2010 AL MVP Prediction: Josh Hamilton Leading a Tight Race for the Honor

Scott GyurinaCorrespondent INovember 11, 2010

2010 AL MVP Prediction: Josh Hamilton Leading a Tight Race for the Honor

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    The debate over the true nature of the Most Valuable Player rages every year. What precisely constitutes most valuable? Is it the player with the best statistics at year's end? Should the winning candidate come from a playoff-bound team?

    Further questions cloud the issue even more so. Can pitchers, although they play in less than half their team's games, be considered for the award? What about designated hitters that only contribute offensive production and are otherwise nearly non-factors?

    Throughout the 2010 Major League Baseball season, we have seen fantastic seasons from a wide variety of players across the American League, helping to interject their names in the MVP discussion. Perennial favorites return year-after-year, emerging superstars turn the corner into a new era of greatness, a sudden blast from nowhere out of an unlikely source in Toronto, and even a long-time veteran who only seems to enter this conversation when he's playing for a new contract.

    For the purpose of this discussion, I'm going to exclude pitchers, not because I feel they are undeserving, but because the realistic probability of a pitcher winning the honor is low. Of course, it has happened numerous times throughout the history of the game. But in the last 25 years, we have only witnessed the occurrence twice.

    Besides, this is a crowded enough field of potential candidates as it is. We can leave the discussion over the AL's best pitcher for another day. That figures to be another spirited debate regarding that category.

    In this piece, in addition to the familiar statistical analysis, I've also incorporated information from Fangraphs, utilizing their estimated WAR (Wins Above Replacement) statistic in order to help gauge a player's value to his team. Additionally, I also used their UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) in order to help understand each player's general defensive contribution as well. Of course, Fangraphs is not the only authority on such player assessments. Nevertheless, these two tools are useful and, when viewed in conjunction with additional analysis, provide critical evaluations of a player's performance.

    Without further delay, let's take a look at ten of the leading candidates that will surely garner votes in the election to honor the American League's Most Valuable Player. If you feel I have made any egregious omissions, please feel free to share your thoughts on the matter.

Robinson Cano: New York Yankees

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    The 2010 season may have been the year that the Yankees became Robinson Cano's team. Every one of the higher-paid veteran infielders in the Yankees' collection of All-Stars struggled significantly at some point during the season. That left Robinson Cano as the steady foundation in the heart of the Yankees' order.

    Derek Jeter suffered through his worst season as a big-leaguer. A-Rod saw a drop-off in his overall numbers, partially due to health issues. And Mark Texeira was awful for large segments of the year, even if his statistical totals tell a slightly different story. The one constant performer through it all was Robinson Cano.

    Long considered a massively talented hitter with a penchant for losing focus at times, Robinson Cano appears to have harnessed his immense potential and finally become the star that many in the Bronx had envisioned.

    Cano, though a talented player, had yet to be counted on as one of the Yankees' premier contributors, thanks to the presence of so many other high-profile stars. The 2010 season was different however, as Joe Girardi showed increased confidence in Cano by placing him in the fifth spot in the order following the departure of Hideki Matsui. The move was risky, as Cano hit only .207 with runners in scoring position in 2009. No one knew how he would respond to the pressure of hitting in a prime run-producing spot.

    Respond he did, and in grand fashion no less. Cano took a liking to the fifth spot, shrugging off the additional responsibility to post career highs in home runs, RBI, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and WAR. He had long been a standout second baseman, but he really seems to have stepped up his overall game considerably. As far as the concerns over Cano stepping into a more significant run-producing role, he hit .322 with runners in scoring position, as well as .611 with a 1.635 OPS with the bases loaded. In late and close situations, Cano hit .347 with a .950 OPS. Apparently the added responsibility suited him.

