AL MVP is anyone's guess
The MVP story is more or less the same for the Angels, who have a real shot at winning 100 games despite being 10th in the league in runs scored. The last American League team to win 100 games while finishing 10th in runs scored is: Nobody. Never happened.
So the Angels obviously don't have an especially intriguing offensive MVP candidate, unless you want to consider the two torrid months of Mark Teixeira. Well, people are considering Manny Ramirez across town for his two torrid months (though admittedly Ramirez's two months are more torrid). Vladimir Guerrero is certainly having a good year, though it's probably his worst since he was 21 years old.
The Angels' most talked-about MVP candidate is probably their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, who has a mind-boggling 61 saves. Hey, it's an amazing thing, no question about it, and it's a record that might never be broken. But it should be noted that the guy has pitched 66 innings all year -- that's not even eight complete games. What's more, I don't think K-Rod is even one of the three best closers in the American League, much less an MVP candidate. He has been given an extraordinary number of opportunities because the Angels don't score many runs (and don't give up many, obviously). He's a hero of circumstance.
Put it this way: K-Rod does not have a single save that required him to pitch more than one inning (New York's Mariano Rivera has eight). He has eight saves in which he pitched less than an inning (Minnesota's Joe Nathan has zero). He has also blown nine save chances (Kansas City's Joakim Soria has blown three). His 2.31 ERA is significantly higher than Rivera's, Nathan's or Soria's.*
*Also, an Angels' fan mentioned that K-Rod's saves have been much more of a thrill ride than the others'. For fun, I did a quick countdown of easy saves -- those would-be saves where the pitcher went 1-2-3 without allowing walk or hit. Obviously easy saves are worth exactly the same as difficult ones, but I think it does tell you who are the most dominant closers around.
Rivera: 20 easy saves out of 38 (52.6 percent).
Soria: 21 easy saves out of 41 (51.2 percent).
Nathan: 16 easy saves out of 38 (42.1 percent).
K-Rod: 19 easy saves out of 61 (31.1 percent).
Then there is the American League Central, where the Chicago White Sox still seem like the likely bet to win the division. The White Sox had a clear-cut MVP candidate in outfielder Carlos Quentin. By Sept. 1 he had 36 homers, 100 RBIs, a .394 on-base percentage and a .571 slugging percentage. He was the guy. Trouble is, he has not played since Sept. 1 because of a fractured bone in his wrist. Tough to be an MVP when you don't play the last month.
So where do you turn? Most, I suspect will turn to Dustin Pedroia, because he's had an outstanding year (200 hits, 50 doubles, leads the league in runs scored) and, perhaps more so, because he's scrappy. Every few years MVP voters go scrappy and choose players like Ichiro or Barry Larkin or Terry Pendleton. They are good players, yes, but they actually get the award for that voodoo that they do so well, like inspiring the fellas and moving runners over and something to do with leadership.
Pedroia is plenty scrappy, and he's a good second baseman, and he's a very good MVP choice. My only trouble with Pedroia is that I'm not entirely sure he's the best player on the right side of the Red Sox infield.
Pedroia: .324/.375/.492, with 53 doubles, 2 triples, 17 homers, 117 runs, 82 RBIs, 19 steals.
Kevin Youkilis: .314/.390/.565 with 43 doubles, 4 triples, 27 homers, 88 runs, 111 RBIs, five fewer grounded-into-double plays. (For more on the Pedroia vs. Youkilis debate check out John Donovan's take.)
Finally, there are the two candidates in Minnesota. I think the Twins, in many ways, are as big as surprise as Tampa. Lots of people, including someone I know pretty well, picked them to finish last after they traded away Johan Santana. And they still have a shot to win the division. Their obvious MVP candidate is Justin Morneau since he's leads the league in RBIs, and over the years it seems that RBIs have been the MVP voter stat of choice.
But I'm wondering about catcher Joe Mauer. I thought he should have won the award in 2006 -- I was stunned that not a single voter chose him over Morneau. Best I can tell, he's a fabulous catcher -- it's hard to break down catcher defense, but he throws out base runners, he's doesn't commit errors or allow passed balls and every current Twins starter has a winning record and a solid ERA.
It's much easier to see that he is about to become the only American League catcher to ever win two batting titles. That's because he's also the only American League catcher ever to win one batting title. He is second in the league in on-base percentage, he could score 100 runs despite missing all those games catchers miss, and he's just remarkable considering the wear and tear of the position.
This week I asked five baseball executives who they would choose for American League MVP. They gave me five different names. Of course. Maybe, in honor of the Rays, there should not be an MVP this year. Maybe they have proven that you can beat the Yankees with a bunch of good players, five good starters and a home ballpark where you win 70 percent of the time. Maybe Tropicana Field should be MVP. I wonder if those Baseball Prospectus guys can figure out the Trop's Value Over Replacement Park.