Awards up for grabs in final week
Of the five criteria that MVP voters are told to consider in their official instructions, the second is "number of games played." That could weigh heavily on the outcomes of the MVP awards in both leagues. In the American League,
Hamilton has played 130 games this season and may not increase that total. Tulowitzki has played in 116 and, assuming he starts all of the Rockies remaining games, will finish with 123. Here are the lowest games-played totals for MVP winners in non-strike years (so not 1981, '94, or '95) since the schedule was expanded to 162 games in 1961:
As you can see, in the last 49 years, just six non-catchers have won the MVP for a season in which they played fewer than 140 games. Also, every single one of the eight players on the above list played for a team that reached the postseason. That's bad news for Tulowitzki, whose Rockies are a longshot to climb back into the playoff picture with just seven games left in the season, and doesn't bode particularly well for Hamilton either given that, even if he were to return tonight, he couldn't get his games played above 137 for the season.
September has been Cabrera's worst month this season by far, but his extraordinary consistency is starting to win out as he has heated back up over the last week and enters Monday night's action with an active six-game hitting streak during which he has gone 9-for-23 with four home runs. Cabrera doesn't do much outside of the batter's box and plays for a team barely keeping its head above .500, but no other American Leaguer has produced at such an elite level so consistently throughout the 2010 season. Cabrera has also started all but six of the Tigers' games this season.
Hamilton has far and away the superior rate stats, but due to their disparate playing time, Cano leads the injured Rangers' outfielder in RBIs, hits, runs, and walks (!), and is just one double and three home runs shy of Hamilton's season totals. Give Cano additional credit for playing a far more challenging position, striking out fewer times in more than an hundred extra plate appearances, and for simple reliability (he has started all but three of the Yankees' games this year), and he slips past the former frontrunner in this race.
We can't discount Hamilton completely. He has enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, and will thus lead both leagues in batting average, and he really was a key player, perhaps
Votto may not wind up leading the league in any of the major counting stats, but there's a general consensus, even among the old-school set who place less emphasis on on-base and slugging percentages, that Votto will take home the hardware this year. The fact that his Reds not only upset the defending NL Central champion Cardinals but effectively ran away with the division in September certainly works in his favor, particularly given that one of Votto's primary rivals is the Cards'
Expect the voters to penalize Pujols for the failings of his team and for the fact that, as great as his season has been, it has been below the standard of his last two (combined .342/.452/.656), both of which resulted in MVP awards. That might be unfair, but it won't rob Pujols of an award he should have received, unless you really want to split hairs on games played. Pujols has started all but three of the Cardinals games this year. The Reds, meanwhile, have been without Votto in their lineup 14 times due to some minor aches, pains, and illnesses, including three consecutive games this past week.
The best argument against a vote for Tulowitzki is that he has only been the second most valuable player on his own team. Gonzalez won't catch Pujols in home runs, but he will win the batting title and also leads the league in hits and total bases and is second in RBIs and slugging percentage. His 25 steals have come at a respectable 76 percent success rate, and though evaluations of his defense are mixed, he has started 55 games in center and has the athleticism to make plays like the potentially game-saving diving catch he made against the Giants on Saturday night. Incidentally, Tulowitzki won that game with a walk-off double, but it was Gonzalez, who went 3-for-6 with an RBI triple and three runs scored, who came around from first base to score the winning run.
The AL Cy Young debate pitting Hernandez against Yankees 20-game winner
Lester could sneak in and swipe this award if he gets to 20 wins. On Thursday he'll face the White Sox in his only chance for number 20. He's not a better choice than Hernandez, but he's a better wins-choice than Sabathia and has out-pitched
Price leap-frogged Sabathia via a pair of head-to-head matchups over the last two weeks. In the first, the two lefty aces matched eight scoreless frames. In the latter, Price turned in six quality innings and picked up the win after Sabathia fell apart in the sixth. However, Price's season line falls short of Lester's except for a small advantage in ERA and two fewer losses. Price might get an extra boost from the relative records of the Rays and Red Sox, but he shouldn't.
Halladay has allowed three or four runs in each of his last six starts, posting a 4.32 ERA and allowing 10 home runs over that span. However, after struggling with poor run support early in the year, he is finally benefiting from a rejuvenated Phillies offense which has scored an average of seven runs in his four September starts, giving him a 4-0 record on the month. Fun fact: Halladay has walked 1.4 per nine innings pitched over the past seven seasons and 275 batters overall.
Wainwright and Halladay will each make just one more start this season, but this race is close enough that a disaster from Halladay and a gem from Wainwright might still tilt the balance. However, despite Wainwright's edge in ERA, WHIP and strikeout rate, Halladay's perfect game, impending postseason berth, innings pitched (a major league high 241 2/3 to Wainwright's still-impressive 230 1/3), and absurd K/BB ratio (currently the 20th best single-season mark among ERA qualifiers and 12th best since 1900) will likely prove too much to overcome. If Halladay avoids disaster this week, he should take home the award.
Jimenez will make two more starts this season, which should guarantee him his 200th strikeout and give him an excellent chance of picking up his 20th win, both of which will be career highs. It also gives him time to get his ERA back below 3.00, though even if he fails the last, he's likely to appear on the majority of ballots thanks to the memory of his white-hot start and those handsome final numbers. Those who leave him off are likely to go with
Feliz set the rookie record for saves on Saturday, nailing down the final four outs in the Rangers division-clinching victory over the A's. Since the All-Star break, he has carved nearly a run off his ERA, converted 15 of 16 save chances, posted a 1.57 ERA and struck out 27 men in 28 3/3 innings against just four walks (that's a 6.75 K/BB). Opponents have hit .160/.200/230 against him during that stretch, and while their batting average on balls in play has been abnormally low, Feliz has also posted a line-drive rate of just eight percent in the second half (against a league average of 19 percent), so he deserves considerable credit for that low BABIP.
Jackson's batting average, which is the majority of his value at the plate, dipped below .300 in the past week for the first time since the season's opening week, and his slugging percentage continues to hover just above .400. Setting aside the relative importance of an every-day center fielder and a one-inning closer, there has been just one American League rookie this year who has played at an All-Star level all season, and that is Neftali Feliz.
Never mind the Rookie of the Year, Valencia deserves some sort of Nobel Prize for finally making the Twins realize how much better they could be by replacing
By hitting six home runs this month, Posey has rediscovered his power stroke and made this a real race down the stretch, one that could hinge on both the performances of these two hitters over the final week as well as which one of their teams makes it into the postseason (though both could, rendering that tie-breaker irrelevant for many voters). In the past week, Heyward has slumped (3-for-22 with no extra-base hits) while the Braves have slid, going 1-5 and falling from two games up in the wild card race to a half-game back. The Giants, meanwhile, have gone 4-2 and taken over first place in the NL West, but while Posey has homered twice in the last week, he still only hit .182 (4-for-22) and drove in just three runs. Nonetheless, Posey has a huge lead in average and slugging percentage and his counting stats are alarmingly close to Heyward's on the season given that Heyward has played in 34 more games. Adjust for the wide gulf between the production of the average catcher (.250/.320/.382) and average right fielder (.270/.343/.444) and Posey becomes the clear leader in this race.
That is Garcia's final line. He won't start again this season after throwing 163 1/3 innings in 28 starts. It's an impressive showing for a rookie, but ultimately falls short of what will be required to win the Rookie if the Year given the strength of the NL's rookie class this season. It also makes one wonder if the emerging trend of innings ceilings on rookie starters will make it increasingly difficult for starting pitchers to win this award given the resultant limit on their counting stats and overall impact.