Last season Justin Verlander took home the American League Cy Young Award but also the MVP, becoming the first pitcher to be named AL most valuable player since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986. I don’t have any pitchers in my top 5 candidates for the first half of 2012 but here’s who I do have.
5. David Ortiz (BOS): .313 avg, 22 HR, 56 RBI, 62 runs
Ortiz rarely plays the field, only 7 games so far this season at first base, but what he’s meant to Boston’s lineup to this point can’t be understated. With Carl Crawford yet to play single game this season, Jacoby Ellsbury being out since the middle of April with a right shoulder injury, Adrian Gonzalez struggling a bit early on, and Dustin Pedroia playing at less than 100% it seems like the majority of the season Ortiz has been a mainstay for manager Bobby Valentine. He leads the Red Sox in batting average, home runs, RBI, runs scored, and is trailing Adrian Gonzalez for the team lead in hits by one. Ortiz’s .609 slugging percentage is second in the AL to Josh Hamilton’s .646. Boston is in fourth place in the AL East at 43-42 but without Ortiz’s production they would surely be in last place as they’re only one game up on the Blue Jays for the the cellar.
4. Austin Jackson (DET): .335 avg, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 53 runs, 7 SB
When you glance at Jim Leyland’s ideal lineup the names that jump out are Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, and rightfully so for their track records. But while most are paying attention to them Jackson has quietly had a big first half. He’s second in the AL in batting average and second in on base percentage, ideal for the leadoff hitter of an offense with potent bats behind him. Jackson is also eighth in slugging percentage (.552), above familiar household names such as Jose Bautista, Paul Konerko, Adrian Beltre, Curtis Granderson, and Prince Fielder. His OPS of .964 is third in league, higher than anyone not named Josh Hamilton or David Ortiz. It’s worth noting again that these numbers are from a leadoff hitter. The fact that he’s only played in 63 of Detroit’s 85 games may hurt him in the eyes of some but add in that he’s played a flawless center field (0 errors in 149 chances) and he’s definitely worthy of a spot in the top 5.
3. Josh Hamilton (TEX): .313 avg, 27 HR, 75 RBI, 54 runs, 6 SB
Hamilton started off the season so hot that there was nowhere else to go but down and he’s done just that over the last month or so, coinciding with why I have him third at the moment. He’s still tied for the ML lead in home runs, has the most RBI in the big leagues, and leads the AL in slugging and OPS but those are largely due to his April and May numbers. 21 of his 27 homers came in those two months as did 57 of his RBI. In June Hamilton hit just .223 in 25 games and is around that same mark (.222) so far in July. In April and May he struck out a combined 39 times. He struck out 35 times in June. Baseball is a long season and Hamilton is a good enough hitter to catch fire at any point and produce another month resembling April or May. But if he doesn’t, average months from here on out should be enough to see to it he remains in the top 5 for the remainder of the season.
2. Mike Trout (LAA): .343 avg, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 56 runs, 26 SB
Like Austin Jackson, Trout has played in 63 games so far. He’s first in the AL in batting average, fifth in on base percentage (.399), seventh in slugging (.555), fifth in OPS (.954), and first in steals. It’s also worth noting that he’s doing this at 20-years old and started the season in the minor leagues. Trout played his first game this season on April 28. Prior to that the Angels were 6-14. Since then they’ve gone 41-24. Not including April, Trout’s averages by month are .324, .372, and .409. It’s probably no coincidence that Albert Pujols had just 4 RBI in April, but registered 24 in May and 19 in June. Having a good leadoff hitter (where Trout has hit in 62 of his 63 games) works wonders for the rest of the lineup and the Angels have one of the better ones in the game at the moment.
1. Robinson Cano (NYY): .314 avg, 20 HR, 51 RBI, 57 runs
Cano suffered through a pretty dismal April but since then has resembled the hitter we’ve grown accustomed to over the last seven years. He’s tied for fourth in the league in runs, tied for third in hits (103), tied for third in doubles (25), tied for sixth in home runs, fourth in slugging, and sixth in OPS (.953). Cano has almost picked up where Josh Hamilton left off. The Yankees second baseman hit .340 with 21 runs, 11 HR, and 21 RBI in 27 June games. He’s continued thus far in July, hitting .379 with 7 RBI through 7 games. Another thing you get with Cano that sometimes goes unnoticed is durability. He’s appeared in all 84 of the Yankees’ games to this point and in addition to being a Silver Slugger Award candidate he also plays Gold Glove quality defense. There aren’t many sure things in MLB but Robinson Cano is definitely one of them.