As each new baseball season rolls around, there's never a guarantee of what a team will see from its players. Expectations from the season before can be exceeded, met or not met without any certainty and even though some players meet the expectations we have of them on a consistent basis, it is never a surprise to see a team's most valuable player from the previous five seasons become one of the least valuable as a new one progresses.
Although this uncertainty creates a sense of nervousness in every team at the start of a new season, it makes room for other players who may have offered little value to their team's success in past years to capitalize on their opportunity to become their club's MVP.
From young, developing newcomers to seasoned veterans, here is a ranking of who I believe has offered the most value to their team so far in 2011.
In his first season with the Yankees, Curtis Granderson had difficulties at the plate, and was unable to find his unique power stroke until late in the season. Many were left to wonder whether the five-tool player from the Detroit Tigers would ever arrive in the big city.
He answered that question in the first game of the season.
Granderson has been an absolute spark plug for this team, and has by far been their most valuable player. With 17 HRs (good for third in the AL), 41 RBI and nine stolen bases to go along with an impressive line of .274/.347/.574, Granderson has brought a new swing into the 2011 season and produced at every level of the game for New York. With his power stroke at full production, and the ability to make plays in clutch situations, there is no argument here that Curtis Granderson is the most valuable player in the Yankees organization right now.
The Boston Red Sox were the most active club in the offseason this year, and like the Yankees in 2010, a great deal of money was invested in top-tier talent. Many people thought that Carl Crawford would lead this new crop of players to a pennant, and possibly a World Series. As we all saw, however, Crawford was one of the most expensive LVPs (least valuable players) the Red Sox had at the beginning of the season.
Adrian Gonzalez, on the other hand, proved right out of the gate that he was worth the $154 million that was invested in him. His .338 batting average is the highest for any player with over 200 at-bats, and with a .383 OBP and .567 SLG, there's no doubt he's swinging a hot bat.
His power stroke hasn't gone anywhere either, as he has hit 12 HRs and is hitting well with men on base with 50 RBI.
Because of Adrian Gonzalez's production, the Red Sox have been able to compensate for Crawford's slow start, and are still in a tight race with the Yankees for the AL East.
If Jose Bautista was the Cinderella story of last year, Matt Joyce could take that label in 2011. He has been the not-so-shining star in Tampa Bay only because I would bet not many people knew who he was prior to this season. Since 2008, Joyce has recorded a career line of .274/.361/.520, never having more than 242 at-bats.
The Rays lost a lot of the talent that led them to a World Series in 2008, and an AL East pennant in 2010 with the departures of Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and Matt Garza in the offseason. Joyce saw his opportunity and grabbed it as he now boasts an astounding .348/.405/.610 line with 10 HRs (he has 35 in his career) to boot.
As if his production doesn't make him the Rays' most valuable player, he is doing all of this in a season where he'll make less than $500,000.
Need I say more?
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody who hasn't been living under a rock since 2009. Jose Bautista is Toronto's MVP and, as of right now, MLB's most valuable player also—there isn't much of an argument that can be made against it.
Through two months of baseball, Bautista has hit 20 HRs with a swing that seems to have been given to him by the baseball Gods at the end of the 2009 season. At 30 years old, Bautista is playing some of the best baseball we've seen in a decade, and he shows no sign of stopping.
The beginning of 2011 had many question marks with regard to whether or not Bautista was a one-hit wonder, or if he could continue his seemingly unstoppable production from 2010. He silenced all naysayers, though, and has not only matched his production from last year, but he's improved in almost every category (I might be saying every category if Adam Lind hadn't gone down with an injury) from where he was at this point last season.
I shouldn't have to give his stats, as they are likely burned into the minds of all baseball fans, but along with his 20 HRs, Bautista has posted 41 RBI and a line that looks something like .346/.496/.730.
We are witnessing history, and I would argue that he would still be the Jays' most valuable player even if he were being paid $50 million per year.
The O's haven't had a player stand out like the other teams in the AL East, and this lack of leadership could be directly related to why they sit in the basement of the division.
However, Adam Jones has shown a lot of promise this year that we haven't seen from him in previous seasons. Through 56 games, he is performing above his career averages in BA, OBP and SLG with a line of .301/.343./.466.
