Awards up for grabs in final week
Josh Hamilton's and Troy Tulowitzki's MVP chances will be hurt by being hurt
The AL and NL Cy Youngs should be determined by what happens this week
Buster Posey and Jason Heyward are in a battle for NL Rookie of the Year
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, Josh Hamilton has been on the shelf since Sept. 4 and still has no projected return date, while in the National League, Troy Tulowitzki is having a spectacular run of production for the month of September (.327/.383/.867, 15 home runs, 40 RBIs), but missed more than a month mid-season due to a broken wrist.
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:
117 -- George Brett, 3B, Royals, 1980
123 -- Mickey Mantle, CF, Yankees, 1962
126 -- Willie Stargell, 1B, Pirates, 1979
130 -- Barry Bonds, LF, Giants, 2003
134 -- Juan Gonzalez, RF, Rangers, 1996
135 -- Elston Howard, C, Yankees, 1963
136 -- Rickey Henderson, LF, A's, 1990
138 -- Joe Mauer, C, Twins, 2009
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.
NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, September 26. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics. The number in parentheses after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list. Rookies are players who, before the current season, have had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings-pitched in the majors or have spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster before rosters expand on September 1.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (1)
Season Stats: .328/.419/.624, 38 HRs, 126 RBIs
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.
2. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (3)
Season Stats: .318/.379/.532, 28 HRs, 105 RBIs
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.
3) Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (2)
Season Stats: .361/.414/.635, 31 HRs, 97 RBIs, 8 SBs
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 the key player in the Rangers' winning their first AL West title in 11 years. There are also some similarities between Hamilton's slightly abbreviated season and George Brett's 117-game MVP campaign in 1980. Both were having solid but unexceptional seasons through the end of May then flipped the switch in June. Both missed time in September (Brett was out 11 days due to tendinitis in his right hand) for teams that won the AL West. Both will lead the majors in batting average. The difference is that Brett flirted with .400 for most of the second half and posted what remains the highest full-season average since Ted Williams' .406 in 1941 (Tony Gwynn hit .394 in 475 plate appearances in the strike-shortened 1994 season), led the majors in all three slash stats (which has only been done twice since, by the Rockies' Larry Walker in 1999 and by Barry Bonds in 2002, note that Walker played in just 127 games in 1999 and finished 10th in a rather bizarre NL MVP vote), and drove in 118 runs. Then again, Brett also missed a month mid-season due to a torn ligament in his right ankle and played in 13 fewer games than Hamilton has already. Still, Brett's 1980 campaign was one of the signature performances of that era. The same can't be said about what Hamilton did this year, impressive though it was.
1. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (1)
Season Stats: .326/.426/.607</b>, 37 HRs, 111 RBIs, 16 SBs
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' Albert Pujols. It also helps that, despite playing his home games in a hitter's heaven, Votto has been more productive on the road (.349/.452/.641) than at home (.300/.397/.569). Votto is a choice that both old-school voters and sabermatricians can agree on, even if Pujols still holds an edge in some advanced total-production stats.
2. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals (3)
Season Stats: .311/.412/.601, 42 HRs, 116 RBIs, 13 SBs
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.
3. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies (2)
Season Stats: .341/.382/.606, 33 HRs, 114 RBIs, 25 SBs
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.
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