First-quarter awards: AL MVP

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justin morneau trot.jpgSame drill as the NL award. Let’s begin with VORP.
1. Justin Morneau – 28.8
2. Kevin Youkilis – 22.4
3. Robinson Cano – 21.8
4. Doug Fister – 21.7
5. Miguel Cabrera – 21.1
6. Evan Longoria – 20.7
7. Shaun Marcum – 20.3
8. Vernon Wells – 20.2
9. David Price – 19.7
10. Ricky Romero – 19.7
11. Matt Garza – 18.9
12. Ty Wigginton – 18.8
13. John Danks – 18.6
14. Vladimir Guerrero – 18.5
15. Jeff Niemann – 16.7
16. Phil Hughes – 16.2
17. Nelson Cruz – 16.0
18. C.J. Wilson – 16.0
19. Paul Konerko – 15.5
20. Carl Crawford – 15.2
And move right on to RAR
1. Justin Morneau – 30.4
2. Kevin Youkilis – 21.8
3. Robinson Cano – 19.9
4. Evan Longoria – 19.7
5. Vernon Wells – 19.5
6. Carl Crawford – 19.2
7. Alex Rios – 19.2
8. Magglio Ordonez – 19.1
9. Ricky Romero – 17.5
10. Austin Jackson – 16.8
11. Dustin Pedroia – 16.2
12. Shin-Soo Choo – 16.1
13. Miguel Cabrera – 15.7
14. Ben Zobrist – 15.5
15. Franklin Gutierrez – 15.3
16. Francisco Liriano – 14.9
17. Joe Mauer – 14.7
18. Jon Lester – 14.3
19. John Danks – 14.0
20. Alex Rodriguez – 13.8
WARP and RAR are in much better agreement here than in the NL, at least as far as the hitters go. Cabrera is the big change, as the UZR component of RAR rates him poorly.
I agree with RAR that none of the pitchers are seriously in the mix here. RAR actually has Romero as the league’s most valuable pitcher to date, but that’s not taking schedule strength into account and Romero has had it about as easy as any AL pitcher.
Here’s how they rank by OPS:
1. Justin Morneau – .362/.477/.681 – 1158 – 29 RBI
2. Kevin Youkilis – .324/.459/.593 – 1053 – 26 RBI
3. Miguel Cabrera – .340/.428/.603 – 1030 – 38 RBI
4. Paul Konerko – .262/.372/.631 – 1003 – 30 RBI
5. Ty Wigginton – .305/.369/.617 – 986 – 27 RBI
6. Evan Longoria – .323/.389/.589 – 978 – 37 RBI
7. Robinson Cano – .338/.390/.588 – 977 – 28 RBI
8. Vernon Wells – .301/.359/.596 – 955 – 32 RBI
9. Vladimir Guerrero – .342/.372/.551 – 923 – 35 RBI
10. Luke Scott – .283/.348/.575 – 923 – 20 RBI
11. Joe Mauer – .344/.410/.500 – 910 – 20 RBI
12. Jose Bautista – .242/.352/.556 – 907 – 33 RBI
It’s a clean sweep for Morneau. And I agree that he’s the league’s MVP to date. However, I don’t think it’s as overwhelming as RAR or OPS suggest. Morneau’s suddenly stellar walk rate has let to remarkable OBP, but he’s hitting just .273 with a .455 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, which is why he has the rather modest RBI total. He’s 0-for-5 with a walk while hitting with the bases loaded this season.
Compare that to Cabrera, who is hitting .426/.534/.660 with RISP. He’s also 4-for-6 with the bases loaded. There’s the difference in RBI right there. Morneau has one RBI in six plate appearances with the sacks packed. Cabrera has 10 in seven plate appearances.
Youkilis also has fewer RBI, but in his case, it’s much more a matter of an opportunity. He hasn’t had a single plate appearance with the bases loaded. He has, however, hit .303/.510/.606 in 33 at-bats with RISP.
As for the other contenders, Longoria is at .340/.387/.547 with RISP, while Cano is at .326/.392/.581.
I’m not really liking the idea of placing three first basemen in the top three, but I think that’s the best arrangement for now. There’s little evidence that either Longoria or Cano is playing Gold Glove-quality defense at the moment, and Mauer did miss a week earlier this month.
First-quarter AL MVP
1. Morneau
2. Cabrera
3. Youkilis
4. Longoria
5. Cano

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.

Video: Andrelton Simmons makes a heads-up play to catch Carlos Asuaje off first base

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 03:  Andrelton Simmons #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 3, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.