Coming into this season, we all figured that Jose Bautista would be the Toronto Blue Jays' best slugger. He had, after all, hit more home runs than anybody else over the last two seasons and he was the best hitter in all of baseball before the break in 2011.
Bautista was indeed having a fine season before he got hurt a couple weeks ago, as he had 27 home runs and an .894 OPS.
But the best slugger on the Blue Jays? That honor belongs to Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion had never hit more than 26 home runs in a single season coming into the 2012 campaign. He already has 29, putting him on pace to top 40 home runs for the first time in his career.
Encarnacion is doing more than just hitting home runs, mind you. He's been one of the most well-rounded sluggers in baseball this season. The Blue Jays' postseason hopes are fading, but they would have faded a long time ago if it wasn't for Encarnacion.
I figure it's about time Encarnacion got some due credit. He's finally cracked the top five of my weekly American League MVP rankings.
Scroll ahead for this week's top five.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Last Week: Unranked
There's typically at least one new member in my top five when I sit down to do these rankings every week. Last week, the new guy in town was Yoenis Cespedes.
That surprised (and annoyed) a handful of commenters, but Cespedes had earned the honor with a torrid month of July in which he helped lead the A's to a 19-5 record. It was this time last week that I noticed the A's were 43-26 with Cespedes in the lineup, and 12-20 without him. That's a mark of an MVP right there.
But Cespedes' inclusion in these rankings always was going to be contingent on his performance and that of the A's. Sure enough, he's slipped into a minor funk and the A's have dropped four of their last six games.
So Cespedes is out this week. I had a long list of options to replace him, which included names such as David Ortiz, Mark Trumbo, Josh Reddick, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols.
But I decided to go with Edwin Encarnacion, who a lot of commenters have been lobbying for.
The one thing that's easy to notice about Encarnacion's season is the fact that he's currently tied for second in the American League in home runs with 29. Only Adam Dunn has hit more, and only Hamilton and Curtis Granderson have as many homers as Encarnacion.
These guys are the four best sluggers in the Junior Circuit this year. What's significant about Encarnacion is that he's having the best season of the bunch.
At .292/.389/.574, Encarnacion has Dunn, Hamilton and Granderson beat in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage. His .963 OPS is good for fourth in the AL behind Ortiz, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera.
According to FanGraphs, Encarnacion also ranks third in the AL with a wOBA of .409. To boot, he's even stolen a dozen bases.
It's true that the Blue Jays aren't a very good team. Their playoff hopes are growing dimmer every day, and the injury bug certainly hasn't made life easier for them.
But look at it this way: If it wasn't for Encarnacion, the Jays wouldn't even be in the discussion. At the absolute very least, he's their MVP.
Last Week: No. 5
Austin Jackson came into the season with the reputation of being a better athlete than a ballplayer. He had tools, but he hadn't yet figured out how to put it all together.
Suffice to say that he's figured things out. Jackson is having an excellent season across the board, and it's now fair to say that he is one of the AL's elite players (just ask David Schoenfield).
Jackson is hitting .322/.409/.518 with 11 home runs, 49 RBI, 68 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. Only David Ortiz and Joe Mauer have him beat in on-base percentage, and only Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have him beat in batting average. His .926 OPS is good for eighth in the AL.
Per FanGraphs, Jackson's wOBA is .399. That's good for fifth in the AL, just ahead of Josh Willingham and just behind Cabrera.
As those who watched Sunday's game against the Cleveland Indians can vouch, Jackson has had a flair for the dramatic in 2012. In late and close situations, he has a 1.037 OPS.
Jackson's overall value is further boosted by his defense. He leads all American League centerfielders with a UZR of 4.9. He probably won't win a Gold Glove, but he's at least in the discussion.
Add it all up, and you get a WAR of 4.7, according to FanGraphs. That's good for third in the American League.
