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Monday, September 08, 2008

Some Unlikely MVPs

Cliff Lee has all but cinched the AL Cy Young, while the trio of Brandon Webb, Tim Lincecum, and C. C. Sabathia provides plenty of excellent options for NL voters.  Geovany Soto is clearly the NL's top rookie, with all respect to Joey Votto and Jair Jurrjens.  In the AL, Evan Longoria's late-season injury may have opened up a opportunity for Armando Galarraga and Alexei Ramirez.  The biggest questions remain, however, in the races for Most Valuable player in both leagues.  This year provides us with no Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds type performances, head and shoulders above the competition.  Ryan Howard leads the NL in two critical categories, HR and RBI, but is batting a mere .237 and is headed for upwards of 200 strikeouts.  Josh Hamilton's march toward the RBI crown has slowed slightly in the second half and, of course, he is playing on a team which was out of contention early in August.  Carlos Quentin carried the White Sox offense at various times throughout the season, but an unfortunate, fluky hand injury has left him sitting on 36 HR and 100 RBI, numbers which will merely seem reminders of what could have been. 

The scarcity of traditional choices has allowed Dustin Pedroia to emerge as a fashionable favorite in early September.  He has been very valuable to a Red Sox team which has suffered extended injuries to David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and J. D. Drew, as well as that whole Manny Ramirez ordeal.  Pedroia is leading the AL in runs scored (111), hits (193), and batting average (.330) and has very admirable numbers across the board, but though he has batted cleanup recently, he isn't particularly strong in the traditional MVP categories, HR (17) and RBI (74).  His run production numbers would be the lowest for an MVP since Ichiro won the award in 2001.  Besides Pedroia, whose popularity as a candidate is largely due to the ubiquity of the Red Sox, their are some other darkhorses worth considering this November.

C. C. Sabathia - SP - Milwaukee Brewers

I, personally, believe Sabathia should be given the NL Cy Young.  Although Webb and Lincecum have had fine seasons, Sabathia has dominated the league since his arrival in early July to a degree we've not seen since Randy Johnson was at the top of his game in the late nineties and early aughts.  He is 9-0 since joining the Brew Crew, the rest of the staff is 23-21.  C. C. also leads NL pitchers in innings, strikeouts, ERA, quality starts, and, of course, complete games since July 8, his first start.  If the voters demure from giving C. C. his second consecutive Cy, due to his late arrival, they might consider adding him the somewhat weaker MVP field.  A pitcher has not won the MVP since Dennis Eckersley did it in 1992 and, in the NL, the fete has not been accomplished until 1968.  But by all accounts, C. C. immediately became a clubhouse leader in Milwaukee and, of course, one cannot argue with the team's performance on the days he pitches.  They are 11-1 in his starts.  Few candidates have the advantage of such a stark assertion of "value."

Grady Sizemore - CF - Cleveland Indians

The Indians, despite a second-half resurgence, are not likely to finish within ten games of the postseason.  However, their leadoff hitter is leading the AL in Runs Created and his stats are certainly comparable, even superior, to those of Dustin Pedroia, as he will probably get close to 100 runs and 100 RBI, as well as around 35 HR and 40 SB.  Sizemore and Hanley Ramirez are the only 30/30 players in 2008, but more importantly, he is among the most intimidating hitters in the league and also plays gold-glove caliber defense at a critical position.  Working against Sizemore is not only his team (which is going to be a winning franchise after all), but also his .268 batting average.

Joe Mauer - C - Minnesota Twins

Speaking of defensive contributions...Mr. Mauer has made only two errors in upwards of 1000 innings this season, has the best CS% in the AL, and captains the young Minnesota staff which has surprisingly kept the Twins in competition deep into the season.  Oh, and he is also hitting .326 with a .416 OBP.  Much like 2006, Justin Morneau has Mauer to thank for keeping his name in the MVP conversation.

Kevin Youkilis - 1B - Boston Red Sox

Why are BoSox fans getting behind Pedroia, but not Youk?  Youkilis is better in HR (25), RBI (98), OPS (949), OBP, and SLG.  Moreover, he plays wizard defense at two positions.  He took a few days off early in September to nurse a minor injury, but like Pedroia, he has been one of the few Red Sox available every day and, unlike Pedroia, he's available to play corner spot on both the infield and in the outfield.  He doesn't exactly have Dustin's rugged good looks, but Youkilis has just as much to do with Boston's ability stay in the race.

Arguments could also be made based on Mark DeRosa's versatility, Aramis Ramirez' clutch hitting, Carlos Delgado's resurgence, and Ryan Ludwick's ascendence.  All this aside, however, I'll tell you who I would vote for if they gave me a ballot: Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

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