AL MVP Rankings: Josh Hamilton Makes Triumphant Return to Top 5

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 13, 2012

AL MVP Rankings: Josh Hamilton Makes Triumphant Return to Top 5

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    If the 2012 season had come to an end in the middle of May, Josh Hamilton would have ran away with the American League MVP award.

    For that matter, he probably could have campaigned to be the president of the United States, and people would have gone along with it. Because, honestly, who wouldn't feel comfortable with a guy hitting .402 with 18 homers and 44 RBI in just 32 games leading the free world?

    As is (and always will be) the case in life, the good times didn't last forever. Hamilton started slumping in the middle of May and kept on slumping straight through the end of July. The month of July was particularly rough, in fact, as Hamilton hit under .200 with just 11 RBI in 22 games.

    In the process, he all but dropped off the radar of the AL MVP race. He could only dream of doing enough to catch up with Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and the other front-runners.

    A couple weeks into August, we now know that rumors of Hamilton's demise were greatly exaggerated.

    Hamilton has caught fire again and in doing so has made the Rangers look like the unstoppable force they were in April and early May. How long this is going to last is anybody's guess, but for the time being, Hamilton is definitely an MVP candidate once again.

    For the first time in a long time, he's back in the top five of my weekly AL MVP rankings. Scroll ahead to see where Hamilton ranks.

    Note: All stats come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

5. Austin Jackson, CF (Detroit Tigers)

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    Last Week: No. 4

    Austin Jackson has hit the skids a little bit, as he has just six hits in his last 28 at-bats with three RBI. The Tigers, meanwhile, have lost four of their last five games.

    This doesn't come as a huge shock. Jackson isn't the most important player on the Tigers, but the team tends to play a lot better when he's playing well. 

    When Jackson doesn't play at all, the Tigers are basically a lost cause. With him, the Tigers are 53-40. Without him, they're 8-14.

    But that only constitutes a fraction of Jackson's MVP candidacy. He has the numbers to back up a spot in the top five as well.

    Despite his recent slump, Jackson still boasts a triple-slash line of .314/.397/.516, with 13 home runs, 52 RBI, 73 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. He ranks fifth in the AL in on-base percentage and eighth in the AL in OPS at .914.

    According to FanGraphs, Jackson has a weighted on-base average of .392. That put in fifth in the AL, just ahead of Josh Hamilton and Robinson Canoe and just behind Miguel Cabrera.

    That's as good a sign as any that Jackson has been one of the most valuable offensive players in the Junior Circuit this season, and he's also getting it done on defense. He leads all qualified AL center fielders with a 4.9 UZR.

    Add it all up, and you get a WAR of 4.8, according to FanGraphs. That's good for fourth in the AL.

    Jackson conceivably could be even higher on this list. The reason he's not is because he's not playing his best baseball at the moment and because space needed to be made for the new entry in this week's list.

4. Josh Hamilton, OF (Texas Rangers)

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    Last Week: Unranked

    I decided several weeks ago to drop Josh Hamilton from the top five of my weekly AL MVP rankings.

    My issue with Hamilton had little to do with his numbers, as his numbers for the season were always impressive despite his prolonged slump at the plate. My decision to drop him had more to do with how it had been a long time since Hamilton was actually relevant in the general landscape of the American League.

    Those who watched him go to work over the last week will know full well that Hamilton is definitely relevant again.

    In the six games Texas played last week, Hamilton hit .455 with three home runs and nine RBI, leading the Rangers to series victories against the Red Sox and Tigers. 

    Hamilton was starting to get going even before he started knocking the cover off the ball over the last week. He's currently in the middle of a 10-game hitting streak, in which he's hitting .357, with 15 RBI.

    To put this in perspective, Hamilton had just 16 RBI in the entire month of June and just 11 RBI in July. 

    Hamilton's recent hot stretch has boosted his triple-slash line to .291/.357/.587, and he's now sitting on 32 home runs and 99 RBI. His .587 slugging percentage is good for third in the AL, and he now tops the league lead RBI.

    According to FanGraphs, Hamilton's WAR has gotten a boost to an even 3.9. That's good for seventh in the AL.

    Long story short: He's back.

    And not a moment too soon as far as the Rangers are concerned. Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Geovany Soto are all slumping at the moment, and the team's starters have an ERA well over 5.00 so far in August.

    Hamilton basically has put the Rangers on his back over the last week or so. That's the mark of an MVP.

3. Robinson Cano, 2B (New York Yankees)

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    Last Week: No. 3

    Sadly, Robinson Cano did not have as good a week as Josh Hamilton last week.

    But he was still pretty darn good, hitting .321, with a homer and five RBI in seven games. The Yankees won four of those. 

    In other words, business as usual for Cano. He's nothing if not consistent, and he's been consistently good ever since he found his stroke in early May.

