MLB Awards Watch (Cont.)
1. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox (2)
Season Stats: .350/.407/.588, 16 HRs, 74 RBIs
Last Three Weeks: .384/.458/.603, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs
Favoring Gonzalez for the AL MVP isn't as egregious an error as favoring Fielder in the NL. Gonzalez is an excellent fielder, second in his league in WARP, and while Fenway Park does inflate left-handed batting averages (Gonzalez is hitting .380 at home), it has actually suppressed home runs over the last three years (park factor of 88 for left-handed hitters per James). Rogers Centre, meanwhile has become a launchpad, particularly for right-handers like Jose Bautista (116 park factor for right-handed homers over the last three years, 137 in 2010). Taking that all into account, one can find a way to explain away some of the gap between the two, but the only way to put Gonzalez ahead of Bautista is to give each too much credit (or blame) for their team's performance.
2. Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays (1)
Season Stats: .331/.471/.688, 27 HRs, 56 RBIs
Last Three Weeks: .309/.413/.647, 6 HRs, 14 RBIs
Bautista took a little break from hitting home runs in June, homering just once in 22 games from May 29 to June 21. That allowed the MVP momentum to shift to Gonzalez, but Bautista still reached base 40 percent of the time during his power outage, and has since hit six home runs in his last 11 games, including one in each of the last three, batting .368/.478/.947 over that stretch with 10 of his 14 hits going for extra bases. An excellent right fielder, he remains the most valuable player in either league -- he's worth more than two wins more than Gonzalez, and 1.5 more than Kemp -- according to WARP, and a win and a half more than Kemp, though much of that advantage is comprised of the two outfielders' disparate performances in the field.
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (4)
Season Stats: .328/.446/.572, 17 HRs, 56 RBIs
Last Three Weeks: .375/.474/.609, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs
Cabrera is having a season equal to and possibly even better than last year, when I argued that he should have been the American League MVP, but his competition this year is far tougher. By WARP, Cabrera hasn't even been the most valuable regular on the Tigers, which is a staggering thought and one in which adjustments for position play a very large role. That's the rub with Cabrera; he's somewhere between useless and downright harmful outside of the batters box, which is why team's can't wait to walk him (he leads the majors with 14 intentional passes). At the plate, only Bautista and Kemp have been more valuable this season.
4. Curtis Granderson, CF, Yankees (3)
Season Stats: .273/.366/.572, 22 HRs, 58 RBIs, 15 SBs
Last Three Weeks: .250/.413/.417, 2 HRs, 11 RBIs, 5 SBs
Many expected a home run spike from Granderson last year, when he moved from lefty-stifling Comerica Park to the new Yankee Stadium, which is the best home-run hitting park for left-handed hitters in the major leagues. That makes his power outburst this season all the more impressive as it hasn't been a product of his home park. Granderson has homered once every 16 plate appearances at home and once every 16.5 plate appearances on the road. He has been less impressive on the bases, where he was caught five times in 11 steal attempts in June, putting his season stolen base rate in the red. That was likely a fluke, however. Granderson's career steal rate before this season was 81 percent and he stole eight of 10 bags (80 percent, of course) in April and May combined. Indeed, he has not been caught in his last five steal attempts.
5. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians (5)
Season Stats: .291/.341/.496, 14 HRs, 49 RBIs, 12 SBs
Last Three Weeks: .253/.309/.400, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs, 3 SBs
Despite playing just .370 ball in June, the Indians continue to cling to their lead in the AL Central. Since first ascending to the top of the division on April 7, Cleveland has failed to own at least a share of first place for just five days, nonconsecutive days. Blame the Tigers and White Sox for failing to seize the opportunity the Indians have presented to them, but also credit the Tribe for putting up a win the day after they slipped into second place on three separate occasions. Though Cabrera has slumped with his team, he has clung to the top five in the MVP race in much the same way. The day before my last look at this race, he went 3-for-5 with a double and two stolen bases, and despite his weak three-week performance above and an 0-for-4, three-strikeout day on Sunday, he has hit .300/.323/.567 with both of those home runs and six of those seven RBIs over his last seven games.
Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (HM)
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox (HM)
Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees (N/A)
Adjusting for position and ballpark take the sting out of the superficially impressive numbers from this trio, none of whom ranked in the top 19 in the AL in WARP heading into Sunday's action. It's not that they've not been tremendously valuable, but Teixeira's production has been dragged down by bad luck on balls in play (.213 BABIP on the season, resulting in an uncharacteristic .243 average), Ortiz doesn't play defense, which, if history is a guide, gives him no chance of winning this award, and Konerko plays his home games in the most welcoming environment for right-handed sluggers in baseball (right-handed home run park factor for the last three years: 145; for 2010: 179!).
Alex Avila, C, Tigers (HM): Adjustments for position and defensive performance (two separate things) put Avila ahead of Miguel Cabrera in WARP, and if you throw in an adjustment for his home park, he's effectively tied with McCann as the most valuable catcher in baseball to this point in the season. Not bad for a sophomore who hit .228/.316/.340 last year.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Red Sox (HM): Range-based defensive metrics were sour enough on Ellsbury in 2009 that the Red Sox tried to move him to left field last year only to watch him take up residence on the disabled list. This year, with Carl Crawford installed in left, Ellsbury has been given another shot at center and suddenly the defensive metrics love him. Whether or not that has been the result of an actual improvement in his play or the variability and unreliability inherent in those systems is hard to say (Ellsbury graded out well in center before 2009, so I'm guessing it's more the latter), but by adding power and "improving" his defense, Ellsbury has come back from a season lost to injury to become one of the most valuable players in the league and far and away Boston's best outfielder in 2011.
OFF THE LIST: Carlos Quentin (HM)