AL MVP Rankings: Miguel Cabrera and Others Still Looking Up at Mike Trout

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 10, 2012

AL MVP Rankings: Miguel Cabrera and Others Still Looking Up at Mike Trout

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    For a while there, Los Angeles Angels super-rookie Mike Trout was leading the race for the American League MVP award by a country mile. All other contenders for the award were simply trying to find their way through his dust.

    Nonetheless, it seemed inevitable that Trout would come back to the rest of the pack at some point, as nobody can be as hot as he was for very long. He started to do so in August, and that was Miguel Cabrera's cue to put himself in a position to leapfrog Trout in the MVP race.

    And if we're being honest, it looked like it was just a matter of time before Cabrera was going to surpass Trout in the MVP race. He had all the momentum.

    For a variety of reasons, this hasn't happened yet. Cabrera is still Trout's closest pursuer, but we've come to yet another week in which Cabrera is looking up at Trout in the top five of my weekly AL MVP rankings. It's like the two of them are playing Mario Kart and Cabrera just keeps slipping on Trout's banana peels (hooray for nerd references!).

    Scroll ahead for the latest on the two of them and the other top contenders for the award.

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

5. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers

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    Last Week: No. 4

    In June and July, Hamilton hit eight home runs and drove in 27 runs in a total of 47 games.

    Since the first of August, he's slugged 11 home runs and driven in 35 runs in just 38 games.

    Yes, that's more like the Hamilton we all know and love. And thanks to his recent home run and RBI binge, Hamilton now stands alone atop the American League ranks with 40 home runs and 119 RBI. If he had a better batting average, he'd be in Triple Crown territory right now.

    The fact that Hamilton is even leading two of the three Triple Crown categories probably would have been enough to make him the man to beat in the MVP race in years past. But we live in a different era now. Homers and RBI are great, but we have too many stats now that suggest that Hamilton isn't the best player in the world.

    For example, Hamilton has a .388 weighted on-base average (wOBA), according to FanGraphs. Among American League hitters, that ranks him behind Prince Fielder, who has only hit 25 home runs and racked up 95 RBI.

    In addition, Hamilton just barely has an edge over Robinson Cano in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), 142 to 141. And since he rates as a merely average defensive player this year, Hamilton's WAR checks in at 4.8. That ties him with Austin Jackson and puts him just 0.2 points ahead of Ben Zobrist and Alex Gordon.

    This is not to say that Hamilton is having a bad season, mind you, but these facts do highlight how he's been something of an all-or-nothing player in 2012.

    For that matter, that tendency was very much on display this past weekend, in which Hamilton collected a single hit in 10 at-bats against the Tampa Bay Rays. That one hit was a two-run homer on Saturday. He also collected another RBI to lead the Rangers to a 4-2 win.

    The Rangers lost the other two games, in which Hamilton went a combined 0-for-7.

    Hamilton is without a doubt the best slugger the AL has to offer these days, but he's a little too mercurial to be the MVP.

4. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers

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    Last Week: No. 3

    Adrian Beltre, meanwhile, is not so mercurial.

    That may seem like a strange point to make given how hot Beltre has been lately, and you're not wrong if that's what you're thinking. We are, after all, talking about a guy who is hitting .397/.421/.986 with 11 homers and 21 RBI over his 18 games. "Hot" doesn't get much hotter than that.

    But as I've explained in the last two weeks, Beltre isn't featured in this countdown just because he's been the second-hottest thing in the galaxy after the sun over the last couple weeks. He was having a very good season even before he caught fire.

    To illustrate, Beltre was hitting .303/.341/.480 with 19 homers and 68 RBI heading into his recent 18-game hot stretch. He was on pace for right around 30 homers and 100 RBI when all was said and done no matter what happened.

    But since he has gotten hot, a very good season has turned into an excellent season. Beltre is now hitting .316/.352/.550 with 30 homers and 89 RBI. He ranks in the top 10 in the AL in batting average, homers, slugging and OPS.

    Per FanGraphs, Beltre also ranks in the top 10 in the AL in both wOBA and wRC+. Because he rates as a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman (7.1 UZR and +10 DRS), he has a WAR of 5.3 that ranks fourth overall in the American League.

    So...Why exactly is he down a spot this week from where he was last week?

    The fact that he only collected two hits in 12 at-bats with no RBI in Tampa Bay this weekend is one reason why. His struggles against the Rays opened the door for the next guy on this list to take charge.

    Obviously, he did just that.

3. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees

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    Last Week: No. 5

    There were plenty of storylines to go around in Baltimore this weekend. The Yankees and O's played one of the season's best games on Thursday night and would end up playing one of the season's most controversial games on Saturday night. Some players became heroes. Others became goats.

