11/17/08 8:20 PM EST
AL MVP candidates span spectrum
K-Rod could seal spot in history but Pedroia, Morneau loom large
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
The guy with the monster numbers put them up for a team that finished under .500. Another slugger played for a team that just missed the postseason.One otherwise persuasive choice injured himself in the stretch drive, just when his team needed him most -- certainly not a valuable act.
Two other candidates play for the same team, raising the possibility of a split in the voting.
Then there is the debate of whether a relief pitcher should even be considered for an MVP.
Ted Abernathy, a submarine-style right-hander for the Cubs, posted MLB's first 30-save season in 1965; in the ensuing 43 seasons, 86 MVP Awards have been presented -- three of them to closers, the last being Oakland's Dennis Eckersley in 1992.Francisco Rodriguez could make it four when Baseball Writers' Association of America voting is announced Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET. K-Rod paved the Angels' stairway to heaven, being the prime piece in their championship puzzle. Besides, with his workload, he virtually met the everyday status toward which MVP voters are usually biased. He is a contender, but hardly a cinch, even after shattering the all-time record for saves in a season. When the White Sox's Bobby Thigpen set the mark of 57 in 1990, he was fifth in the MVP balloting, without a first-place vote. How is the MVP resume of Mariano Rivera, a perennial force for perennial champs? The highest he has ever finished in the voting is ninth; he has never gotten a single first-place vote. And there are position players to consider. Dustin Pedroia was the spark and Kevin Youkilis a big part of the soul of a Red Sox team that again reached the postseason. Justin Morneau did his best to try to carry the Twins to the wire.
Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton's fable seeks the perfect ending, Carlos Quentin still made a lasting impression.THE FAVORITES
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: If you tune into Red Sox Nation, you quickly get the idea that the little second baseman is the citizenry's choice as the team nominee. Every Boston surge paralleled his streaks, which tended to be white-hot.For instance: Pedroia went 21-for-34 (a .618 average) from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3 while Boston was going 6-2 to stay on the Rays' heels. He scored 118 runs -- 20 more than any teammate -- which doesn't come as a surprise considering he reached base 270 times in 157 games. And he fell .002 percentage points shy of a batting title.
Justin Morneau, Twins: Belying his team's name, Morneau was virtually an only child in Minnesota's offense. His 129 RBIs were 44 more than any teammate's, and he also hit 21 percent of a banjo-hitting lineup's home runs.Morneau duplicated the numbers that did earn him the 2006 MVP Award. There is one significant difference between the seasons, however: Two years ago, he was surrounded by Torii Hunter and a healthy Michael Cuddyer, protection he didn't have this time -- making this production even more impressive. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels: K-Rod had a hand -- or, rather, a right arm -- in almost two out of every three Angels wins. His record of 62 saves wasn't the result of greater use -- he appeared in a similar number of games each of the prior four seasons. Rather, as manager Mike Scioscia pointed out, it was owed to the amazing number of situations begging for his specialty that presented themselves. Rodriguez's response to those repeated challenges was in the numbers. The Angels won 63 games by one or two runs; K-Rod saved 51 of them, and he picked up the victory in two others. No one else in the league, obviously, directly affected as many team wins.
THE CONTENDERJosh Hamilton, Rangers: He brought a smile to everyone's face, and he would have been excused for working on his acceptance speech as July turned into August. He was still on better than an RBI-per-game pace, the main man behind the resurgent Rangers, rallying them from the worst 24-game start in club history. Both man and team then were yanked down to earth -- in Hamilton's case, the attrition of a long season not surprising on someone who for years had played no ball while tackling bigger foes. "My toes don't hurt," he noted in early September, focusing on the bright side. In 57 games after July 26, Hamilton drove in only 27 runs. But, given his head start, he still led the league in RBIs with 130. So even if he no longer is the MVP-elect, he remains a hot candidate. THE DARK HORSES Carlos Quentin, White Sox: One of the early front-runners found himself in an odd situation, due to the self-inflicted wrist fracture borne of an instant of pique. Did the White Sox holding onto the AL Central lead without Quentin devalue his value? So his best chance at MVP would've come from the Sox fading without his bat -- something nobody wanted. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox: Youkilis was Boston's third different RBI leader in three seasons (following Mike Lowell and David Ortiz), a testament to the team's balance. If intangibles entered the formula, his intensity would gain him extra votes. But the numbers themselves aren't glossy enough to swing the election in his favor. The Field: Grady Sizemore, Indians; Alex Rodriguez, Yankees; Joe Nathan and Joe Mauer, Twins; Vladimir Guerrero, Angels.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.