His 36 RBI are a good representation of his ability to cash in on his fellow teammates, which is a valuable tool for someone with his speed.
Although he isn't utilizing this speed on the basepaths like he could be, his five stolen bases put him on pace to beat his career high of 10.
Vlad Guererro has been another productive player for the Orioles throughout this season, however, he seems to have lost the unique plate presence that we have seen from him in the past. His age is a major reason for this, as is expected, and so he just misses the cut for the MVP for the O's this year.
The Cleveland Indians have been one of the most successful and exciting teams in baseball through the first quarter of the season, and although their seat atop the AL Central is due to the collective efforts of the entire roster, Cabrera has been the best player on the field for them.
Cabrera has transformed into one of the best offensive shortstops this year, and at a position that isn't necessarily known for its power production, his 12 HRs almost equal half of his career total since 2008 (he has 30). He has also proven to be an above-average situational hitter with 42 RBI and performed above his career averages in BA, OBP and SLG with .302/.353/.532
His swing and power stroke this season have turned him into what is an ever-increasing trend in major league baseball: the five-tool player. With an honest seven steals on the season, he is on pace to pass his career high.
Cabrera has improved every facet of his game in 2011 and although Chris Perez could also be argued as an MVP, Cabrera's marked improvement from previous years gives him the most value.
You really can't say enough about Miguel Cabrera as a baseball player. What he brings to the Detroit Tigers is more than a power swing (a power swing that has earned him 30 or more home runs through the past four years). Cabrera is arguably the most difficult batter to pitch to, as he can attack a pitch in so many different ways. He has the ability to hit for average, power and can draw walks.
The MVP front man from 2010 who many would argue was robbed of the league's most prestigious award, hasn't skipped a beat in 2011, and is on pace for 42 HRs, which would be a career high. At this point in the season, he is performing on par with his illustrious career with a line of .322/.442/.584 and 45 RBI to go along with his 13 HRs.
Although Cabrera had some speed bumps in the early years of his career off of the baseball diamond, he has proven to be one of the best hitters in the major leagues since then.
Although Justin Verlander is performing like a top-five pitcher this year, Detroit has seen similar numbers in wins from three other pitchers in their rotation. So even though Verlander may be performing better than Miguel Cabrera (arguable) for his position, Miguel has more value to the team this year.
If I was analyzing the most valuable player for the Chicago White Sox for the decade, Paul Konerko might still be on this list. In his 12 years in the White Sox organization, Konerko has gone yard 374 times with just fewer 1,200 RBI.
This season, however, he is performing well above the average numbers he's posted for his successful career in Chicago. He currently ranks in the top three in HRs, and RBI, and is fourth in BA.
It isn't simply his production that makes him value though. At 35 years old, Konerko has put up two of the best seasons of his career since 2010. His age and long tenure with the White Sox organization gives him a leadership quality that many teams lack.
On top of this he provides a ton of value on the defensive end of the game, putting up a career fielding percentage at first base of .995. He is at .996 this year, so age clearly hasn't affected his defensive abilities either.
Maybe he wouldn't be the White Sox's MVP of the decade, but he'd be a candidate no doubt, and what he has brought to the table in the twilight years of his career merits the award this year.
This was a really tough decision, as Eric Hosmer has been playing very well in the first 33 games of his major league career, and hasn't shown any signs of being a bust to the organization yet, as Gordon was for the first four years of his career.
However, this is Gordon's fifth year, and he has finally started playing like he is expected to. With only a .280 BA, Gordon could definitely use some more fine-tuning at the plate, but this is 30 points higher than his abysmal .249 career average, which is a great sign for Kansas City.
His seven long balls are second only to Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur, and he ranks third on the team in RBI with 33.
These aren't very MVP-like stats, but bear with me.
What makes him so valuable, in my opinion, is his ability to run the basepaths, and get extra-base hits. He leads the team with 19 doubles and three triples, and is second in total bases with 117.
When you couple his .349 OBP with his affinity for stretching out hits, and add his five steals into the equation, what you're left with is value. Value that no other player on the team has.
