Cano, McCutchen pushing leaders Hamilton, Votto for MVP
There hasn't been a lot of turnover in the Most Valuable Player races over the last three weeks. Of the 20 men to make my lists three weeks ago, just three have been replaced this week, while both leaders remain the same. However, in both leagues those leaders suddenly find themselves in close races against new, red-hot challengers, and in the American League, that top man is the only member of my top five from three weeks ago to remain in the top five.
Hamilton has been fairly ordinary since mid-May, hitting .256/.335/.482 since May 13. He's still hitting home runs (eight over that span and four in his last nine games), but the rest of his game has cooled off enough that one wonders how much longer he'll be able to hold on to the top spot on this list. Then again, I said much the same thing three weeks ago, and here he is.
Cano had a poor April by his own standards, harking back to his early-career reputation as a slow starter, but since May 6, he has hit .350/.412/.704 with 19 home runs and 44 RBIs in 228 plate appearances. Cano has thus been better than Hamilton for more than half of the season to this point (Hamilton's bat didn't cool 'til mid-May), and leads him by a fair margin in Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement based largely on a superior fielding grade. Hamilton still has the better numbers across the board, however, and for now, that's enough to keep him ahead of Cano.
I listed Trout as an honorable mention three weeks ago because of his limited playing time, but now that he is qualified for the batting title and has just 53 fewer plate appearances than Hamilton, I'm ready to give him full consideration on this list. I seem to find a reason
Jackson was third on this list six weeks ago, but fell off last week due to an abdominal strain that caused him to miss 21 games. As a result of that disabled list stay, Jackson has come to the plate less often than Trout, but he has shown no rust since his June 9 return, hitting .327/.405/.551 in that time. This looks like a legitimate breakout season for the 25-year-old Jackson, who is striking out less often, walking more often and hitting for more power than he did in either of his first two major league seasons.
One could argue that there have been more effective pitchers in the American League this year, but Verlander is in that argument, and none of his rivals is close to his major league leading 132 2/3 innings pitched and 7.4 innings per start. That combination of effectiveness and innings-eating makes Verlander the clear choice for the league's most valuable pitcher in my eyes.
As for those who argue that a pitcher that only plays every five days can't be as valuable as a player who plays every day, consider that Verlander not only won this award last year, he has pitched 18 percent of the Tigers' innings this season, while major league plate appearance leader Ian Kinsler has made only 12 percent of his team's plate appearances and, despite playing a central middle-infield position, had just 10 percent of his team's defensive chances. Verlander has had, effectively, zero percent of his team's plate appearances, but if you average their participation in both halves of an inning, you get 9 percent for Verlander and 11 percent for Kinsler. That's not a huge difference, and certainly not enough of one to leave pitchers out of the MVP conversation.
Votto gave the Reds and baseball fans everywhere a scare when he missed the first two games of July with a knee injury, but he returned to action on Tuesday and has gone 3-for-8 with a double in two games since. Votto now has 34 doubles on the season. He led the NL last year with 40. Miguel Cabrera led the majors with 48. The single-season record is 67, and no one has reached 60 since 1936. Todd Helton came the closest, with 59 in 2000.
I don't believe that team performance should be a factor in the MVP voting. It is an individual award and only individual performance should matter. It's not the player's fault if his 24 teammates don't make up a winning team even with his contributions, and his contributions aren't the only reason his team wins when it does. That said, it's hard to separate McCutchen's success from the Pirates' right now. While McCutchen has been on the crazy run captured in that Last Three Weeks line above, the Pirates have gone 13-6 (with one of those losses occurring in the only game McCutchen missed) and taken over the lead in the NL Central.
That's not a coincidence, but it's not all to McCutchen's credit, either. Pedro Alvarez has hit .373/.471/.797 over the same period. Garret Jones has hit .321/.377/.643. Leftfielder Drew Sutton has hit .387/.424/.677 in nine games since being called up. In the last three weeks James McDonald has gone 3-1 and A.J. Burnett has gone 3-0, each with three quality starts in four turns. Success in baseball has many fathers. McCutchen is here not because the Pirates are winning, and not because he is indeed playing a large role in that, he's here because he's been one of the best players in baseball this season, period.
I haven't listed Wright's eight stolen bases above because he has been caught seven times. That's the only negative aspect of an all-around fantastic season from Wright, who has managed to cool off from his white-hot start without actually slumping.
To put the 33-year-old Ruiz's season in context, his Phillies have played 83 games and he has already broken his previous career high in home runs by three, he is eight shy of his career high in RBIs, he is 30 hits shy of his previous career high in that category (116) and he is 27 shy of his previous career high in total bases (166). He has also set a career high in times hit by pitch with a league-leading 12, yet his 11 unintentional walks are barely more than a fourth of his previous high in that department.
Dickey, who will start against the Phillies on Thursday, is the