    Perhaps most impressive was his newly discovered patience at the plate. Previously, Cano had a few holes in his approach, places where you were likely able to pitch him in order to make him chase pitches to get himself out. Cano corrected that flaw in 2010, working hard to lay off specific pitches, only swinging at pitches he could hit hard. His previous career high in walks was only 39, but in 2010 he increased that significantly, to 59. Pitchers found out they now had to pitch differently to Robinson Cano, and they would have to do so at their own peril.

    Defensively, he made great strides as well. A talented defender with smooth glove-work and possibly the strongest second-base arm in baseball, Cano was often guilty of playing in a lackadaisical manner, making simple mistakes that led to errors. Though his UZR places him behind several other AL second basemen, the improvements in his defensive game were readily apparent to those who watch him regularly. Totaling at least 12 errors for the last three seasons, he reduced that number to a career-low three errors in 2010. His range towards first base is still limited to some degree, but his ability to make plays up the middle is astounding, He regularly gets to balls behind second, and uses his strong arm to casually make throws that he appears to have no chance of completing. For his defensive efforts, Cano was recently awarded his first Gold Glove of his career.

    One of the ways in which Cano demonstrated his immense value to the Yankees was by covering the cleanup duties in Alex Rodriguez's absence. A-Rod missed a healthy chunk of games due to various injuries over the year, prompting Joe Girardi to fill his lineup spot with Cano's bat. In 26 games as a cleanup hitter for the Bronx Bombers, Cano stepped up his game even further, hitting .324 with seven home runs and 28 RBI, along with a .969 OPS, helping to mitigate the impact of A-Rod's absence. In games that A-Rod didn't start, the Yankees went 21-7, much of that due to Cano's production.

    Cano's success wasn't a Yankee Stadium creation either, as many might suspect. He did hit well at home, hitting .298 with 16 home runs and an .881 OPS. However, on the road, he actually hit better in 2010. Batting .341 with 13 home runs and a .947 OPS, Cano proved that he is capable of hitting anywhere. He also led all American League hitters in home runs versus southpaws, with 13 for the year.

    Since the Yankees only finished six games ahead of the Red Sox for second in the AL East, without Cano's contributions and 6.4 WAR, the Yankees very well could have seen themselves fall into third, missing the playoffs altogether. For his significant increase in productivity and all-around improved game that figured massively into his team's success, Robinson Cano should surely find himself in the final three in 2010 MVP voting, if he does not win the honor.

     

    2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL Ranks)
    G
    AVG/OBP/SLG R
    HR
    RBI
    OPS OPS+ SB
    WAR
    UZR
    160(3) .319(5)/.381(8)/.534(7) 103(5) 29(8) 109(7) .914(6) 142 3 6.4(4) -0.6(5)

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Jose Bautista: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    It's not very often that a 29-year-old with only one full season on his resume leads all major-league hitters in home runs and finds himself among the top MVP candidates at the end of the year.

    In 2010, Jose Bautista seems to have put it all together, not only becoming a regular in Toronto for the first time, but an All-Star and likely a Silver Slugger. Could he possibly be an MVP as well?

    Over the course of 161 games with the Blue Jays, Bautista more than tripled his previous career high in home runs. His 54 bombs were 12 more than Albert Pujols, who had the second-most in all of baseball. Bautista's next-closest challenger in the American League was Chicago's Paul Konerko, who only finished with 39.

    Never driving in more than 63 runs, Bautista tallied 124 RBI this season, only two behind the league leader. The only two AL hitters to drive in more were Miguel Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez.

    His 351 total bases tied Carlos Gonzalez for most in Major League Baseball. The impressive stat that is generally obscured thanks to his gaudy home run total is his 100 bases-on-balls. He was one of only four MLB players to draw at least 100 walks in 2010. His lethal combination of patience and power made him a significant threat throughout the year. 

    Primarily patrolling right-field, Bautista also started 45 games at third-base, displaying a versatility rare amongst MVP candidates this year or, truthfully, any year. In right, though his defense wasn't stellar, his cannon of an arm earned him a tie for second place in the American League with 12 outfield assists.