The team-leading 58 K's by Gordon are actually a promising sign. The two players he is closest with statistically on the team (Cabrera, Francoeur) have far fewer strikeouts with similar stats to Gordon. As Gordon has finally settled into the big leagues and found the success he's been longing for, he will continue to work on his plate presence, looking to boost his average and his eye. If he can cut down his strikeout numbers, his hitting and OBP will improve on their own.
This particular pick is largely based on future projections, but the potential he is showing and the rate at which he is improving is enough for me to give Alex Gordon the most valuable player title in Kansas City.
The Twins have a laundry list of problems in 2011 that have most Minnesota fans with their faces in their hands. Morneau hasn't made any real comeback from his concussion, and Joe Mauer has been injured for the better part of the season (and too busy promoting MLB 11 The Show and Head and Shoulders).
So who on this team of struggling ball players has been the most valuable?
Why, it's Jason Kubel! We are seeing some pretty impressive numbers from a guy who rarely impresses. His .274 career BA is being blown out of the water this year, as he is currently hitting at a clip of .310. His .365 OBP and .465 SLG are also improvements from his career numbers.
His five HRs and 30 RBI are pretty much right on par with where he was last season, but something I noticed that was quite intriguing were his 14 doubles. He has had 48 doubles combined from the last two seasons, and if he keeps this up, he will finish 2011 with a doubles figure quite close to that.
This team really has very few bright spots, but Kubel hasn't lowered production from previous years and his newly acquired ability to hit extra-base hits shows he is putting himself in a position to put runs on the board more often than anybody else on the team.
Although he's no superstar, Jason Kubel is the most valuable player this season for the Twins.
Texas is loaded with talent at basically every position, and although guys like Adrian Beltre and Michael Young have produced great numbers this season, Alexi Ogando has been a star for the Rangers.
Ogando is a perfect 7-0 on the season, with a staggering 2.10 ERA. Through 81 innings of baseball, Ogando has also only walked 18 batters.
In case you hadn't guessed, these are all team-leading stats, and they're all in his first season as a starter.
I feel like this slide won't please all of you, but come on, can you argue against those stats?
On a team that has virtually no offensive production, sophomore Justin Smoak has been the lone shining star at the plate for the M's this season.
He has improved his BA, OBP and SLG from last season, posting a line of .249/.349/.478. His BA could use some improvement, but as a young player, it is expected that he will get used to facing major league pitchers more and more and eventually be able to post a more respectable BA. However, his OBP and SLG are good signs for the future, as he is only in his second season (only played 100 games in his rookie campaign).
Smoak leads the team with 11 HRs, 35 RBI, 14 doubles and has been walked the second-most times with 31.
Hernandez and Pineda have been great off the mound this year, but Seattle can't even brag about Ichiro this year. For carrying the entire offence on his back, Justin Smoak will receive the Mariners' MVP title.
In another pitching-friendly season, Jered Weaver has been one of the best out there since day one.
His 7-4 record would be better if he wasn't on a team that is second worst in the division, and if the Angels batting hadn't slowed so much from previous years.
However, Weaver has an extremely impressive 2.24 ERA in 100.1 innings, with 90 K's and a .95 WHIP.
He also has thrown two complete games with a shutout to boot.
Jered Weaver is putting up a Cy Young season, and is dominating in every pitching category on a team that has been worse than he's used to. That is why he is the most valuable player on the Angels in 2011.
Billy Beane's "Moneyball" strategy is beginning to show its flaws. If you're not lucky in who you draft, and the young players you have don't produce, you're left with a team that doesn't mesh and cannot produce offensively.
Trevor Cahill is a young pitcher who has fought through this very bumpy season the A's are having and actually put up some decent numbers.
With a 6-4 record through 14 starts, Cahill has maintained a 3.14 ERA through 87 innings. His 1.30 WHIP is less than impressive but as a young pitcher, he can hopefully learn more about the major league hitters and walk fewer men.
With a team that can't produce runs, it is difficult for a young pitcher (or any pitcher for that matter) to have continued success. Cahill shows a lot of promise in his ability to stay in the game into the later innings, and maintain a sub-4.00 ERA. As he develops, and Oakland hopefully finds its stride and can begin to produce some run support, Cahill should be able to improve his WHIP, and post a much different record.
Until then, he will still be the most valuable player in an Oakland uniform in 2011.