Most Valuable Player watch (cont.)
1. Josh Hamilton, CF, Rangers (1)
Season Stats: .330/.390/.674, 22 HR, 62 RBI, 6 SB
Last Three Weeks: .222/.300/.486, 4 HR, 13 RBI
Hamilton had a huge lead in this race three weeks ago, but he has hit just .227/.294/.443 over his last 25 games. We're 13 games into June and he has yet to have a multi-hit game this month, has hit just one home run and has struck out 16 times (a high rate for a player who hasn't hit triple-digits in strikeouts since 2008) with at least one K in 12 of those 13 games. He's actually third in the league in OPS+ now, behind the next two men on this list, and Adam Dunn has caught him in home runs. The fact that he plays a bit more than half his games in centerfield is actually a large part of what's keeping him in first place at this point. If he doesn't perk up soon, he could be looking up at a new leader when I return to this award in three weeks.
2. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (2)
Season Stats: .364/.441/.598, 12 HR, 35 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .323/.391/.516, 3 HR, 10 RBI
Konerko went into a small slump after having a 14-game hitting streak snapped on May 29, going 1-for-16 over four games. However, since having a bone chip removed from his left wrist in early June, a procedure which only caused him to miss three games, he has gone 9-for-26 (.346) with multiple hits in three of seven games and now leads the majors in batting average while retaining his AL lead in on-base percentage.
3. Mark Trumbo, OF, Angels (N/A)
Season Stats: .328/.385/.622, 14 HR, 39 RBI, 4 SB
Last Three Weeks: .333/.378/.733, 8 HR, 20 RBI
The Rookie of the Year runner-up last season, the 26-year-old Trumbo was evicted from first base when the Angels signed Albert Pujols and opened the season in a bench role that found Los Angeles trying to shoehorn him into a job-share at third base. It's ironic, then, that Trumbo is making an appearance on this list before the three-time NL MVP and perennial contender Pujols.
Trumbo hit pretty well in his part-time role in April, starting 14 of the Angels' 22 games, after which the Angels' cluster of corner men and designated hitters was thinned out by the release of Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter's leave of absence to attend to a personal matter and Vernon Wells' thumb injury. The Angels haven't asked Trumbo to play third base since May 3, and since May 5, he has started all but one of their 37 games, most of them in an outfield corner, and hit .348/.404/.674 with 11 home runs and 29 RBIs.
4. Adam Jones, CF, Orioles (4)
Season Stats: .306/.353/.580, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 9 SB
Last Three Weeks: .292/.342/.528, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 3 SB
Jones has been caught stealing four times in his 13 attempts (69 percent success) and is an average at best centerfielder, so temper whatever extra value you're tempted to attribute to him for his speed or fielding. Jones does get extra credit for being a centerfielder, though, even if he's not an especially good one. A centerfielder who hits .300 with 40-homer power (Jones is on pace for 46) is a tremendous thing. In a way, what Jones has done this year is comparable to what Curtis Granderson, another centerfielder considered below average by advanced fielding metrics, did last year. Granderson hit 41 homers with a .364 on-base percentage, stole 25 bases at a 71 percent success rate and finished fourth in the MVP voting. That Jones is fourth on this list is a coincidence, but not an inappropriate one.
5. Chris Sale, SP, White Sox (N/A)
Season Stats: 8-2, 2.05 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 4.22 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 1 CG
Last Four Starts: 4-0, 0.86 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 6.00 K/BB, 7.8 IP/GS, 1 CG
Sale was 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA after five starts this season when he reported some tenderness in his elbow. The White Sox flipped out and pulled him from the rotation, sending him to the bullpen to be the team's new closer and saying he'd remain a relief pitcher, the role he filled as a sophomore last year, for the rest of the season. Sale blew a save in an eighth-inning appearance before the team bothered to get an MRI on his elbow, and when the MRI came back clean they capitulated and put Sale back in the rotation. Since then, Sale has gone 5-1 with a 1.51 ERA in six starts and emerged as the best pitcher in the American League, a development in keeping with his having been the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft and a major leaguer later that year.
Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers (HM): One could argue that Verlander has been more valuable than Sale to this point in the season. Sale's ERA is more than a half-run lower, but Verlander's peripherals are roughly equal or better, and he leads the majors in innings pitched (101 2/3), strikeouts (103) and complete games (3), and tops the AL in innings per start (7.26, just behind Cain's major league best 7.31). Including unearned runs, however, swells Verlander's Run Average all the way up to 3.01, compared to Sale's 2.17. That's a big gap, particularly with Sale pitching better of late (Verlander has a 4.10 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over his last four starts).
Josh Willingham, LF, Twins (HM): Willingham, who ranks as one of the top 20 hitters in baseball since the start of the 2009 season according to OPS+, is hitting .333/.440/.705 at Target Field this year. He's not quite the MVP, but he deserves some sort of award for that.
Mike Trout, OF, Angels (N/A): Trout, who leads my Rookie of the Year ranking, has arguably been the best player in the American League since May 5, when he hit his first major league home run, but he missed most of April, and it's still too early to put a player who went 1-for-11 in the first month of the season in the top five. If Trout keeps up his pace, however, he could well become just the third rookie ever to win the MVP award (after Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki). After all, just two years ago Josh Hamilton won the award despite missing nearly all of September, playing just five games after August, so there's recent precedent for the award going to a player who missed a month of the season.
Matt Joyce, RF, Rays (N/A): Three weeks ago, I kept Joyce off this list because he was being used as a platoon player by Rays manager Joe Maddon, but he has since shaken off that platoon, starting six of the Rays last nine games against a lefthanded starting pitcher. Joyce is now hitting a solid .263/.373/.404 in 68 plate appearances against lefties this season to go with his .300/.410/.600 line against righties and thus cracks my MVP rankings for the second time in as many years.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (N/A): Cano got off to a slow start this year, but has hit .326/.385/.659 with 10 home runs and 26 RBIs since May 6, bringing his season line up near what he did a year ago, when he finished sixth in the MVP voting.
Off the list: Austin Jackson (3), Asdrubal Cabrera (5), Derek Jeter (HM), Curtis Granderson (HM), Jake Peavy (HM)