    As various Blue Jays had down years compared to their 2009 seasons, Bautista emerged as a serious power threat capable of carrying his offense and playing a few different positions. Some will tell you that they saw this coming when he hit 10 home runs after September 1 last year, but I don't think their clairvoyance could have seen this type of breakthrough season from Jose Bautista.

     

    2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL Ranks)
    G
    AVG/OBP/SLG R
    HR
    RBI
    OPS OPS+ SB
    WAR
    UZR
    161(2)
    .260(30)/.378(9)/.617(3)
    109(4)
    54(1)
    124(3)
    .995(3)
    166
    9(24)
    6.9(3)
    -4.2(7)

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Shin-Soo Choo: Cleveland Indians

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Shin-Soo Choo, of the Cleveland Indians, is likely the best major leaguer that no one talks about. Flying below the radar in Cleveland, the 28-year-old right fielder has put together three consecutive outstanding seasons with minimal fanfare.

    I did not include Choo because I felt that an outfielder on a 69-93 Cleveland Indians team realistically harbored much chance in the American League MVP race. He will undoubtedly garner some attention in the voting, but he is one of the criminally underrated players in baseball right now, and he will surely see his star rise over the next few seasons.

    If he played on another team with more quality surrounding him, he would be among the top outfield stars in the league. With runners in scoring position this year, he hit .311 with a .979 OPS, and with two outs in similar situations, he hit .317 with a .911 OPS. During close-and-late scenarios, he hit .342 with a .983 OPS. Imagine if he had consistent on-base men hitting in front of him in the Cleveland lineup.

    Speaking of getting on base, Choo has done so at a .397 clip from 2008-10, placing him in elite company in the league. His combination of patience, power, clutch hitting, base-stealing ability and strong defense make him a legitimate five-tool player, and a force on the diamond.

    Roaming right-field for the Indians, Choo was the fifth highest-rated right fielder according to Fangraphs' evaluation. His range isn't spectacular, but he is a solid defender with a rocket for an arm. His 14 outfield assists led all AL outfielders in 2010.

    While his chances in this race are low, Shin-Soo Choo will surely get a few votes, and he will likely become a higher-profile player over the next few seasons. He's too good to keep under wraps for long.

     

    2010 Regular Season (Relevant AL Ranks)
    G
    AVG/OBP/SLG R
    HR
    RBI
    OPS OPS+ SB
    WAR
    UZR
    144
    .300(11)/.401(4)/.484(16)
    81
    22(15)
    90(14)
    .885(9)
    148
    22(13)
    5.6(6)
    2.9(5)

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Miguel Cabrera: Detroit Tigers

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    When Miguel Cabrera first burst upon the big-league scene as a 20-year-old phenom with Florida in 2003, it was readily apparent that he was a special hitter. The crack of his bat when he hit the ball was different than that of other hitters. The balls seemed to explode off Cabrera's bat.

    Now a grizzled veteran of eight major league seasons, yet still only 27 years old, Miguel Cabrera has blossomed into one of the greatest hitters in baseball. He just completed his seventh straight season with at least 100 RBI, leading the AL in 2010. The Tigers' first baseman hit over .320 again, the fifth time in six years he has reached that plateau.

    After struggling through a rough period in late 2009, in which he had an altercation with his wife and admitted to a drinking problem, he spent time in a rehab facility and sobered up, much to the benefit of his baseball career.

    Fully focused on baseball and in better physical condition, he terrorized American League pitching all season. Cabrera finished either first or second in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, runs, home runs, RBI, OPS and OPS+.

    The scary thing for opposing pitchers is that he might just be entering his prime at 27.5 years old. To think that Miguel Cabrera could potentially improve upon what he has already accomplished, that has to strike fear into hurlers across the league.

    Though Cabrera has improved since his early days as a lazy defender, his 2010 at first was not especially strong. According to Fangraphs' evaluation system, he ranked 12th among eligible first basemen in UZR. As long as he continues to hit like he does though, Detroit will be satisfied with his defensive contributions.

