No. 1 Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels (Last Week: No. 1)
One of my favorite Twitter threads from the weekend involved talk about the importance of September. Last year, Miguel Cabrera supporters convinced themselves (and anyone who would listen) that "this guy carried the Tigers to the playoffs." (That wasn't true, but it made for a compelling narrative.)
Now, with Cabrera hitting .264/.409/.340 in September, do those same people say that what he did in May or June is why he should win? (Yes, I know that Cabrera is hurt, but all you can judge is production on the field.)
The point being, all things considered, Mike Trout remains the best and most valuable player in baseball.
I never say that wins above replacement is the be-all, end-all of stats because it isn't. But when someone has a 2.5 fWAR advantage over the No. 2 player in the league, as Trout does over Cabrera and Josh Donaldson (10.2 to 7.7), ask yourself why. What makes Trout that valuable?
Instead of just dismissing it, as Tigers fans are wont to do, really examine what Trout is doing. You will see that his ability to hit, add value on the bases through steals and baserunning and avoid double plays—and play good enough defense in center field—paints a picture that no one else in the sport today can match.
No. 2 Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers (Last Week: No. 2)
The real test in the AL MVP vote, at least for me, is what happens at No. 2. I still believe that Cabrera belongs in this spot because his overall offensive performance has been so incredible (.349/.445/.647, all best in the league).
But Josh Donaldson's overall contribution has been just as valuable. This feels almost like a matter of personal preference rather than Cabrera making a really strong case for himself. His .460 weighted on-base average is still the best in baseball by 34 points over Trout.
No. 3 Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics (Last Week: No. 3)
What a great, underappreciated season for Donaldson. He isn't going to win the MVP award, nor should he. But Oakland's third baseman does present a very strong case for being the second-best player in the AL.
Offensively, while he can't touch Cabrera, Donaldson has put together a fantastic .306/.388/.511 line with 37 doubles, 24 home runs and three triples while playing half his games in a park that isn't always conducive to power.
When you factor in defense, where Donaldson rates as the third-best third baseman by Fangraphs' UZR behind Baltimore's Manny Machado and Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, there hasn't been a better all-around player at the hot corner in 2013.
No. 4 Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees (Last Week: No. 5)
It's hard to have an overlooked season when you play for the Yankees, but that's been the case with Robinson Cano. There were times this year when he was the only viable MLB hitter in that lineup, which isn't a real MVP argument as much as it is an observation of how bad things were in New York for a few months.
The MVP argument stems from Cano's always-reliable performance in the batter's box. He's hitting .314/.384/.517. No other AL second baseman qualified to win the batting title is within 10 points of the Yankees All-Star in on-base percentage or 70 points in slugging percentage.
Cano also remains an underrated defender. He's never going to be great with the glove, but he has transformed himself into an above-average player in the field and has six defensive runs saved this year.
No. 5 Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers (Last Week: Rising)
Max Scherzer makes his first appearance in the top five. He's been in the mix since I started keeping track of this almost one month ago and just continues to dazzle on the mound.
Some of Scherzer's success is owed to the competition, but that shouldn't entirely take away from his performance in areas over which a pitcher has total control (strikeouts, walks, home runs).
When you have allowed just 200 baserunners via hits and walks, while simultaneously averaging more than one strikeout per inning with the lowest walk rate of your career, it merits some MVP consideration.
Rising: Adrian Beltre (Texas)
Falling: Felix Hernandez (Seattle), Chris Davis (Baltimore)