he might just be able to steal the award if he keeps up his current pace at the plate. He's hitting .356/.417/.711 in the month of July, leading the Tigers to a 16-8 record in 24 games.
Overall, Cabrera is hitting .324/.385/.579 this season, with 25 home runs and an AL-best 83 RBI. He ranks fourth in the league in batting average, fifth in slugging and fourth in weighted on-base average, according to FanGraphs.
ESPN.com is projecting Cabrera to finish with 39 home runs and 131 RBI, both of which would be career highs. He has a legit shot at topping 40 home runs for the first time in his career.
Cabrera's overall value is hurt by his defense at third base, which is well below average. Even still, he has a WAR that checks in at 4.2, which ties him for fourth in the AL with Mr. Jackson.
There are players in the AL who are having better all-around seasons than Cabrera, to be sure, but he's as hot as any hitter in baseball right now, and the effect his hot streak has had on the Tigers speaks for itself. When he plays well, the Tigers play well.
Then again, we've known this for four-plus years at this point.
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: No. 1
For the first time in a long time, Mike Trout did not play on Sunday. He was given the day off to rest a sore left knee.
It should come as no surprise that the Angels lost the game, nor should it come as any surprise that they were shut out on just five hits. Without Trout, they're just not the same team.
Trout's the kind of player who simply cannot be replaced. He's hitting .350/.407/.594 with 16 home runs, 49 RBI, 75 runs scored and 31 stolen bases. He leads the AL in batting average, runs and steals, and he ranks third in slugging and second in OPS at 1.000.
Per FanGraphs, Trout leads the AL in weighted on-base average at .439 and in WAR at 6.2. The next-closest player to him in that latter category is Cano, whose WAR is 4.7.
As of right now, there's no question that Trout is the man to beat in the AL MVP race. He's been the best player in the league since he got the call in late April, and he's made the Angels a formidable team.
The scary part is that he's showing no signs of slowing down. Trout is hitting .387 with a 1.175 OPS since the break, and he hit a home run in his return to the lineup on Monday.
Full disclosure: I ran out of nice things to say about him weeks ago.
Last Week's Rankings
5. David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox
Big Papi is having a better season than any slugger in the American League, but he's out of the top five this week due to his injury absence. The latest word from ESPNBoston.com is that Ortiz could be out a while longer, so he probably won't be back in the top five next week, either.
4. Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers
He's down one this week, but through no fault of his own. Just needed to make room for Cespedes.
3. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
Cano is also down one this week, and he won't be able to move back up until he starts hitting again.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Steady as she goes.
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
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