There are always at least a few commenters who object to seeing Austin Jackson in the top five whenever I refresh my rankings. That just goes to show how under the radar he's flying this season.
Last Week: No. 4
I bumped Robinson Cano down to the No. 4 spot in my rankings last week because he had quietly slipped into a slump, hitting .298/.333/.404 with one homer and two RBI in his previous 14 games.
He has since corrected himself.
Cano hit .348/.423/.696 over the last week with a pair of home runs and seven RBI. He even managed to collect a hit against Felix Hernandez on Saturday, a feat accomplished by only one other Yankee hitter.
For the season, Cano's line is now up to .314/.372/.564. He's sitting on 24 home runs and 63 RBI, putting him on pace for right around 35 home runs and 100 RBI.
Granted, Cano is not having as good a season offensively as Jackson. That's plainly evident in several different categories, most notably wOBA. Per FanGraphs, Cano's wOBA is .393, six points lower than Jackson's.
Cano gets the nod over him for a couple different reasons.
First and foremost, Cano ranks second in the American League with a WAR of 5.1, according to FanGraphs. That's largely due to his defense, which is more important now than ever before given how poorly Derek Jeter has performed in the field this season.
Second, Cano deserves to be higher than Jackson simply because he doesn't have nearly as much help. The Yankees have a reputation of being an unstoppable offensive force, but that's not the case this year. They've hit a ton of home runs, but their lineup is shallower and more one dimensional than it's been in some time.
As a result, Cano has been tasked with shouldering a bigger load. He's surpassed expectations, and there's no doubt whatsoever at this point that he's the best player on the Yankees.
Last Week: No. 2
There is no better hitter in the American League than Miguel Cabrera. He's been the best in the Junior Circuit for a couple years now, and he's showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Since the start of June, Cabrera is hitting .332/.402/.645 with 18 home runs and 49 RBI over 57 games. In these 57 games, the Tigers have gone 34-23.
For the season, Cabrera is now hitting .325/.387/.579 with 27 home runs and 91 RBI. He ranks second in the AL in batting average, third in slugging, third in OPS and first in RBI.
His wOBA is .406, according to FanGraphs. That's good for fourth in the AL.
At the rate he's going, Cabrera is probably going to top 40 home runs for the first time in his career, and he may even get to 140 RBI. I'd say he has an outside shot at 45 and 150.
You really can't put anything past Cabrera right now, especially with Prince Fielder hitting so well behind him (1.001 OPS since the All-Star break). If the two of them can remain hot, it's just a matter of time before the Tigers take control of the AL Central and hold it for good.
You could argue Cano deserves to be ahead of Cabrera because of how much help is provided from Detroit's everyday lineup. I give Cabrera the nod because his offensive numbers are significantly better than Cano's, particularly when it comes to runners in scoring position. Cabrera's average with runners in scoring position is over 100 points higher than Cano's.
That's where all those extra RBI come from. Cano should take note.
Last Week: No. 1
There shouldn't be any need for me to justify Mike Trout being No. 1 in these rankings, but I will anyway.
He's hitting .346/.407/.597 with 19 home runs, 58 RBI, 86 runs scored and 33 stolen bases. He leads the American League in batting average, runs scored and stolen bases. He ranks fourth in OBP, second in slugging and second in OPS.
Per FanGraphs, Trout is leading the American League with a wOBA of .439. The next-closest pursuer is David Ortiz at .421, a fairly significant gap.
He also leads in WAR at 6.7. The next-closest pursuer is Cano at 5.1. Yet another fairly significant gap.
It's going to take a major slump for Trout to miss out on the AL batting title. He's probably going to win a Gold Glove. The AL Rookie of the Year award is a lock.
And right now, he's leading the race for the AL MVP by a wide margin.
5. Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers
4. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
3. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland A's
Two things need to happen for him to crack the top five again: He needs to get healthy and he needs to get as hot as he was in July. Good luck with that.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Steady as she goes.
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
He's the best there is.
Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
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