    Lost in all the madness was the performance of Robinson Cano. He quietly had a good series.

    At the plate, Cano managed to get on base in half of his 18 plate appearances (five hits, four walks). He didn't drive the ball with any authority, but he collected an RBI and scored five runs.

    And he wasn't just impressive at the plate. Cano made a couple of nifty plays in the field (MLB.com has the highlights) as well.

    Not bad for a guy who suffered a hip injury a few days ago on a play that had some people questioning his baseball IQ. Never let it be said that Cano doesn't know how to silence the doubters.

    Cano is hitting a solid .303/.370/.540 with 29 home runs, 74 RBI and 87 runs scored. He ranks in the top 10 in the AL in homers, runs, slugging and OPS. Per FanGraphs, he's also among the top 10 in the league in wOBA and wRC+.

    In and of themselves, these things don't make Cano a top MVP candidate. He gets a little extra push from his defense, which has been as good as ever this season. He may not be the best defensive second baseman in the American League, but he's right up there with Dustin Ackley and Dustin Pedroia as far as the advanced metrics are concerned (see FanGraphs).

    It all adds up to a WAR of 6.0. The only player in the AL with a higher WAR is Mike Trout.

    It's true that Cano does have lapses here and there, but by and large he's one of the most consistent performers in the game. He's also without a doubt the best player the Yankees have to offer this year.

2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

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    Last Week: No. 2

    Miguel Cabrera had a chance to catch Mike Trout (get it?) in Anaheim this past weekend. All he had to do was hit like he usually does.

    That didn't happen. Cabrera collected a single hit in nine at-bats, failing to help the Tigers' offense in a series that the Angels swept. Two of their three wins were one-run victories, so it goes without saying that an RBI or two from Cabrera would have made a big difference.

    A big series would have put Cabrera in line to take over the top spot in these rankings. Alas, he'll have to live with being No. 2 in the running for at least another week.

    If it's any consolation to you, Tigers fans, there's still a pretty huge divide between Cabrera and Cano from where I'm sitting.

    Cabrera's offensive numbers are mind boggling. He's hitting .326/.392/.587 with 35 homers and 116 RBI even despite his little slump in Anaheim over the weekend. He's tied for fourth in the AL in homers with Curtis Granderson, he's second behind Josh Hamilton in RBI and second behind Mike Trout in batting average. Cabrera leads the AL in slugging and OPS.

    Per FanGraphs, Cabrera also ranks second behind Trout in both wOBA and wRC+. His 5.8 WAR is second behind Robinson Cano. Cabrera would have Cano beat by a mile if he had Adrian Beltre's defensive skills.

    There's still plenty of time for Cabrera to establish himself as the man to beat in the MVP race, and he can start by getting the Tigers back on track in their huge showdown against the Chicago White Sox this week.

    He should be able to handle himself just fine. Cabrera has a .357 average and four homers against the White Sox this season.

1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

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    Last Week: No. 1

    The two of them didn't exactly throw down in the outfield over the weekend (though that would have been awesome), but Mike Trout definitely got the better of Miguel Cabrera in the Angels' sweep of the Tigers.

    Trout collected one hit in each of the three games, including his 26th and 27th home runs. He also scored four runs, and he robbed yet another home run to seal the Angels' 6-1 win on Saturday night.

    Yup, just another weekend at the office for Trout.

    Trout's batting average is not what it once was, but he's still leading the AL at .328. He's tied for third in the league with a .393 OBP, and his .571 slugging percentage also ranks third. He leads in stolen bases and runs scored.

    Per FanGraphs, Trout leads the AL in wOBA, wRC+ and WAR at 8.5. He's worth 2.5 more wins than the next-closest guy on the list (Cano).

    What's worth noting is the fact that Baseball-Reference.com has Trout's WAR calculated at an even 10.0. As Hardball Talk's Aaron Gleeman pointed out, the last player to achieve a WAR of 10.0 in a single season was Barry Bonds in 2004.

    The amazing part is that Trout has achieved a WAR of 10.0 despite the fact he missed nearly the entire first month of the season.

    I've been getting the sense in recent weeks that a lot of people are tired of all the Mike Trout worship, but believe me when I tell you that it's definitely warranted. Trout really is that good.

Last Week's Rankings

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    5. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees

    One-up! One-up!

     

    4. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers

    Down one, but hanging in there.

     

    3. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers

    Also down one, but he's still a candidate for the No. 3 spot.

     

    2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

    Steady as she goes.

     

    1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

    He's still the man to beat, and it's looking more and more like we'll get to see him play in October after all.

     

    Feel free to check out last week's rankings.


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