The Wide-Open Race For The American League MVP

The race for the American League MVP seems to have more candidates than the race for the Republican presidential nomination. There are players having great years, but whose teams are, as of now, out of the playoffs. The players from the first-place teams don’t quite seem MVP-level.

There are good candidates at starting pitcher. Here’s a snapshot of how the American League MVP race looks, with 16 possible choices, all of whom would either be good picks right now, or wouldn’t need much of a push.

Miguel Cabrera (1B, Detroit)
Mike Trout (CF, LA Angeles)

Cabrera’s numbers are dazzling, a .454 on-base percentage/.589 slugging percentage. With a batting average of .350, 15 home runs and 53 RBI, Miggy is again in position to make a run at the Triple Crown. Trout is sitting on numbers of .390/583 and has hit 20 home runs.

These two players have combined to win the last three AL MVPs, but the Tigers But the Tigers are looking up at Kansas City and Minnesota in the AL Central and the Angels continue to lag behind Houston in the AL West. For a lot of voters, this alone will disqualify both.

Prince Fielder (Texas)
Nelson Cruz (Seattle)

Fielder’s stats are .415/.532 and he’s been instrumental in lifting the Rangers back into contention. Cruz is on .368/.552 and has a much less hitter-friendly environment than Fielder. But if you disqualify Trout because his Angels would be out of the playoffs, then two teams that are trailing Los Angeles in the AL West are even worse candidates.

Furthermore, there is a historic bias against voting for a DH—and I think a fair one—given their status as part-time players. If either one of these guys sizzles and carries their team to the postseason though, it could get interesting.

Alex Rodriguez (DH)
Mark Teixeira (1B)

I want to be ill in writing both of these names here, but if the Yankees end up winning the AL East, the revival of these two is probably going to be the biggest reason. A-Rod’s profile fits with the DHs noted above, as he’s .389/.520, while Teixeira is at .356/.524, with 18 home runs.

The problem I have with both—beyond their existence as baseball players—is the extreme hitter-friendly nature of Yankee Stadium. But anti-NYY bias didn’t stop me from believing last year that Masahiro Tanaka should have been a strong candidate prior to his getting hurt and the team fading from the race. That’s because I give pitchers more credit for succeeding in the Stadium than I do hitters.

Jason Kipnis (2B, Cleveland)

Stephen Vogt (C, Oakland)

Offense up the middle is at a premium, and therefore those who produce big numbers at these spots are, by definition, more valuable. Kipnis is at .424/.510, while Vogt, in the pitcher-oriented Oakland park is on .394/.532 and tied with Cabrera with 53 RBI. And if you’re a sabermetric type who believes in the whole Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat, Kipnis is the best in the American League.

Of course the problem with both players comes when you look at their teams. Both are struggling badly and dragging their otherwise legitimate MVP candidates down with them.

Mike Moustakas (3B)
Alex Gordon (LF)

If you believe that to the victor goes the spoils, then it has to start in Kansas City. Moustakas is at .369/.463 and Gordon on .390/.443. They’re the best two candidates on what’s been the best team in the American League.  

Josh Donaldson (Toronto)
Manny Machado (Baltimore)

Both would be great candidates. Machado’s Orioles just nudged into first place in the AL East and Donaldson’s Blue Jays could be there by tomorrow. Machado is at .364/.527 and defends his position better than anyone else discussed here. Donaldson is on .359/.439 and with 18 home runs and 49 RBI, could end up leading the league in both high-profile categories.

Dallas Kuechel (Houston)
Chris Archer (Tampa Bay)

Kuechel is the biggest reason the Astros are in first place and Archer the biggest reason the Rays are right in the heart of the four-team AL East logjam. Kuechel is 9-3 with a 2.17 ERA and a league-leading 116 IP. He’d be the best candidate of these two today, particularly given Houston’s hitter-friendly park. But Archer, at 9-5, 2.31 ERA and 109 IP could flip that over a couple starts.

Brian Dozier (2B, Minnesota)
Dustin Pedroia (2B, Boston)

Dozier’s .529 slugging is a big reason the Twins have been such a surprise. If he lifts that .340 OBP a bit higher and they make the playoffs, this is a darkhorse bet that could pay off.

I’m pushing my luck on Pedroia (.364/.452), but if the Red Sox have a post-All Star break surge after he gets off the DL, Pedey will be in the mix. Besides, as a Sawx fan I need to include one of my own and I also wanted a 16th player so my whole analogy to the Republican presidential primaries worked.

That’s the landscape. Who do you like? I’m more about individual numbers than team success and also not averse to choosing pitchers. I’ve got Miggy, Kipnis and Kuechel in basically a dead heat, and if I had to pick today I guess I’d go with Kuechel.