There’s one more day left in the regular season, and the AL West & AL East titles are still up for grabs. I’ve been holding off doing my final American League All-Stars, hoping we’d get some clarity on the division winners, but there’s no time left, as we’ll run MVP articles tomorrow and playoff commentary starting Friday.
We know St. Louis will visit Atlanta for one wild-card, but Texas, Baltimore, Oakland and New York are all possibilities to be playing in the American League game. It’s also possible the Yankees/Orioles could have a one-game playoff in the AL East. So with all that ahead of us, let’s do another round of individual honors today in celebrating the best at each position in the American League.
The National League All-Stars ran on Sunday, and we’ll use the same format—the obvious selection of one player at each everyday position, with the caveat that our outfield must include at least one pure centerfielder to make this a credible lineup. Then five starting pitchers, two setup guys and a closer.
C: Joe Mauer (Minnesota)—The man they call “Baby Jesus” in the Twin Cities has lost some luster nationally after his MVP campaign of 2009, but he’s still easily the best catcher in the American League. With a .415 on-base percentage and respectable power to the alleys—31 doubles—keeping the slugging percentage acceptable, Mauer is still a valued offensive threat at a position where they aren’t many.
1B: Prince Fielder (Detroit)—A .410 on-base percentage, and 30 home runs in a pitcher’s park make Fielder the surprise winner of the Best Free Agent 1st Baseman Coming Over From An NL Central Playoff Team, a two-man battle he waged with Albert Pujols. This weekend, Fielder’s going to be playing baseball and Pujols will not.
2B: Robinson Cano (NY Yanks)—This required less than a second of thought. Earlier in Cano’s career, you had to weigh his batting average and home runs against what was mediocre defense and atrocious plate discipline. He’s now grading out strongly in the defensive metrics, and while he’ll never be known as patient, his on-base percentages are now solid.
3B: Miguel Cabrera (Detroit)—If Cano was an easy lock, what does that make the man leading all the Triple Crown categories with a day left? Cabrera’s got the batting title and RBI crown locked up, and leads Josh Hamilton by one for the home run title. Cabrera would still go in the books as a Triple Crown winner if he ties for the HR title, so it’s looking like we’ve got our first winner of this mythical, but prestigious honor, since 1967.
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera (Cleveland)—His offensive numbers aren’t that far behind Derek Jeter’s, who is setting the pace with his bat. Cabrera is within 25 points in on-base percentage, seven points in slugging percentage and Jeter has Yankee Stadium to hit in. But the defense is night and day. The defensive metrics, as they have year after year, continue to tell us the Captain has zero range. Cabrera is the best defensive shortstop in the American League.
As regular readers know I am decidedly not a Yankee fan, but that is not the reason for this selection. The fact I loathe the Yanks just make all the excellent reasons for picking Cabrera a lot more satisfying.
CF: Mike Trout (LA Angels)—With a .397 on-base percentage and .561 slugging, along with being one of the top defensive centerfielders, the only question regarding Trout is to where he’ll fit into tomorrow’s discussion of the American League MVP.
OF: Josh Hamilton (Texas)—The gap between him and the two best contenders for the next spot is not huge, but Hamilton still has 43 home runs, he still draws walks and he still leads a team that depends heavily on its offense and is at least heading back to the postseason. One caveat—this is a spot that’s close enough that it could change depending on who wins the divisions. More below.
OF: Austin Jackson (Detroit)—Jackson’s .376/.476 stat line for OBP & Slugging, don’t jump off the page, but they are certainly very good, and it’s done in a pitcher-friendly Comerica Park. Jackson plays an above-average centerfield to go with it. The first man out is the intriguing question. Adam Jones for Baltimore is still on the right on the cusp, as the best defensive outfielder of anyone we’ve mentioned, including Trout. He’s slugging over .500 and is the key offensive player on what’s already a great Cinderella story and could still end up winning the AL East. My problem? The .335 on-base percentage just isn’t All-Star level.
Now if Jones were to do something transcendent, like push the Orioles into a one-game playoff with New York tomorrow (he’d need unlikely help from Boston tonight) and then come up big in that game, I can see the case for moving him into the discussion. And if Hamilton’s Rangers come up short tonight, I can see the case for moving him out. Or I could see I straight Jones-for-Jackson swap. But honestly, not only are those scenarios unlikely, they would only mandate a second look, not a guaranteed change. For now let’s just assume that Trout-Hamilton-Jackson I the All-Star outfield.
David Price (Tampa Bay)
Justin Verlander (Detroit)
Jered Weaver (LA Angels)
*These three fall into the no-brainer category. Price and Weaver both won 20 games and joined Verlander in the top three in ERA. The Tiger ace won 17 and logged 238 innings. The Cy Young conversation is built around these three, although Weaver coming up short of 200 innings due to his late-summer injury would hurt him there.
Felix Hernandez (Seattle)
Matt Harrison (Texas)
*Felix was closer to the top at the start of the month when I felt he had a great case for a Cy Young & MVP sweep even if I knew the politics of the latter award ruled that one out. The ERA is “up” to 3.06, which ends that discussion, but he’s still piled up 232 innings, second to Verlander. And Harrison not only won 18 games, but did it with 213 innings and a 3.29 ERA. Something an injury-hit pitching staff in a hitter’s park needed badly.
Kelvin Herrera (Kansas City)
Ryan Cook (Oakland)
Fernando Rodney (Tampa Bay)
*Herrera was a horse working in obscurity as he piled up 84 innings and posted a sharp 2.35 ERA. Put this guy on a contender and he be getting as much ink as it’s possible for a setup man to receive. Ryan Cook could kind of double as a closer, with 14 saves, although officially Grant Balfour has that role for Oakland. Cook’s 2.12 ERA and 72 innings make him an easy call. And Rodney nailed down 47 saves, with a stunning 0.61 ERA.
The city of Baltimore has a right to raise a little ruckus here, as Pedro Strop in setup and Jim Johnson closing just missed. Johnson’s 51 saves were dazzling, but only four more than Rodney, and the Tampa closer had the killer ERA. Strop’s ERA jumped a run in September and allowed him to be nudged out.
Tomorrow it’s time for the MVP pick in both leagues, and those posts will include selections for Cy Young and Manager of the Year.