    Cabrera compiled a massive 1.068 home OPS at Comerica Park in 2010. It's certainly fun to imagine what the young slugger could accomplish if he played his home games in the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark as Josh Hamilton does.

    With the Detroit Tigers finishing at .500 and in third place, Cabrera is unlikely to be crowned the 2010 MVP. But he certainly did everything within his power to drive his team, playing a highly valuable role in its successes throughout the season.

     

    2010 Regular Season  - (Relevant AL Ranks)
    G
    AVG/OBP/SLG R
    HR
    RBI
    OPS OPS+ SB
    WAR
    UZR
    150(12) .328(2)/.420(1)/.622(2) 111(2) 38(2) 126(1) 1.042(2) 179(1) 3 6.2(5) -6.2(12)

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Evan Longoria: Tampa Bay Rays

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    It's easy to see why the Rays wisely locked Even Longoria up for six years and $17.5 million, after he had only played six major league games. Evan just completed his third season in Tampa, an All-Star each time, and he only recently turned 25.

    Poised beyond his years, Evan Longoria burst upon the major league scene shortly after Spring Training 2008. He has been one of the brightest young stars in the game since.

    A product of Long Beach State University, the third baseman is a polished performer in all facets of the game. His well-rounded package of baseball skills makes him a threat on offense, defense or the base paths. And Longoria has also made his presence felt in a leadership role for his Rays' teammates.

    In 2010, Longoria continued his upward trajectory into full-fledged baseball stardom. Following his Rookie of the Year in 2008, his three All-Star appearances, and now his second-consecutive Rawlings' Gold Glove for his defense at third, he is filling out his resume quite nicely for such a young player.

    If he continues on such a path, we may very well see Evan Longoria earn an AL MVP award to add to his collection in the next few years. Now that baseball has returned to normalcy somewhat, observers of the game are once again appreciating multi-talented ballplayers, and not solely the hulking sluggers that dominated the last decade or two in the game.

    The 2010 season was another fine season for Longoria, in which he continued to mature into a feared middle-of-the-order hitter. Though his power dropped slightly, he managed to drive in 104 runs and score 96. While his standard counting stats may not be eye-popping, Longoria's overall game is what makes him so valuable.

    Additionally, he is among a handful of players that could be considered the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball. His range, athleticism, strong arm and general field-awareness allow him to cover the hot corner masterfully, consistently robbing opponents of would-be hits and snuffing rallies with his glove.

    While we probably won't see Longoria add an MVP award for his 2010 performance, he is a virtual lock to enter his name into this conversation each year for the next decade.

     

     

     

    2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL Ranks)
    G
    AVG/OBP/SLG R
    HR
    RBI
    OPS OPS+ SB
    WAR
    UZR
    151
    .294(14)/.372(10)/.507(11)
    96(8)
    22(15)
    104(9)
    .879(10)
    142
    15
    6.9(3)
    11.1(3)

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Paul Konerko: Chicago White Sox

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Paul Konerko has been a fixture at first base in Chicago for 12 seasons now. He's not always mentioned among the top-tier first basemen in baseball, but in his 12 years with the White Sox, he's been an All-Star four times, hit at least 30 home runs six times, and driven in 100 runs five times.

    The 2010 season may very well have been the finest of his career however. In addition to his 39 home runs and 111 RBI, he was only one point shy of his career-high in batting average. He also set new career marks in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and adjusted OPS.

    After Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome departed last year, the White Sox seemed destined to experience a power shortage. But Konerko stepped up his production to help fill the void. Not only did he ease the pain of the departures of two big bats, but he exceeded most expectations that anyone had for him in 2010.

    Defensively, he has always been a steady glove at first, but this year his performance slipped somewhat. According to some evaluations, he ranks as the lowest-rated first baseman in the AL, something that is clearly undesirable, yet acceptable, if one puts up the numbers like Konerko did in 2010.

