Due to a variety of circumstances, it just isn't very common for pitchers to win the MVP award anymore. To even be in the discussion, a given pitcher has to be really, really awesome.
We saw Justin Verlander top the discussion in 2011, eventually becoming the first pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 to win an MVP award. These days, it's about time we started considering fellow American League ace David Price a legitimate player in the chase for the 2012 AL MVP award.
Price may not play every day, but the Rays wouldn't be where they are without him. As much as the team revolves around Evan Longoria, Price is a major reason why the Rays were able to stay afloat during Longoria's lengthy injury absence. Without him, they wouldn't have been in a position to make a run following Longo's eventual return.
With Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson crashing out of the top five due to a slump that dates back to July, there's room for Price in the AL MVP rankings this week. Scroll ahead to see where he ranks.
Note: All stats are current as of the start of play on Monday, August 20, and they come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Last Week: Unranked
We'll start David Price out at No. 5 in his first week in the rankings. But if he keeps pitching the way he's been pitching since the middle of June, it's going to be hard to keep him from moving up in the rankings.
Price is in the middle of a run of success that is best described as "absurd." He's riding a string of 11 consecutive starts in which he's pitched at least seven innings, posting a 1.72 ERA and a .189 opponents' batting average along the way. In his last 78.1 innings, he's struck out 81.
For the season, Price is now leading the American League in wins with 16 and in ERA at 2.39.
Does this mean that Price is also a lock for the AL Cy Young award?
No. Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez are both having better seasons. They each have WARs over 5.0, according to FanGraphs. Price's WAR is a mere 3.8.
Price is in the MVP discussion over King Felix, obviously, because Price's team is actually in contention. He's in the MVP discussion over Verlander because his Tigers have far more weapons than just Verlander. Austin Jackson is one of the best overall players in the American League, and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are living up to their billing as an elite slugging duo.
Compared to the Tigers, the Rays are pretty light on talent. That shows in their 42-44 record without Evan Longoria. If the Rays didn't have Price to rely on during Longoria's absence, that record would be much further under the .500 mark.
So while Price may not be the best pitcher in the American League this season, he certainly deserves to be called the most indispensable pitcher in the American League. Without him, the Rays would have been doomed long ago.
Last Week: No. 3
Robinson Cano hasn't looked so hot at the plate lately. He has just two hits in his last 24 at-bats, and he was riding a 16 at-bat hitless streak up until his single against the Red Sox on Sunday night.
Naturally, one wonders how much Cano's neck is really bothering him at the moment. It was bad enough to force Joe Girardi to keep Cano out of his lineup last Wednesday, and the extra time off didn't lead to an explosion of hits once Cano was back in the starting lineup.
Whatever the cause of his misery, Cano's numbers are starting to dwindle a little bit. He's hitting .305/.368/.540 for the season, and his weighted on-base average is down to .383, according to FanGraphs.
Not that these are bad numbers, mind you. Cano's .383 wOBA is tied for ninth in the American League, and he's still in the top 10 in slugging, OPS and homers.
Cano's overall value is boosted by his defense. His 6.9 UZR is good for third among AL second basemen, and his plus-13 DRS ties him with Dustin Ackley for first among AL second basemen.
Cano's offensive and defensive contributions make him the most valuable member of the Yankees, and his 5.3 WAR actually ties him with Miguel Cabrera for second in the American League behind Mike Trout.
He's down one spot from No. 3 to No. 4 this week only because his slump has taken a hammer to his overall numbers, and because the next man in these rankings has been playing just a little bit better since July turned into August.
Last Week: No. 4
Josh Hamilton reappeared in the top five for the first time in a long time last week, and he's up one spot this week because he's still swinging the bat better than he has in months.
After hitting .177 with a .607 OPS in July, Hamilton is hitting .288 with a .931 OPS in August, with five home runs and 18 RBI to boot. It's not out of the question that he'll finish the month with eight homers and 27 RBI, which would match the numbers he put up in June and July combined.
For the season, Hamilton is now hitting .287/.353/.586 with 34 homers and 102 RBI. In the American League, only Adam Dunn has hit more home runs and only Miguel Cabrera has racked up more RBI.
Hamilton gets the nod over Cano this week in part because he's coming off a better week at the plate. While Cano collected just one hit in 17 at-bats, Hamilton collected five extra-base hits (including two homers) and three RBI.
Hamilton is also having a slightly better month of August. His WAR for the month is at 0.7, while Cano's is at 0.6.
These two could easily flip-flop again a week from now, but Cano has to start hitting again in order for that to happen.
Last Week: No. 2
The Miguel Cabrera show just keeps rolling right along. He's coming off a week in which he hit .476 with a pair of home runs and six RBI.
He's now hitting .331/.397/.592 with 31 home runs and an AL-best 104 RBI. He ranks second in the AL in hitting, and third in slugging and OPS.
Per FanGraphs, Cabrera now ranks third in the AL with a wOBA of .414, finally making a leap over Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion. His 5.3 WAR ties him with Cano for second in the American League. It would be higher if he was a better defensive third baseman.
For the month of August, Cabrera has a WAR of 1.3, which ties him with Mike Trout for tops in the AL.
With the Angels quickly falling out of the AL postseason chase, Cabrera is steadily gaining on Trout in the AL MVP race. Because it looks like Trout isn't going to stop putting up mind-boggling numbers anytime soon, it looks like the only question now is whether or not the Angels will do him a favor by qualifying for the postseason.
If they don't and Cabrera's Tigers do qualify for the postseason, the MVP award will be his to lose.
Last Week: No. 1
Cabrera hasn't tracked down Mike Trout just yet. As far as the numbers are concerned, Cabrera may as well be trying to beat Trout in a footrace.
It's now been over two months since Trout last posted back-to-back 0-fers, and he's coming off a week in which he hit .370 with three homers, five RBI and eight runs scored.
In other words, a typical Mike Trout week.
He's now hitting .343/.405/.608 with 24 home runs, 70 RBI, 96 runs and 39 stolen bases. Per FanGraphs, he has a wOBA of .442 and a WAR of 7.3.
All told, he leads the American League in hitting, runs scored, stolen bases, wOBA and WAR. He ranks third in OBP and second in both slugging and OPS.
Basically, all you have to do is look up an important statistical category, and you'll find Trout's name somewhere in the top 10 for that category. And despite the fact he seems to be slowing down, he has a .987 OPS and a 1.3 WAR in the month of August.
The fact that the Angels are 5-13 in August is not Trout's fault. He can do a lot of things on a baseball diamond. But alas, he cannot pitch.
Cabrera is not going to end up with better numbers than Trout. The only way he's going to be the favorite for the AL MVP is if Trout's Angels miss the postseason.
And even then, Cabrera won't be a lock. Trout's been that good.
5. Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers
Jackson hasn't been the same player since the All-Star break, hitting .268 with a .793 OPS. He's still having a very good season, but he has a lot of work to do to get back to where he was.
4. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
3. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Steady as she goes.
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
At the very least, we know he's going to win the AL Rookie of the Year.
Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
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