MVP watch (cont.)
1. Josh Hamilton, CF, Rangers
Season Stats: .395/.438/.744, 9 HR, 25 RBIs
Only Kemp has had a higher batting average, slugging percentage or home run total than Hamilton thus far this season. Hamilton hasn't played since coming out of Sunday's game with a stiff back, but he started every game up to that point, and the Rangers hope to have him back in the lineup on Friday.
2. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Season Stats: .385/.425/.567, 4 HR, 13 RBIs
Jeter hit .267/.336/.357 over 1,032 plate appearances from Opening Day 2010 until landing on the disabled list with a calf strain last June, looking every bit like a shortstop pushing his 37th birthday. While on the DL, however, he reworked his swing with Gary Denbo, an experienced hitting coach who had been Jeter's first manager in the minor leagues. Since returning to action on July 4 of last year, he has hit .345/.395/.479 in 428 plate appearances. If he can maintain that pace for the remainder of the season, he'll join Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Luke Appling with one of the greatest seasons by a shortstop 38 years old or older in major league history.
3. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
Season Stats: .303/.391/.618, 7 HR, 17 RBIs
The fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft, the switch-hitting Wieters hit .343/.438/.576 in his brief minor league career and was supposed to be a superstar catcher upon arrival in the big leagues in early 2009. Instead, he scuffled through his first two seasons, hitting a solid-but-underwhelming .266/.328/.393. Last year, he picked up the pace a bit, knocking 22 homers, making his first All-Star team and winning his first Gold Glove. Now, with his 26th birthday fast approaching, he seems to finally be emerging as the player he was projected to be, throwing out 37 percent of opposing basestealers while hitting for average with power and patience.
4. Jered Weaver, SP, Angels
Season Stats: 4-0, 1.61 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 6.43 K/BB
Weaver has allowed a run in just two of his six starts this season while pitching at least six innings each time out and averaging more than 7 1/3 innings per start. He has walked more than one man only once in those six starts, has had more strikeouts than innings pitched in four of the six and has allowed just two home runs. Oh yeah, he also threw a dominant no-hitter on Wednesday night in which he struck out nine against just one walk. That was his second complete game of the season, and he was almost as good in his first start of the year, when he allowed four hits but walked none against 10 strikeouts over eight innings, needing only 97 pitches to do so.
5. Jake Peavy, SP, White Sox
Season Stats: 3-1, 1.67 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 6.60 K/BB
Peavy has allowed one run in 18 innings over his last two starts and over his last three has posted this line: 25 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 20 K. All five of his starts this season have been quality, he has allowed just one home run, and he seems to be getting better each time out. I know I said above that I would try to include only one pitcher per league this early in the season, but Peavy and Weaver are impossible to separate right now.
Curtis Granderson, CF, Yankees: Granderson, who is tied with Hamilton for the AL lead in home runs with nine, is off to a better start than he was a year ago, when he finished fourth in the MVP voting. The biggest change thus far is that he's getting on base much more often (.389 OBP compared to .364 last year), more than doubling his walk total through his first 24 games of last year.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: Ortiz is off to a monster start, hitting .391/.441/.707 with six homers and 21 RBIs and ranking in the top four in the majors in all three slash stats and leading the AL in on-base percentage. If he wasn't a designated hitter, he'd be right behind Hamilton, but his lack of defensive contributions hurts his candidacy significantly.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays: Longoria is on the disabled list with a hamstring tear, but thus far he has only missed two games, and what he has done to this point in the season (.329/.433/.561, 4 homers, 19 RBIs) combined with his usual contributions in the field, demands inclusion here. His injury, though, does knock him down a few spots.
Josh Willingham, LF, Twins: Willingham has gone 15-for-32 with eight extra-base hits, three of them homers, in nine games at Target Field this year, but has scuffled on the road. With the A's in 2011, he posted an OPS 124 points higher at the Oakland Coliseum than on the road. It just goes to show that some players just prefer to hit at home no matter where that might be, something that should soften the criticism of Carlos Gonzalez's road numbers. Willingham hit .333/.447/.667 with five home runs through his first 18 games, missed the next two for the birth of his son, then came back and went 3-for-5 with a double and a triple. I'm not sure even Kemp had a better month than that.
Edwin Encarnacion, DH, Blue Jays: Yes, he's a DH, but he can and has spotted at the infield corners (one start at third base and five at first), is tied for the league lead in homers with nine and has stolen four bases in five attempts. Thus, it's hard to keep Encarnacion and his .320/.376/.680 line off this list in favor of an unexceptional defensive first baseman like Paul Konerko, even though Konerko's .418 OBP is significantly higher.