    He is now a free agent, and he will likely receive plenty of attention from potential suitors in need of a power bat and solid clubhouse presence. Unless his demands are outrageous though, I have trouble envisioning him leaving Chicago, a place where he has become so comfortable living and playing for more than decade.

     

    2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL Ranks)

    G
    AVG/OBP/SLG R
    HR
    RBI
    OPS OPS+ SB
    WAR
    UZR
    149 .312(8)/.393(6)/.584(4) 89(13) 39(2) 111(6) .977(4) 158 0 4.2(11) -14.7(13)

     

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Joe Mauer: Minnesota Twins

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Somehow, the Twins lost first baseman Justin Morneau for the remainder of the year with a concussion, and they got better. The slugging first baseman, who was off to his greatest start of a season in his career, sustained a concussion on July 7 that he never returned from. Yet the Twins really took off from that point.

    Before Morneau's injury, the Twins had been 45-39 and found themselves in third in the AL Central. From that point on however, they went on a 49-29 tear to run away with the division.  A significant factor in the reversal of Minnesota's fortunes was the play of last season's MVP and three-time AL batting champ, Joe Mauer.

    Helping to propel the Twins after losing Morneau, Mauer hit .359 with a .941 OPS from July 7 onward. In addition to his offensive production, Joe Mauer helped guide a Minnesota pitching staff without any high-profile stars to a highly successful season in which they finished fifth in the AL in team ERA.

    Though much of Mauer's power was sapped by his team's new home at Target Field, the 27-year-old catcher continued to show why he's one of the most-talented pure hitters in the game. He hit only one home run at home all year, but he still hit .314 with an .812 OPS there. Those look like road splits for stars such as Mauer but, in fact, he hit far better away from Target Field, as he hit .339 with a .923 OPS while on the road. It will be interesting to see if the Twins' marquee star adapts to the new park that he'll call home until at least 2018.

    In games Mauer started, the Twins were 77-52, but in the remaining games, they were only 17-16. If judging strictly by Joe's estimated 5.1 Wins Above Replacement, his value is quite apparent, as the Twins ultimately won the AL Central by six games over the White Sox. Without Joe Mauer, Minnesota may have found itself in a dogfight to the finish, possibly even needing another one-game playoff to reach the postseason.

    Although his numbers weren't nearly as gaudy as those of 2009, Joe Mauer was once again undoubtedly valuable to his Minnesota Twins. He's not likely to see another MVP award this season, but you can be sure that his name will be heavily involved in any conversation regarding most valuable players over the next decade or so.

     

    2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL Ranks)
    G
    AVG/OBP/SLG R
    HR
    RBI
    OPS OPS+ SB
    WAR
    UZR
    137 .327(3)/.402(3)/.469(20) 88(14) 9 75 .871(11) 137
    1 5.1(8)  -

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Josh Hamilton: Texas Rangers

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Where do you start with Josh Hamilton's 2010 season? He won his first batting title, led the league in slugging percentage as well as OPS and helped lead his team to the first World Series appearance in Rangers' franchise history.

    Sadly, injuries forced the star outfielder to miss 29 games, mostly in September. Otherwise his already outstanding statistical totals would be even more impressive.

    If not for Josh's well-documented struggles with addiction, we would very likely be talking about him as a sure-fire Hall of Famer and potentially the best all-around player in MLB. He is that talented.

    Though his four Major League seasons have been undoubtedly great, unfortunately three of his four years in the big leagues have been marred by injury problems. During late summer and early autumn, in his team's crucial pennant stretch drive, Hamilton only played five games after September 1. It remains to be seen how MVP voters perceive that, as no prior MVP has played so few games in September.

    However, the Rangers already had a 9.5 game lead in the AL West on September 1, so Hamilton's absence was not nearly as impactful as it may have been if the circumstances were different. He was afforded the luxury of recovering without the pressure to rush back to the diamond.

