The race for this year's American League MVP is wide open--and a few teams have
more than one worthy candidate
How odd is this year's race for the American League's Most Valuable Player? The
Tigers own the league's best record and yet don't field a single player worthy
of mention in the MVP discussion. The Indians' Travis Hafner is the league's
top slugger (he leads in OPS and ranks second in slugging percentage, homers
and RBIs), but the unsung DH probably won't break the top five in voting.
Strangest of all in this wide-open race: Each of the presumptive front-runners
for the award-- Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Red Sox
DH David Ortiz and White Sox DH Jim Thome--has a teammate who might be more
deserving of the honor. Here's why (all stats through Sunday).
David Ortiz (.287
average, 47 home runs, 121 RBIs, .400 on-base percentage, .633 slugging
percentage) versus Manny Ramirez (.326, 34, 100, .442, .628)
Ortiz may lead the majors in highlight-reel hits, but Ramirez leads his club in
on-base percentage and ranks second in slugging percentage. And Ramirez is
actually better in the clutch. He is better than Ortiz with runners on base
(.332 average and a .630 slugging percentage for Manny to .289 and .568 for
Papi), with runners in scoring position (.325, .617 to .286, .420), and with
runners in scoring position with two outs (.365, .712 to .217, .434). Even
though opposing teams give Ortiz, who bats in front of Ramirez, better pitches
to hit, Ramirez has still put up monster numbers as the cleanup batter despite
little protection: Boston's number 5 hitters are second to last in the majors
in average (.236) and last in homers (10) and slugging percentage (.357).
Joe Mauer (.356,
10, 73, .434, .514) versus Justin Morneau (.319, 32, 110, .372, .586)
Mauer deserves the attention because of the position he plays--the 23-year-old,
who is poised to become the first AL catcher to win a batting title, masterly
handles a young staff. However, his best friend on the team, Morneau, is the
fearsome power threat the Twins have sorely lacked over the last two decades.
On pace to become only the 10th player in the last 50 years to hit .320 with 40
home runs and 140 RBIs, the 25-year-old first baseman is the AL's leader in
two-out RBIs and Minnesota's first 30-home-run hitter since 1987. "If it
wasn't for Morneau, we wouldn't be in it," says centerfielder Torii Hunter,
whose Twins were the wild-card leaders at week's end. " Morneau's by far our
Derek Jeter (.337,
12, 81, .413, .480) versus Johnny Damon (.300, 22, 73, .372, .518)
With the Yankees in control of the AL East, Jeter has a good chance to earn his
first MVP--though the shortstop had better offensive seasons in '99 and 2000.
Jeter has played Gold Glove defense at a premium position, but the more
valuable player in the Bronx has been Damon. In the season's second half the
first-year Yankee outhomered (11 to seven) and outslugged (.611 to .514) Jeter.
Damon, who went 10 for 23 with eight RBIs in the Yankees' sweep of the Red Sox
two weeks ago, has also been a huge upgrade defensively in centerfield.
"He's getting to balls that a lot of people wouldn't get to," Yankees
starter Mike Mussina told the New York Daily News in June.
Jim Thome (.294,
36, 91, .413, .615) versus Jermaine Dye (.326, 38, 102, .391, .649)
Thome is baseball's comeback player of the year. Says an AL executive,
"He's taken that team to another level offensively. At the start of the
season nobody knew what to expect from him. But he's been a force." Dye,
however, is stealing Thome's spotlight in the clutch, hitting .309 with a .636
slugging percentage in close and late situations. The rightfielder terrorizes
both righthanders (.311, 26 homers) and lefthanders (.358, 12 homers). Last
year's World Series MVP, Dye has done his damage hitting fifth in Chicago's
order. "I don't want to take anything away from other players," says
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, "but Jeter has people behind him all year
long to protect him. [Dye] has A.J. [Pierzynski] and [Joe] Crede behind him.
The protection we have is good but not great like the other guys have."
Is He a Fish Out
Joe Girardi could win NL manager of the year--and he could also be the first
fired in 2006. Despite fielding the cheapest and youngest team in the majors,
the first-year skipper had led his squad to a 63--66 record through Sunday,
only three games out in the wild-card standings. But Girardi's future in
Florida is unclear after owner Jeffrey Loria refused to say that he wanted the
41-year-old back for next year. "We'll sit down at the end of the season
and figure out the best plan," said Loria, who has clashed with his manager
this season. But where might Girardi go if he is dismissed? Manager Dusty Baker
is not expected to return to the Cubs next season, prompting speculation that
Girardi, a Peoria, Ill., native who played seven seasons with the Cubs, could
be headed to Chicago's North Side.
Extra Mustard by
What makes Marlins
shortstop Hanley Ramirez so attractive so scouts? The 22-year-old rookie has a
well-balanced skill set and is already a member of an elite group of shortstops
who have stolen 40 or more bases and hit 10 or more home runs in a season.
Since World War II, Luis Aparicio (1964), Bert Campaneris (1970), Dave
Concepcion (1974), Rafael Furcal (2005), Barry Larkin (1988 and 1995), Ramirez
(2006), Jose Reyes (2006), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Jimmy Rollins (2001 and
2005) are the only ones to have accomplished that feat. Rollins, the only other
shortstop to achieve those numbers as a rookie, is most comparable to Ramirez.
In his first full year in the majors Rollins had a .274 batting average, 29
doubles, 14 home runs, 46 steals, 48 walks and 108 strikeouts. Ramirez, through
Sunday, was hitting .275 with 29 doubles, 12 home runs, 41 steals, 46 walks and
106 strikeouts. The difference? While Rollins is only 5'8", Ramirez is
6'3" and still growing. That means Ramirez has the potential to develop his
power-hitting ability and join Rodriguez and Larkin as the only shortstops in
the 30-30 club.