Posted: Thursday May 24, 2012 11:41AM ; Updated: Thursday May 24, 2012 11:41AM
Cliff Corcoran

MVP awards watch (cont.)

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American League

Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton's defense has been as impressive as his offense at times.
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

1. Josh Hamilton, CF, Rangers (1)

Season Stats: .379/.429/.758, 18 HR, 49 RBI, 4 SB

Last Three Weeks: .360/.420/.773, 9 HR, 24 RBI

Matt who?

Hamilton won the 2010 AL MVP award by hitting .410/.461/.723 with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs over a span of three months (June through August) and 343 plate appearances, so his performance this season has a precedent. Thus far, he has come to the plate 184 times in 2012, putting him just over half way to that prior accomplishment in terms of sustaining a seemingly unsustainable hot streak, and he has started to cool off of late, going 11 games without a home run and hitting just .308/.348/.385 over that span (yes, an empty .308 average counts as a slump for Hamilton this season).

That might be nitpicking, though. Hamilton is on pace for 65 home runs, 176 RBIs, 122 runs scored, and 220 hits. He won't reach those numbers, but he has a huge lead in this race. If he can stay reasonably healthy -- he missed a month of 2010 and still claimed the award -- he's going to be hard to beat.

2. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (N/A)

Season Stats: .381/.462/.633, 9 HR, 25 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .424/.521/.644, 4 HR, 9 RBI

Konerko has failed to reach base in just two of his 41 games this season and has reached in his last 18 straight. Last Friday, he was hit near the left eye by a Jeff Samardzija pitch. He missed just two games and has gone 5-for-8 with a double and a home run since his return. He's unstoppable. He's also of little to no value in the field or on the bases, which makes the gap between himself and Hamilton larger than it might otherwise appear.

3. Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers (N/A)

Season Stats: .331/.414/.544, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 29 R, 6 SB

Last Three Weeks: .333/.378/.485, 1 HR, 3 RBI

Jackson put up numbers like these for a half season in High-A ball in 2007, but hasn't done anything like it since. He struck out 351 times in his first two major league seasons, but so far this year, his strikeout rate is down below the league average and his walk rate has shot up, giving him a strong 1.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio, compared to 3.41 the last two years.

His power numbers are also way up. Jackson hit just four home runs in 2010 and 10 last year and had a combined .116 isolated slugging over those two seasons. This year, his ISO is .213. Other than the fact that he continues to have a high-rate of success on balls in play, he's been a completely different hitter this year, and he's done it while continuing to be an elite defensive centerfielder and a high-percentage base stealer (he has yet to be caught this season). The big question, then, is if the 25-year-old can keep it up. Unfortunately, the abdominal strain he suffered last Wednesday is preventing us from finding out for the moment.

4. Adam Jones, CF, Orioles (N/A)

Season Stats: .311/.357/.601, 14 HR, 29 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .306/.352/.624, 8 HR, 17 RBI

If Jackson is for real, the Tigers will get to enjoy that production for three more team-controlled seasons, albeit at arbitration prices. If Jones, who finally seems to have made the leap at age 26, is for real, the Orioles will need to work out an extension to keep him, as he's due to become a free agent after the 2013 season. Like the catchers on my NL list above, the big change in Jones's game this season has been his power. Jones' ISO in his first four seasons with the Orioles was .164. This year it's a staggering .289. Nearly one in of every four of his fly balls has left the park, which seems unsustainable.

5. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians (N/A)

Season Stats: .308/.406/.507, 5 HR, 19 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .325/.435/.532, 3 HR, 13 RBI

Cabrera experienced a huge spike in his power numbers last year, and while we've all been watching to see if he could sustain that power this year (which he has), he has gone and radically improved his strikeout and walk rates, practically inverting that aspect of his game from a 2.70 K/BB ratio a year ago (3.05 if you take out his five intentional passes) to a 0.68 K/BB ratio this year (0.72 without his one intentional walk). Despite his ability to make the highlight reels, he's still not grading out particularly well in the field according to the advanced metrics, but all that does is make the 26-year-old look like prime-era Derek Jeter with fewer strikeouts and the ability to switch-hit. Wow.

Honorable Mention

Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers (N/A): Last year's MVP and pitching triple crown winner again leads the league in ERA and strikeouts and could move into a tie for the league lead in wins with a victory over Cabrera's Indians Thursday afternoon. He's also leading the majors in WHIP once again and averaging more than 7 1/3 innings per start, having completed two of his first nine.

Josh Willingham, LF, Twins (HM): Willingham has reached base in all but three of his games this season and has rebounded nicely from the 0-for-14 slump that started his May.

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (2): Jeter has cooled off considerably in the last three weeks, particularly in the power department. His double on Wednesday night was his first extra-base hit since May 6. In the 14 games in between, he hit .224/.262/.224.

Curtis Granderson, CF, Yankees (HM): Penalizing Adam Dunn and David Ortiz for being designated hitters and Matt Joyce for being a platoon player makes room for Granderson, who is essentially replicating his 2011 season, just without the stolen bases (he has just one in three attempts).

Jake Peavy, SP, White Sox (5): Peavy is in the top three in the league in ERA and WHIP, has averaged more than seven innings per start and after nine turns is tied for the major league lead with eight quality starts.

Off the list: Matt Wieters (3), Jered Weaver (4), David Ortiz (HM), Evan Longoria (HM), Edwin Encarnacion (HM)

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