Awards Watch: Most Valuable Player (cont.)
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)
Season Stats: .340/.403/.595, 22 HR, 93 R, 38 SB
Last Three Weeks: .274/.360/.548, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 7 SB
Despite missing nearly all of April, Trout leads the majors in stolen bases and runs scored, leads the AL in batting average and is second in the league in slugging percentage behind the injured David Ortiz. His bat has finally started to cool a bit of late, as he's just 8-for-32 (.250) over his last eight games, but the power surge that he experienced in July continues, with three of those eight hits being home runs. Trout went deep eight times in his first 258 plate appearances this year, a rate of roughly one home run every 32 trips, but has 14 more home runs in his last 179 PA, a rate of roughly one every 13 PA. The latter is a 50-homer pace over a full season of 650 plate appearances.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers (4)
Season Stats: .327/.388/.585, 30 HR, 103 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .321/.391/.603, 6 HR, 21 RBI
Cabrera drove in his 100th run of the season on Tuesday and hit his 30th home run on Wednesday. He has now reached both of those totals in each of the last six seasons and eight of his nine full major league campaigns, missing only the home run total in the exception. Cabrera has compiled nearly half of his 30 home runs and 100 RBIs (14 and 45, respectively) since June 25, hitting .368/.439/.678 over that span, which suggests that he's finally comfortable over at third base.
3. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (2)
Season Stats: .311/.372/.551, 25 HR, 68 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .268/.350/.437, 3 HR, 12 RBI
Cano has blown hot and cold over the last three weeks. He went three games without a hit for the first time all season July 28 to 30, followed that by hitting .400/.467/.625 over his next 10 games, but has just one hit in his last four games entering Thursday's action and sat out on Wednesday with a stiff neck.
4. Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers (4)
Season Stats: 12-7, 2.46 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 4.24 K/BB, <b><i>7.3 IP/GS, 6 CG, 1 SHO, 170 ERA+
Last Four Starts: 1-2, 2.67 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 4.57 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 1 CG
The defending American League Most Valuable Player leads the league in adjusted ERA+ and innings per start, which means no other pitcher in the league has pitched deeper into games or done a better job of preventing runs (even though Verlander is second in traditional ERA to Jered Weaver's 2.22). There's not much more that you can ask from a starting pitcher, though Verlander is also second in the majors in WHIP (to Weaver), and second in the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (to Chris Sale). Verlander is having a season that is almost identical to his MVP-winning campaign of a year ago, but he's unlikely to win the award again because he has far more competition, both from the other hitters on this list, and, perhaps more significantly with regard to his ability to stand out as an MVP candidate, the other pitchers.
5. Josh Hamilton, CF, Rangers (N/A)
Season Stats: .291/.358/.595, 34 HR, 101 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .310/.367/.634, 6 HR, 20 RBI
Hamilton slumped so badly in June and July that he went from leading this list for most of the season to falling off it entirely three weeks ago. However, since coming through with three hits, including a double and a home run, against the Angels on July 30, he has hit .338/.386/.692 with six home runs, including two against the Yankees Wednesday night. Curiously, his turn-around came soon after he made cryptic comments to the press about struggling with his "obedience to God," which he later revealed to be about his struggles quitting chewing tobacco.
The American League honorable mentions this week are dominated by starting pitchers. Of course, Awards Watch will take a look at the Cy Young race next week, so I'll be brief here.
Jered Weaver, SP, Angels (NA): Leads the league in wins (15), ERA (2.22), and WHIP (0.92), just a tick behind Verlander in ERA+ (169), but well behind him in innings. Shut out the A's two starts ago.
Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners (NA): Leads the majors in innings (180) and shutouts (4). Threw a perfect game against the Rays on Wednesday afternoon, his second shutout in his last three turns. Is 9-3 with a 1.56 ERA over his last dozen starts.
Chris Sale, SP, White Sox (HM): Is second in the league in wins (14) and just a tick behind Weaver in ERA+ (168). Leads the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.26). Struck out 18 men against no walks in his last two starts.
David Price, SP, Rays (HM): Tied with Weaver for league lead in wins, is 6-0 with a 1.68 ERA over his last nine starts, struck out 44 men in 35 1/3 innings in July.
Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers: Quick, which of the following slash lines is Prince Fielder's and which is Austin Jackson's?
Fielder is coming on strong, hitting .367/.484/.653 in July, but a slick-fielding center fielder who can hit like Prince Fielder is a better MVP candidate than Fielder himself.
Off the list: Edwin Encarnacion (5), Mark Trumbo (HM), Josh Willingham (HM), David Ortiz (HM)