Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton was named the American League MVP Tuesday, receiving 22 first-place votes.
He beat out Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista for the award.
Hamilton, 29, batted .359/.411/.633 in 571 plate appearances in 2010, belting 32 home runs along the way. His 1.044 OPS led the American League.
Because Hamilton missed substantial time during the final weeks of the season, many had thought Cabrera would have the inside track on the award. While he was on the field, however, Hamilton was clearly the best player in baseball in 2010.
Here are five reasons Hamilton deserved to win this award, starting with the simplest one, already mentioned.
There is actually strikingly little debate on this point, which is why the buzz over who should have won was so confusing.
Hamilton outpaced Miguel Cabrera in most important statistical categories despite the missed time, and Cano and Bautista (though impressive) were afterthoughts—the kind of people everyone puts on their ballot but no one expects should win.
Hamilton dominated American League pitching and deserved acknowledgement as the best hitter of the season.
If the award is going to be called the Most Valuable Player (and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon), it ought to go to the man who provides the greatest value. In 2010, that man was Hamilton.
Fortunately for geeks and fans everywhere, we now have statistics that can quantify the value of a player's contributions over a season or even a career and distill it into an easy-to-read number.
We call this statistic WAR—short for Wins Above Replacement. The stat is kept by multiple people in ways different enough to cause debate or even doubt, but the industry standard is the figure kept by fangraphs.com. It is a cumulative stat, so it does punish Hamilton for his absence from the lineup, but it focuses on how much a player does or does not contribute to his team winning.
According to that metric, Hamilton led the league in WAR, and he led by a wide margin. In fact, the closest American league player to Hamilton's 8.0 WAR was Boston third baseman Adrian Beltre, who managed a 7.1 WAR in much more playing time.
Well-founded or not (and the answer is mostly not), Hamilton drew repeated comparison to Mickey Mantle this season. That illustrates an important difference between Hamilton and the other candidates: He is the very image of the complete ball player.
Hamilton defends center field with grace and tremendous range, as evidenced by his 7.9 UZR there in 2010. By contrast, Cabrera had a -6.5 UZR at first base, a much easier position to begin with. Cano was also slightly below average with the glove at second base.
Unlike Cabrera and Cano, Hamilton also runs the bases very well. His speed was mitigated by hamstring injuries late in the year, but he still stole eight bases in nine tries. He has great speed and has always run the bases intelligently.
It does not always take a well-rounded player to be the most valuable, and Bautista (despite an all-or-nothing plate approach) was a terrific hitter.
If it comes down to such a close vote, though, I say you give the benefit of the doubt to the guy who does it all.
It should not be a primary consideration, but the story surrounding Hamilton's ascent to the pinnacle of the American League is irresistible.
He overcame a lot, even if some of his pain was self-inflicted, and he deserves every bit of the positive publicity he has gotten as he has righted the ship and kept himself sober and productive.
The ginger ale showers given to Hamilton by his teammates reflect another thing that makes him deserving of the award, however intangible it may be: The team loves him. Cabrera, Cano and Bautista are all fair enough teammates, but none is a team leader of any stripe.
Hamilton has prodigious power, the kind that scares other teams into switching pitchers at inopportune times or pitching too carefully.
He is not alone in this regard, of course: Bautista hit 54 homers this year, while Cabrera drew a league-high 32 intentional walks.
Hamilton, though, has the full package when it comes to hitting for power. He hit home runs on over 20 percent of his fly balls and had a stellar 22 percent line drive rate.
He also hit the longest home run of the season (in true distance, as measure by hittrackeronline.com) on June 27. Like it or not, home runs are still sexy, and Hamilton's power was a big part of why he was the most valuable player in baseball.