It’s been five years since the Oakland Athletics had a legitimate American League Most Valuable Player Award candidate, as they haven’t been able to develop a great player through their farm system or acquire one (via trade or free agency) since Frank Thomas came to town in 2006.
So once again, we have to turn our eyes nationwide to find the AL MVP, and he’s in the same town as AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
And it isn’t Verlander himself.
It’s hard to justify giving a pitcher the Most Valuable Player award when he doesn’t take the field every day. That’s what the Cy Young Award is for, too: rewarding pitching excellence.
Unless there is a dearth of legitimate hitting candidates for the MVP award, a pitcher shouldn’t really be a serious consideration.
That isn’t the case in 2011: in the AL’s top ten for OPS this past season, there are eight hitters who played for teams that were in playoff contention until the final day of the season.
And like the National League Cy Young debate, it’s hard to justify giving an award to a player on a team that finished at .500 and 16 games out of first place — so AL OPS-leader Jose Bautista’s fine season won’t make the grade for this award.
Three Boston Red Sox players worth considering basically cancel each other out — it’s hard to argue “most value” when there’s three studs carrying the load for the team, so Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury come up short of the award.
New York’s Curtis Granderson — with his .262 batting average — also doesn’t quite cut it. Despite 21st-century attempts to minimize certain traditional statistical measurements, this is still a game where getting a hit matters the most. And while Granderson rapped enough hits to lead the league in RBI, a low batting average doesn’t scream “value”.
In the end, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera deserves the AL MVP Award for his somewhat typically-amazing season: 30 HRs, 105 RBI, .344 average, 1.033 OPS, etc. Leading his team — with an assist from Verlander, of course — to a division title for the first time since 1987 helps a little, too.
And perhaps this is also a “lifetime achievement” award for Cabrera, as is he is now the AL equivalent of Albert Pujols. His seasonal averages over a nine-year career are .317, 31 HR and 109 RBI — which includes his half-season in 2003 when he was a rookie.
Yet he’s never won an MVP Award, although he was second in the balloting last year.
This year, it should be his award — and no one else’s.