    Prior to September though, Hamilton had already established his credentials as one of the league's premier candidates in the MVP race.

    In addition to leading the league in the previously mentioned statistical categories, he tallied incredibly impressive rates in several clutch categories and run-production stats.

    Batting with runners in scoring position, Hamilton hit .369 with a 1.069 OPS. In those same situations with two outs, he hit .379 with a 1.099 OPS. During close-and-late scenarios, Hamilton hit .383 with a 1.013 OPS. And in situations that BaseballReference.com defines as "high leverage," he hit .421 with a 1.120 OPS. You get the picture. No matter how you slice it, Hamilton was a highly-productive hitter for the Rangers in 2010.

    Additionally, Hamilton is a strong defensive outfielder with a gun for an arm, outstanding instincts and excellent range. Though his center field numbers were sub-par, he was one of the top left fielders in the game. If not for the amazing performances of Brett Gardner and Carl Crawford in left, Hamilton would likely receive many more accolades for his defense as a left fielder.

    Strangely, though Hamilton was one of the best players in all of baseball in 2010, the Rangers actually had a better record without him in the lineup. In games that Hamilton started, the Rangers went 71-58, good for a .550 winning percentage. During his 33 absences, they went 19-14, a .575 winning percentage. In all likelihood, it's merely a statistical anomaly, but it's an interesting fact worth noting.

    Additionally, depending upon how one perceives the meaning of the MVP award, Hamilton's WAR of 8.0 indicates that the Rangers could have possibly still finished in first place without him, since their ultimate margin of victory in the West was nine games.

    If removing his WAR from the equation, the Rangers may still be a first-place team, and the fact that they actually had a better record without him, is he still the Most Valuable Player? Or simply the creator of one of the most impressive statistical seasons?

    Those factors make it at least an interesting question to ponder, but I have a feeling those type of questions won't be asked by every voter for the award. Hamilton represents a feel-good story in an era dominated by scandal. Sometimes the desire to cling to the good can overwhelm the statistical analysis. Either way one looks at it, Josh Hamilton had a sensational season, and I, for one, believe he will walk away with the MVP award next week.

     

    2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL Ranks)
    G
    AVG/OBP/SLG R
    HR
    RBI
    OPS OPS+ SB
    WAR
    UZR
    133  .359(1)/.411(2)/.633(1)  95(9) 32(5) 100(11) 1.044(1) 175 8 8.0(1) 7.9(6)

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Adrian Beltre: Boston Red Sox

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    After toiling for five years in Seattle, struggling to justify the huge contract that the Mariners gave him, apparently signing with the Red Sox for one year was something that agreed with Adrian Beltre.

    Maybe it was simply hitting in a better lineup, surrounded by several quality hitters, that served to awaken the veteran third baseman. Perhaps it was another contract-year miracle season, similar to the one he produced in 2004 when preparing to hit the free-agent market.

    Whatever the reasoning, Adrian Beltre had a fantastic season in Boston, helping to carry the team for stretches when injuries ravaged the Red Sox roster.

    Interestingly, Beltre produced his second-highest home run and RBI totals, second-highest batting average, as well as OPS, all trailing only his stellar 2004 campaign. He led the league in doubles and was near the top of the leader boards in several important offensive statistical categories.

    One area where Beltre's production never wavers is his defense at third base. His quick reflexes, good hands and strong, accurate arm make him one of the few best defenders at the hot corner in the entire league.

    The most impressive thing about Beltre's season is that he was consistent throughout, performing both at home and on the road. It's easy for some to dismiss certain players that play in particular parks as creations of the stadium that they play in, but Beltre actually hit better away from Fenway this year. At home, he hit .314 with an .881 OPS, while away from Boston, he hit .327 with a .953 OPS, proving that his success is not simply due to the Green Monster in Fenway's left-field.

