Few years have seen a race that is this wide open. The 2008 American League MVP race has no fewer than ten solid candidates, and nobody has the slightest clue who the "real favorite" is going to be.
This year is distinguished by three interesting developments:
First, numbers are down across the board. Way down. No player in the American League was able to hit 40 HR — a shocking development to say the least.
Second, the National League was far better this year, and several players from it would have easily won the award if they were competing in the American League pool.
Finally, most of the top candidates find themselves sharing the spotlight with a teammate. In fact, of the ten players most likely to win, six of them are joined by someone else from their squad. This will make things difficult for some of the most statistically impressive hitters.
With that in mind, here are the ten best candidates to pick from. They are listed in reverse order of who is most deserving.
He got on base with greater frequency than any hitter in the AL, and that alone gets him on this list. A quintessential journeyman up to this point, Bradley came into his own this year and put up personal bests across the board. He squeaks his way onto the list of AL MVP candidates, though his numbers were not strong enough to overcompensate for his team's performance and his DH status.
What a strange new world we live in. Miguel Cabrera lead the league with only 37 HR's this season — a notion that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. But our country's obsession with the longball is now over, and that means that Cabrera will be a longshot to take this prize. Detroit's disappointing season means that he is on this list, but barely.
What if? That's the question for Carlos Quentin, who missed more than thirty games this season in what would have been a very likely MVP run. Even with his injury, he managed to finish near the top of the HR charts, and put up 100 RBI's. Voters will give him a serious look, as nobody was more dominant on a game-for-game basis.
Another year, another chance for A-Rod to continue his dominance over this award category. But by now, voters are probably tired of last year's winner. The Yankees had a bitter season, and Rodriguez's numbers were down markedly across the board. He's unlikely to win MVP this year, though even in an off season, his statistics would be the envy of all but a handful of players.
There's no doubting which player in the league earned more respect than any other this year. Josh Hamilton's journey from addict to superstar has inspired millions. And his numbers this year make him worthy of MVP consideration. The league-leader in RBI's showed his slugging abilities during the All-Star break, but he may be the victim of having too many other great hitters on his team. With a 2008 salary under $400,000, he was clearly the best bang for the buck this year.
He was a surprise winner in 2006, but nobody will be shocked if the Canadian does it again this time. His numbers aren't quite as spectacular as they were two years ago, but he was still second in the league in RBI's. Once again, voters will have to consider his impact versus that of teammate Joe Mauer.
They didn't make the World Series, but the Red Sox had to be happy with this season if for no other reason than the progress of Dustin Pedroia. He is the future of his franchise, and he added to last year's Rookie of the Year honors by taking home the Gold Glove at second base. He finished just short of the batting crown, and is a legitimate contender for this award. The only problem is...
He's already won the Hank Aaron Award, but that's not the ultimate honor that the Red Sox first baseman wants to take home this year. On a team that was stacked with talent, Youkilis still found a way to lead in almost every major category. Pedroia lead the team in hitting, but Youkilis beat him in the more telling OBP category. Look for him to finish in the top three.
Hometown hero Joe Mauer continued to fulfill the lofty expectations that have been incumbent upon him since his days as a #1 pick prodigy. This year's batting champ added a Gold Glove to his trophy case, making him perhaps the most complete player in the league. The Twins had a great season, and falling one game short of making the (real) playoffs should not hold him back. Joe Mauer gave his team everything he could this year, and is worthy a candidate as any.
W/L: 23 - 3
It should not be a surprise if Cliff Lee pulls it out. In a year where there were no clearly dominant hitters, Lee was the easy pick for Cy Young. On a team that couldn't top .500, he managed a staggering win-loss record, and finished tops in ERA. There are several players on this list who are forced to share the spotlight with a teammate, but that's not the case for Lee — nobody on the Indians was half as valuable to the team. If this award lives up to its name, the Most Valuable Player will be this incredible pitcher.
UPDATE: Some have asked me how often an AL MVP has gone to a pitcher. It has happened five times in the last forty years. Roger Clemens and Dennis Eckersley were the two most recent recipients. In fact, the notion that pitchers should not win the award is a fairly new philosophy.