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Albert Chen
September 04, 2006
Value Judgment 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).
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September 04, 2006

Baseball

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Value Judgment
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 MVP."

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."

MANAGER JOE GIRARDI

Is He a Fish Out of Water?

Marlins manager 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 Baseball Prospectus

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.

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