    Having just turned down Boston's option, Beltre appears set to test his worth on the open free-agent market. After a fantastic season, he will undoubtedly have his suitors, but it shall remain to be seen whether he can follow up his brilliant 2010 with another similar season, or if these type of years only materialize when the money is on the line. The talent is clearly there, but Beltre will have to overcome that perception if he is to progress to the next level of stars in the game.

     

    2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL ranks)
    G AVG/OBP/SLG R HR RBI OPS OPS+ SB WAR UZR
    154
    .321(4)/.365(13)/.553(5)
    84(16) 28(9) 102(10)
    .919(5)
    141
    2
    7.1(2) 11.8(2)

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

Carl Crawford: Tampa Bay Rays

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    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Carl Crawford has been one of the most dynamic players in the American League going on nearly a decade now. For several years he toiled in relative obscurity, as the Tampa Bay Rays were unable to escape the AL East cellar or the shadow of their fellow divisional behemoths in New York and Boston.

    That all changed once Tampa Bay dropped the Devil, started to win some games and finally received some recognition nationwide. After years of losing, Tampa parlayed its corresponding high draft picks into a talented, young core of exciting players who all happened to mature around the same time.

    The most exciting of them all was Carl Crawford, who stands as the longest-tenured Ray. A raw baseball talent with a good bat, blazing speed and a great glove, Crawford seems to have put it all together in 2010, as he helped lead the Rays to the AL East title over the Yankees.

    Crawford produced what is likely his finest overall season in 2010. Reaching new career highs in runs scored, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS, he seems ready to complete his ascension to super-stardom. Unfortunately for the Rays organization that groomed him, Crawford's future likely resides elsewhere, as his suitors in free agency may be too well-heeled for the modest Rays to compete with.

    In addition to Crawford's offensive breakout, his vastly improved defense was recognized with a Gold Glove, his first. Earlier in his career, Crawford was able to mask certain defensive shortcomings with his blinding speed, utilizing it to cover for the occasional bad read or misjudgment. He has worked tirelessly to improve his outfield work, and become one of the game's greatest defensive outfielders.

    There has always been the question as to where Crawford best fits in a lineup, since his speed says that he should be a lead-off hitter. But his on-base percentage has always left some to be desired atop a batting order. Wherever he hits though, with his emerging power and run-producing ability, combined with his 50-plus stolen base potential, Crawford will be a dangerous weapon for whichever team he lands with.

     

    2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL ranks)
    G AVG/OBP/SLG R HR RBI OPS OPS+ SB WAR UZR
    154
    .307(9)/.356(16)/.495(14)
    110(3) 19  90(14)
    .851(14)
    134
    47(3)
    6.9(3) 18.5(2)

     

     

     

    * WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs

    ** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position

And The Winner Is...

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    I think it could end up being a close vote, with Cabrera, Cano and Hamilton taking the top three spots. Though Hamilton missed a considerable amount of games, his performance in the games he did play was phenomenal.

    Cabrera, while he had a fantastic year as well, will be harmed by the Tigers' lackluster finish and third-place ranking in the AL Central. If the Tigers had a better overall season, Cabrera and his monster year would likely have garnered more recognition.

    Cano, who had a tremendous breakout season in the Bronx, might suffer slightly due to a nationwide disdain for the Yankees. Though the Yankees certainly have their supporters, it seems as if a palpable anti-Yankee sentiment has grown in recent years, spreading into several far-flung corners of the country. While Cano's year was undoubtedly great, I feel it will take a complete outdistancing of the competition for a Yankee to win the MVP anytime soon.

    Hamilton, when he was on the field, played a caliber of baseball that made him look like the best player in the game. After so long out of the game, it is rather incredible to witness his return to the pinnacle of baseball that so many envisioned for him when he was an unparalleled phenom so many years ago. We will soon find who the lucky recipient shall be, but my instinct tells me that in 2010, Josh Hamilton will be crowned the American League's Most Valuable Player.