    As you'll no doubt recall, Cano had just one homer and four RBI through the Yankees' first 27 games. In 87 games since then, Cano is hitting .334/.397/.624, with 24 homers and 64 RBI.

    If Cano had been hitting like this since the first day of the season, he would have been on pace for a 45-homer, 120-RBI season. No joke.

    As it is, Cano is hitting .315/.374/.558, with 25 homers and 68 RBI. He ranks eighth in slugging, sixth in OPS at .932 and is tied with Josh Willingham for sixth in the AL with a .391 wOBA.

    And, like Jackson, Cano has been dynamite in the field. Per FanGraphs, he ranks second among AL second basemen behind Dustin Ackley with a UZR of 6.0 and a DRS of plus-11. He's one of the league's elite defensive second baseman, which is kind of important seeing as how Derek Jeter rates as the worst defensive shortstop in the AL this season.

    Cano ranks ahead of both Jackson and Hamilton on this list because he's been more consistent than either of them over the last three months. In addition to that, Cano doesn't have nearly as much help on the Yankees as Jackson does on the Tigers or Hamilton does on the Rangers.

    Yeah, welcome to 2012. It's a weird season.

2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (Detroit Tigers)

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    Last Week: No. 2

    Miguel Cabrera was just OK last week. He only hit .308, with a pair of homers and seven RBI.

    And the fact that these numbers qualify as "just OK" should tell you just how good Cabrera has been recently. Since the June 1, he's hit .329/.401/.642, with 20 home runs and 56 RBI across just 64 games in which the Tigers have gone 37-27.

    It's not like the bulk of this production came in one month of a handful of weeks, either. Cabrera posted a 1.086 OPS in June, a 1.079 OPS in July, and he has a 1.015 OPS so far in August. 

    For the season, he's hitting .324/.387/.581, with 29 home runs and 98 RBI. He ranks second in the league in batting average, fifth in homers, second in RBI, fourth in slugging, third in OPS and so on.

    In terms of weighted on-base average, there are only three players in the AL who are having better offensive seasons than Cabrera, according to FanGraphs. His .405 wOBA ranks fourth behind Mike Trout, David Ortiz and Edwin Encarnacion.

    Even despite his shoddy defense at the hot corner, Cabrera also ranks third in the AL in WAR at 4.8, behind only Trout and Robinson Cano.

    Unless one or both of them cool down in the near future, the AL MVP race basically is between Cabrera and Trout at this point, and the race is closer now than it's been at any point in the last couple months. If it stays this close, Cabrera has a shot to steal the award from Trout thanks to his track record.

    But as you can see, Cabrera isn't the favorite for the award in these rankings just yet.

1. Mike Trout, OF (Los Angeles Angels)

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    Last Week: No. 1

    Mike Trout is slipping a little bit. After lighting the world on fire in July, he's only hitting .250 in August, with 15 strikeouts in 44 at-bats. For the first time all season, he's gone cold.

    But "cold" is a relative term when it comes to Trout. He's not playing his best baseball at the moment, yet he's still doing things to remind everyone that he's the best overall player in the game.

    Take last week's heroics, for example. Trout single-handedly willed the Angels to victory over Felix Hernandez and the Mariners with a three-run homer and a two-RBI sac-fly on Friday night. The next day, he robbed yet another home run with a leaping catch at the wall.

    He may be slumping and the Angels may be losing, but Trout is still amazing.

    Besides, it's not like his recent slump has taken a hammer and chisel to his numbers. He's still hitting .340/.402/.592, with 21 homers, 65 RBI, 88 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. He leads the AL in average, runs, steals and, according to FanGraphs, wOBA and WAR.

    Cabrera is the one guy who has a shot at stealing the MVP from Trout right now, but Cabrera needs to stay hot while Trout keeps slumping for him to actually edge Trout in the race.

    Trout's track record, such as it is, suggests that this is not going to happen. He's been far more slump-proof than rookies like him have any right to be. And even his slump this month barely qualifies as a slump, as he's collected at least one hit in all but three of the 11 games the Angels have played this month.

    And yes, he still has a shot at ending up with 30 home runs and 50 stolen bases. Nobody has ever done that before while also hitting .340, and Trout could do it while also winning a batting title despite missing the first month of the season.

Last Week's Rankings

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    5. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B/1B/DH (Toronto Blue Jays)

    He's still having an excellent season, but he only was in the rankings last week because there was a shortage of options for the No. 5 spot. With Hamilton heating up again, Encarnacion could be out for good.

     

    4. Austin Jackson, CF (Detroit Tigers)

    Down one this week, but still having a great season.

     

    3. Robinson Cano, 2B (New York Yankees)

    Steady as he goes.

     

    2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (Detroit Tigers)

    Ditto.

     

    1. Mike Trout, OF (Los Angeles Angels)

    The best.

     

    Feel free to check out last week's rankings.


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