2012 midseason awards: AL MVP

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Josh Hamilton was far and away the AL’s best player for two months, but he’s definitely come back to the pack after hitting just .223 with four homers in June. He struck out 35 times last month, nearly matching his total of 39 times from April and May combined. That said, he still leads the AL in OPS by a significant margin:

1.032 – Josh Hamilton (CF Tex): .316/.386/.646, 26 HR, 74 RBI, 6 SB in 288 AB
.997 – David Ortiz (DH Bos): .302/.391/.607 22 HR, 55 RBI, 0 SB in 295 AB
.871 – Austin Jackson (CF Det): .332/.412/.559, 9 HR, 37 RBI, 7 SB in 238 AB
.960 – Robinson Cano (2B NYY): .316/.375/.585, 20 HR, 50 RBI, 1 SB in 316 AB
.958 – Mike Trout (CF LAA): .348/.403/.555, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 26 SB in 247 AB
.953 – Mark Trumbo (LF LAA): .306/.355/.597,  20 HR, 55 RBI, 4 SB in 278 AB
.949 – Miguel Cabrera (3B Det): .325/.386/.563, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 3 SB in 332 AB
.948 – Paul Konerko (1B CWS): .332/.408/.540, 14 HR, 42 RBI, 0 SB in 274 AB
.943 – Edwin Encarnacion (DH Tor): .295/.379/.564, 22 HR, 56 RBI, 8 SB in 298 AB
.924 – Josh Willingham (LF Min): .269/.380/.545, 18 HR, 59 RBI, 2 SB in 279 AB

That’s everyone in the league above .900. AL home run leader Jose Bautista is 11th at .897.

No catchers made the list, but Joe Mauer (.330/.418/.458 in 74 games) and A.J. Pierzynski (.287/.335/.524 in 70 games) are having outstanding seasons and may deserve down-ballot votes here.

Here’s Baseball-reference WAR’s AL top 10 to date:

5.0 – Brett Lawrie (3B Tor)
4.5 – Trout
4.3 – Chris Sale (LHP CWS)
4.3 – Justin Verlander (RHP Det)
4.0 – Cano
3.8 – Jake Peavy (RHP CWS)
3.5 – Matt Harrison (LHP Tex)
3.5 – Jackson
3.2 – Jason Kipnis (2B Cle)
3.2 – Hamilton

Obviously, rWAR is just crazy about Lawrie’s defense, giving him credit for 3.6 wins. That seems like a totally unrealistic number to me. It says Lawrie, in handling 249 chances at third base this year and making 11 errors, has been as valuable defensively as any American Leaguer has been offensively. The AL’s next most valuable defensive player is Brendan Ryan at 2.6 wins.

Now Fangraphs’ WAR:

4.7 – Trout
4.2 – Cano
4.0 – Jackson
3.8 – Hamilton
3.8 – Verlander
3.5 – Sale
3.2 – Adam Jones (CF Bal)
3.2 – Cabrera
3.1 – Josh Reddick (RF Oak)
3.1 – Alex Gordon (LF KC)

Fangraphs WAR is also fond of Lawrie’s defense, but that still only gets him to 2.8.  Given that he ranks 39th in the AL in OPS, that seems closer to the truth. Fangraphs really loves Gordon’s D, and he is a great left fielder. Still, he’s not much ahead of Lawrie offensively, and I can’t see him in the top 10 on an MVP ballot.

While the two WAR systems have their differences, both agree that Trout, Cano and Jackson have been among the AL’s four most valuable position players, with Hamilton not far behind.

And that sounds about right to me, but I’d still have a tough time giving the award to someone who has played in only three-quarters of his team’s games. Trout and Jackson are both at 61 games played right now. Hamilton has played in 76, while Cano has played in 81. I think that gets Cano the nod here. If it were season’s end and Trout had played in 140 games to Cano’s 160, I’d probably go with him. At this point, though, those 20 extra games have a lot of value.

As for Hamilton, he’s played just as much left field as center field this year, and the numbers say his defense has fallen off. He’s also playing in a friendlier park for hitters than the other candidates, though he’s hitting better on the road than at home. Those two factors put him third on my ballot.

My ballot
1. Cano
2. Trout
3. Hamilton
4. Jackson
5. Verlander
6. Ortiz
7. Mauer
8. Cabrera
9. Pierzynski
10. Jones

I feel pretty good about five through eight. The last two spots are very debatable. Pierzynski might not even be the most valuable White Sox player to date: Sale, Konerko and even Alex Rios all have cases. Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus were right there, too; I like Andrus’ defense more than either WAR does. And then there are all three Blue Jays: Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie. I opted for Jones over Beltre in the end, though with his wrist problems, I’m thinking his production will taper off.

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.

MLB umpires will wear white wristbands to protest “escalating verbal attacks”

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The World Umpires Association is dissatisfied with the punishment meted out to Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler following his lengthy criticism of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. Kinsler’s comments were sparked by a confrontation on Monday night, when the infielder was ejected after arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez in the fifth inning.

“It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does,” Kinsler told reporters. “Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore. No one in this game wants you behind the plate any more, none of the players.”

Kinsler was fined an undisclosed amount for the remarks, but did not receive a suspension. Hernandez, meanwhile, returned to cover second base the next day and appeared to resolve the conflict with a brief conversation and a handshake.

Whether or not the comments speak to underlying truths about Major League Baseball’s flawed umpiring system, they clearly got under the skin of the World Umpires Association. The union released a statement Saturday condemning Major League Baseball for choosing to overlook the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue:

This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez – a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.

The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead got far more lenient treatment – a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters he has ‘no regrets’ about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez’s career.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.

We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are unfairly attacked simply for doing our jobs.

Starting Saturday, umpires will don white wristbands in protest of the Commissioner’s lack of support, and will continue to do so until their concerns are addressed.

Kinsler’s comments may have been in poor taste, but given the established in-game ramifications for challenging an umpire’s decisions, it’s difficult to tell where the union wants MLB to start drawing the line. If players already face ejections for questioning the parameters of a strike zone (often immediate ones, without any room for a productive or non-confrontational discussion), it seems unfair to hit them with suspensions for venting their frustrations after the game. Until Major League Baseball finds a way to start automating calls, however, the “human element” of the game will continue to pose problems for players and umpires alike.